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Group Seeks Federal Protection for 475 Southwestern Endangered Species: Largest Listing Petition Filed in Thirty Years

June 21, 2007
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Wildlife   Black-spotted newt, Chihuahuan scurfpea, Gierisch mallow
Santa Fe, NM – Earlier this week, WildEarth Guardians filed a formal petition under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to protect 475 imperiled plant and animal species across the American Southwest. The petition cites the current human-caused extinction crisis, with extinction rates estimated at up to 1,000 times the normal background rate, as a rationale in seeking federal protection for all critically imperiled and imperiled species in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwestern Region. Nationwide, only 1,300 U.S. species are protected under the ESA, while scientists estimate 6,000-9,000 species are at risk and should be granted legal protection. Species extinctions are ripping a hole in the web of life. Many of the species for which WildEarth Guardians is seeking federal protection are found nowhere else on earth but the American Southwest.

The Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful conservation protection statutes in the world. The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that over 99% of the species protected under this law have been spared extinction. Native wildlife and plants possess a range of values for humans, including economic, aesthetic, and ecological, alongside their own inherent value. Native plants provide a medicine cabinet to treat human illnesses. At least 85% of the American public supports the Endangered Species Act, many of whom do so out of a moral duty to preserve nature for future generations.

“The Endangered Species Act can help address the extinction crisis in the U.S., but native plants and animals do not enjoy any of its protections until they are listed under the Act,” stated attorney Jay Tutchton, Director of the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic. “It’s time to protect the species most at-risk of extinction with the protective umbrella of our most effective biodiversity protection law.”

In the past, WildEarth Guardians has submitted lengthy petitions to obtain Endangered Species Act listing for single species, including species whose protection could safeguard whole ecosystems. An example is the Gunnison’s prairie dog, for which WildEarth Guardians submitted a 114-page listing petition alongside a diverse coalition of co-petitioners in February 2004. Recently resigned Interior Department official, Julie MacDonald, was caught reversing the initial finding of agency field biologists on this petition, which would have moved the species closer to federal protection. Petitions for all three unlisted prairie dog species have been lengthy, primarily based on agency science, yet have met with extreme resistance in Bush’s Interior Department.

“The Julie MacDonald scandal exposed how the Service was keeping the door to the Endangered Species Act closed to a number of species in trouble. Now it’s time to kick the door back open and give species in need the protection they deserve,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

No endangered wildlife or plant species have been listed under Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who has been in office for over a year. The current administration has listed only 8 species per year, in contrast to 62 per year under President Bill Clinton and 56 per year under President George H.W. Bush. Dozens of candidate species have gone extinct while awaiting ESA listing, and the Service has held others in limbo as candidates for over 25 years. (Source: Center for Biological Diversity 2007 report).

The 475-species petition submitted today relies on a source that the Service regards as “authoritative” – NatureServe. NatureServe is a non-profit conservation organization that is the leading source for information on the status of threatened and endangered species across the U.S. The standard for listing a species under the ESA requires the Service to make its decisions based solely upon the best available science if the species faces extinction or is likely to face extinction in the foreseeable future. WildEarth Guardians’ petition documents how NatureServe’s ranking system represents the best available science. The petitioned species are either critically imperiled (ranked G1) or verging between critically imperiled and imperiled (ranked G1G2). There are 569 species ranked G1 or G1G2 in the Southwest. Only 94 of these – a mere 16.5% – are currently listed or candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Some of the species for which WildEarth Guardians is seeking federal protection are found nowhere else on earth but the American Southwest.

“The burden is now on the Service to tell the public why the Southwest’s most imperiled species are not being provided with federal protection,” stated Tutchton.

The species in WildEarth Guardians’ 475-species listing petition represent the U.S. Southwest’s diverse tapestry of life and include vanishing crayfish, fairy shrimp, beetles, moths, caddisflies, grasshoppers, stoneflies, springsnails, cavesnails, woodlandsnails, mountainsnails, talussnails, scorpions, spiders, fishes, salamanders, prickly pears, scurfpeas, oaks, grasses, and yuccas.

According to Rosmarino, “We need to elevate the pace on obtaining federal protection for our nation’s wildlife and plants. Too many species are slipping through the cracks as the extinction crisis escalates. It is time for something completely different.”

The petition was submitted on June 18, 2007.

Read the petition (PDF)

Read the species descriptions (PDF)

Questions and answers about the petition (PDF)

Other Contact
Jay Tutchton, University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic Director: 720-301-3843