The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Noah Greenwald,

Monarch Butterflies, Dozens of Other Species One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protections

Legal Victory Secures Decision Dates for 27 Animals, Plants Across Country, Hundreds More Still Waiting


In response to three lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to dates for decisions on whether 18 plants and animals from across the country warrant protection as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service will also consider identifying and protecting critical habitat for another nine species.

"I'm so glad these 27 species are finally getting a shot at badly needed protections and a chance to avoid extinction," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. "It's incredibly frustrating, however, that some of these animals and plants have waited decades for help. Disturbingly, the Fish and Wildlife Service has done little to nothing to address the problems that caused these delays."

Twenty-one of the species will see protection decisions by the end of fiscal year 2022. These include tricolored bats threatened by disease, eastern gopher tortoises threatened by Florida's runaway sprawl, and longfin smelts in the collapsing ecosystem that is San Francisco Bay.

Western pond turtles and black-capped petrels will see decisions in fiscal year 2023. Monarch butterflies, whose population has been declined by 85% in two decades, will have to wait until fiscal year 2024, as will Bethany Beach fireflies and Las Vegas bearpoppies. The Mojave poppy bee will get a decision in 2026.

The court order addressed only a portion of the species for which the Center is seeking protection. Another 158 species, including Venus flytraps, Cascades frogs and golden-winged warblers, will continue in litigation. Roughly another 100 species are waiting for protection decisions but are not part of the litigation. Hundreds more have been identified as at risk of extinction by scientific organizations like NatureServe or IUCN yet aren't under consideration by the Service.

The Service has taken 12 years on average to list species under the Act, but according to the law it is supposed to take two. Five of the Florida plants awaiting critical habitat and included in today's court victory were first identified as needing the Act's protection in 1975 but didn't receive it until 2016 or 2017 -- more than 40 years later. Even then, the Service still didn't provide critical habitat protections at the time as required. At least 47 species have gone extinct while under consideration for endangered species protections.

"The Service's slow, bureaucratic process for listing species has tragic consequences, like further declines, more difficult recoveries and sometimes even extinction," said Greenwald. "This is simply unacceptable. We're in an extinction crisis, and scientists are warning of the impending loss of more than a million species. We need a Fish and Wildlife Service that does its job and acts with urgency."

Species Backgrounds

Monarch butterfly: Monarch butterflies are in steep decline because of pesticide spraying, habitat loss and climate change. The most recent population counts show a decline of 85% for the migratory beauties. The population is below the threshold at which government scientists estimate the migrations could collapse. The Center for Biological Diversity, along with the Center for Food Safety, petitioned for protection of monarchs on August 26, 2014. In 2020 the Service found they warranted protection but failed to actually provide it.

Eastern gopher tortoise: Gopher tortoises have shovel-like front legs and strong, thick back legs to help them dig intricate burrows, which are used by more than 360 other species. In Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama they're already protected under the Endangered Species Act, but those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still await protection. The tortoises need large, unfragmented, long-leaf pine forests to survive. They're severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites and exposes them to being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or shot. They have been waiting for protection since 1982.

Western pond turtles: These turtles are found from western Washington south to northwestern Baja California. The name "pond" turtle is something of a misnomer because this species more frequently lives in rivers. Western pond turtles are highly opportunistic eaters and will consume almost anything they can catch and overpower. In 2014 the pond turtle was found to be two species, each of which is more endangered than previously thought. All populations north of the San Francisco Bay area are now known as the northwestern pond turtle. Turtles south of the San Francisco Bay are now known as the southwestern pond turtle. The turtles have been waiting for protection since 1982; the Center petitioned for federal protection for them in 2012.

Tricolored bat: Weighing less than a third of an ounce, the tricolored bat is the smallest bat in the East and Midwest. Their size and fluttery, slow flying style sometimes lead them to be mistaken for moths. Their fur appears yellowish-brown to reddish, while each individual hair is "tricolored" -- brown at the tip, yellow in the middle and dark at the base. Tricolored bats are entirely insectivorous, helping to limit mosquitoes and agricultural pests. The species is extremely vulnerable to the introduced disease white-nose syndrome, which has decimated bats across the eastern United States; tricolored bats have suffered close to 100% mortality in infected sites. The Center petitioned for their protection in 2016.

Louisiana pine snake: Practical predators, Louisiana pine snakes feed primarily on the pocket gophers whose burrows they inhabit. Louisiana pine snakes spend more than half their time underground and are harmless to humans. Historically Louisiana pine snakes ranged across nine Louisiana parishes and 14 Texas counties, but they now live in only four Louisiana parishes and five Texas counties. They were first identified as needing protection by the Service in 1982 but not granted it until 2018. They are now waiting for final critical habitat.

Longfin smelt: Longfin smelt were once one of the most abundant fishes in the San Francisco Bay and Delta; historically they were so common their numbers supported a commercial fishery. Because of poor management of California's largest estuary ecosystem, which has allowed excessive water diversions and reduced freshwater flow into the Bay, the longfin smelt has undergone catastrophic declines in the past 20 years. The fish have been waiting for protection since 1994; a petition for their protection was filed by the Center, Bay Institute and NRDC in 2007.

Lassics Lupine: There are only two known populations of the lupine, and both grow above 5,000 feet on talus slopes of Mount Lassic and Red Lassic Mountain in Humboldt and Trinity counties, California. These plants are threatened by climate change, altered fire regimes and increased predation by mammals due to climatic and vegetative changes in recent years. They have been waiting for protection since 1983; a petition for their protection was filed by the Center in 2016.

Black-capped petrel: These cliff-dwelling seabirds forage off the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida. There are only four known petrel nesting colonies on the island of Hispaniola and 500 to 1,000 breeding pairs. On shore the birds are threatened by the destruction of breeding habitat through deforestation. At sea oil and gas activities threaten the birds and their habitat with seismic exploration, oil spills and night lighting. The petrel has been waiting for protection since 1994, was petitioned for in 2011 and proposed for protection in 2018. The species awaits a final listing that is required to take one year.

Bethany Beach firefly: This firefly is found only within 1,500 feet of the Delaware shore, making its habitat extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and increases in storm surges caused by climate change, as well as coastal development. The species flies at full darkness so that females can spot and blink in response to a male's bright double green flash. After mating the females will continue to flash, but this time mimicking other firefly species to lure in males to eat them and gain their valuable protective toxins. These mating signals can be disrupted by habitat changes, and light pollution can change their courtship behavior and mating success. A petition for the firefly's protection was filed by the Center in 2019.

Las Vegas bearpoppy: This plant thrives in gypsum-rich soils with cryptogamic crust, where the soil chemistry and structure prevent many other plants from establishing themselves. Most bearpoppies are found on public lands surrounding Lake Mead, including Gold Butte National Monument. The remaining poppies are found in the Las Vegas Valley, where they are at imminent risk of extinction because of urbanization and fragmentation. The species has been waiting for protection since 1975; a petition for its protection was filed by the Center in 2019.

Mojave poppy bee: This bee once inhabited at least 34 known sites across Nevada, California, Arizona and Utah. Its current known range is now just seven known sites. All lie in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and adjacent Bureau of Land Management land in Clark County, Nevada, where the bee faces ongoing threats from grazing, mining and motorized recreational vehicles. The Center petitioned for protection of the poppy bee in 2018.

Key ring-necked snake: These 6-inch-long, nonvenomous residents of the Florida Keys, including Key West and Big Pine Key, could hardly be less of a threat. But the slate-gray snakes with muted neck rings face an ongoing barrage of unmitigated threats to the seaside limestone outcroppings and rockland areas they call home. Largely because of ongoing residential development, the snakes' pine rockland habitat has been reduced by 98%, leaving highly fragmented population pockets. Hurt not only by ongoing development but also by malicious killing by humans and predation by invasive species like fire ants, key ringneck snakes face rapid loss across their range. They also face catastrophic threats from climate change, with a sea rise of as little as 3 feet endangering much of their remaining population. They are listed as threatened in Florida, a status that makes killing and collection illegal but provides no protection from ongoing habitat destruction, the snakes' greatest threat. The species has been waiting for protection since 1982, and a petition for its protection was filed by the Center in 2012.

Big Pine partridge pea: The Big Pine partridge pea is a small shrub with five-petal, yellow flowers and pea-shaped fruit. It is found only in the pine rocklands of the lower Florida Keys, historically Big Pine Key, No Name Key, Ramrod Key, Cudjoe Key and Sugarloaf Key. The plant is now only found on Big Pine Key and Cudjoe Key. It was first identified as needing protection in 1975, petitioned for by the Center in 2004 and protected in 2016. It awaits designation of critical habitat.

Wedge spurge: The wedge spurge is a small, perennial herb with slender stems and a silvery appearance. It occurs in pine rocklands and roadsides on Big Pine Key, where its population is declining. It was first identified as needing protection in 1975, petitioned for by the Center in 2004 and protected in 2016. It awaits designation of critical habitat.

Sand flax: The sand flax is a small, perennial herb with yellow, buttercup-looking flowers. It is found in pine rocklands in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, and its populations are declining. It was first identified as needing protection in 1975, petitioned for by the Center in 2004 and protected in 2016. It awaits designation of critical habitat.

Blodgett's silverbush: The Blodgett's silverbush is a woody shrub with small, green flowers. It grows in the pine rocklands of Monroe and Miami-Dade counties but has become increasingly rare. It was first identified as needing protection in 1975, petitioned for by the Center in 2004 and protected in 2016. It awaits designation of critical habitat.

Everglades bully: The Everglades bully had been a candidate for protection since 2004. The shrub is native to Miami-Dade County and is only found in pine rocklands. It was protected in 2017 but awaits designation of critical habitat.

Florida pineland crabgrass: The Florida pineland crabgrass is also known as Everglades grass or twospike crabgrass and only occurs in the Everglades in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. It was first identified as needing endangered species protection in 1975. The Center petitioned the Service to protect it in 2004, and federal protections were provided in 2017. It awaits designation of critical habitat.

Florida prairie clover: The Florida prairie clover had been waiting on the Service's candidate list for federal protection since 1999. A petition for its protection was filed by the Center in 2004. The species was finally protected in 2017, but without critical habitat. It's a member of the pea family and grows up to 6 feet tall in pine rocklands and coastal uplands.

Pinelands sandmat: The Pinelands sandmat had been a candidate for protection since 1999, and the Center filed a petition for its protection in 2004. The species was finally protected in 2017, but without critical habitat. Also known as the pineland deltoid spurge, rockland spurge and wedge sandmat, it's a beautiful perennial herb with a red stem and delicate yellow flowers.

Kern Canyon slender salamander: These 5-inch-long, brown salamanders with black sides and striking bronze-and-red patches on their backs live only in California's lower Kern River Canyon. Although nearly all their known populations occur on public lands administered by the Sequoia National Forest, they continue to be threatened by habitat destruction and degradation caused by cattle grazing, logging, mining, highway construction, hydroelectric development and firewood collecting. They were first identified as needing protection in 1982, and the Center filed a protection petition for them in 2012.

Relictual slender salamander: After road construction wiped out the Lower Kern River Canyon population, these salamanders now have the smallest known range of any slender salamander -- only 3 miles separate populations remaining in the southern Sierra Nevada. Little is known about the biology of relictual slender salamanders, but scientists assume that, like other slender salamanders, these sit-and-wait predators use a projectile tongue to catch small invertebrate prey. Without state or federal protections, their high-elevation pine-fir forest habitats face degradation from logging. They were first identified as needing protection in 1994 and petitioned for by the Center in 2012.

Magnificent ramshorn: This snail is endemic to the lower Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina. It is currently extinct in the wild because of massive alteration of its historic habitats by dams, development and pollution. Two captive populations keep hope alive, but stream restoration is badly needed to restore the species to the wild. The ramshorn has been waiting for protection since 1984; a petition for its protection was filed by the Center in 2004.

Rim Rock crowned snake: Named after the Miami Rim Rock geological formation, this small, non-venomous snake grows up to 10 inches long. It lives in critically endangered pine rockland and tropical hardwood forests around Miami and the Florida Keys, where it can be found hiding in holes and depressions in limestone rock. The snake's greatest threats are habitat destruction caused by sprawling development and sea-level rise fueled by climate change.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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