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For Immediate Release, November 9, 2010

Contact: Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681

Obama Administration Denies Endangered Species Act Protection to 251 Species

Imperiled Plants and Animals Relegated to "Candidate" List
Where They'll Languish for Years Without Protection

WASHINGTON— The Obama administration today denied Endangered Species Act protection to 251 plants and animals that government scientists have said need those protections to avoid extinction. Instead, the administration has placed them indefinitely on a list of “candidate” species, where many have already languished for years without help.

“The Obama administration has no sense of urgency when it comes to protecting imperiled plants and animals,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “With extinction looming, imperiled species need more than promises of hope and change. They need real protection, and they need it now.”

So far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Obama administration has provided Endangered Species Act protection to just 51 plants and animals, and only one of those occurs in the continental United States. By comparison, the Clinton administration protected 522 species; the George H.W. Bush administration protected 231. The average annual rate for the Obama administration is 26, while for the Clinton administration it was 65 and for the first Bush administration it was 58.

“The Obama administration has been abysmal when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable plants and animals,” Suckling said. “The Endangered Species Act can save these 251 species, but only if they are granted protection.”

Many of the “candidate” species have been waiting for protection for decades, including the white fringeless orchid, which has been on the waiting list for 30 years, and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, which has been a candidate for 25 years.

Delays have real consequences. At least 24 species have gone extinct after being designated a candidate for protection, including the Louisiana prairie vole, Tacoma pocket gopher, San Gabriel Mountains blue butterfly, Sangre de Cristo peaclam from New Mexico and numerous Hawaiian invertebrates.

The Center and other groups have an active lawsuit in Washington, D.C., showing that continued delays in protecting the 251 candidate species is illegal because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not making expeditious progress listing species as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Background on the Candidate Species

The 251 candidates include a wide variety of species, from shorebirds such as the red knot, which migrates along the Atlantic Coast during one of the longest migrations in the animal world, to the aboriginal pricklyapple, a cactus found in Florida, to the Pacific fisher, a relative of the mink and otter that is dependent on old-growth forests on the West Coast. Being designated as a candidate does not provide any formal protection to the 251 species, a number of which have been waiting for protection for almost as long as the Endangered Species Act has existed. On average, the candidates have been waiting 20 years for protection. 

The current review includes five new species since the last review: the Kentucky arrow darter, a fish in danger of extinction due to surface coal mining and gas exploration in eastern Kentucky; the Rosemont talus snail, a highly endangered snail that occurs only in the footprint of a proposed copper mine outside Tucson, Ariz.; the Kenk’s amphipod, a crustacean threatened by urban sprawl around Washington, D.C.; Packard’s milk vetch, a plant in Idaho threatened by off-road vehicle use and invasive plants; and the Vandenberg monkeyflower, a plant threatened by development in Santa Barbara, Calif. One species, the Palm Springs round-tailed ground squirrel, was removed from the candidate list due to the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan.

Each of the candidates are given a priority number ranging from 1 to 12 based on their taxonomic rank (e.g. species, subspecies or population) and magnitude and immediacy of threats, with lower numbers indicating higher priority. The majority of candidates are rated as either priority 2 or 3, meaning they are in immediate danger of extinction.

The following are but a few examples of the candidate species:

Oregon spotted frog The Oregon spotted frog has been waiting for protection since 1991. It is found in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia in wetlands from sea level to at least 5,500 feet. The frog’s habitat has been lost at an accelerating pace, and the species is now absent from up to 90 percent of its former range, including all of California.

Sonoyta mud turtle – The Sonoyta mud turtle has been a candidate since 1997. In the United States, it has been reduced to a single reservoir in Arizona that is isolated from populations in Mexico. The turtle eats insects, crustaceans, snails, fish, frogs and plants. Females bury their eggs on land.

Florida semaphore cactus – The Florida semaphore cactus has been waiting for protection for six years. It is a large prickly pear cactus from the Florida Keys that was thought to have been driven extinct by cactus collectors and road construction in the late 1970s, but was rediscovered in the mid-1980s. Much of its historic habitat has fallen prey to development, destruction and fragmentation. Just two populations remain.

Eastern massasauga – The eastern massasauga is a wetland rattlesnake of the Midwest and Great Lakes, and has been found in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada. It has been waiting for protection for 25 years, having been made a candidate in 1982. The snake is extirpated from 40 percent of the counties it historically inhabited due to wetland losses from urban and suburban sprawl, golf courses, mining and agriculture.

Parachute beardtongue – The Parachute beardtongue, also known as the Parachute penstemon, is an attractive perennial plant that grows on rocky cliffs above the Colorado River near the town of Parachute, Colo. It occupies just two locations of less than one-third of a square mile. The beardtongue has been listed as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. Both populations are on lands slated for oil-shale mining.

White fringeless orchid – The white fringeless orchid is a two-foot-tall herb that grows in wetlands in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Alabama’s coastal plain. It has been found in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina, and has been a candidate for 30 years. The orchid is limited to 53 locations.

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