For Immediate Release, July 19, 2010
Contacts: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Giant Palouse Earthworm Gets a Second Chance at Endangered Species Protection
Portland, Ore.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and others, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today determined the giant Palouse earthworm may warrant protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The decision reverses a previous decision by the Bush administration that determined there was not enough information to conclude the earthworm may warrant protection.
“The giant Palouse earthworm is critically endangered and needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to have any chance of survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given that it has wasted four years since our first petition, we hope the Fish and Wildlife Service will move quickly to protect the earthworm and its increasingly rare prairie habitat.”
This spring, researchers from the University of Idaho found two live specimens of the earthworm in a remnant area of prairie near Moscow, Idaho — only the fifth time the species has been found in the past 100 years. These were the only live specimens to be collected since the worm’s discovery in the late 1800s. The earthworms were not as large as previously thought, measuring roughly 10 inches rather than three feet, but did have the reported delicate, shell-pink color.
“The giant Palouse earthworm has lost the vast majority of its habitat to agriculture and urban sprawl,” said Greenwald. “Indeed, the Palouse prairie, which makes up much of the earthworm’s presumed range, is considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States, with less than two percent remaining.”
Sightings of the earthworm have all been in areas with native vegetation in the Palouse prairie region of eastern Washington and northern Idaho or around Ellensburg, Washington. The earthworm appears to need moist soils with native vegetation. In addition to habitat loss, the earthworm is threatened by nonnative, invasive earthworms and pollution from pesticides and herbicides.