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For Immediate Release, October 27, 2010

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Lawsuit Launched Over Long-delayed Protections for Mexican Wolf, Giant Palouse Earthworm, Spring Pygmy Sunfish and Oklahoma Grass Pink Orchid

Program for Protecting Imperiled Species Remains Mired in Missed Deadlines, Bureaucratic Foot-Dragging

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to protect four species under the Endangered Species Act in response to Center petitions, including the Mexican wolf, giant Palouse earthworm, spring pygmy sunfish and Oklahoma grass pink orchid. The four species join 91 others listed in an earlier lawsuit over the agency’s failure to protect highly endangered species. 

“Every day of delay of protection places the Mexican gray wolf, giant Palouse earthworm, spring pygmy sunfish, grass pink orchid and dozens of others at increased risk of extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Under Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacks any sense of urgency for plants and animals facing the prospect of disappearing forever.”

The agency frequently claims it lacks sufficient resources to list more species. Congress, however, has increased the budget for listing species from $3 million in 2002 to more than $10 million in 2010 with little increase in the rate of species listings. To date, the Obama administration has not substantially increased the pace of species listings by the Fish and Wildlife Service. It did finalize protection for 51 species in Hawaii, but in the conterminous United States has only finalized protection for one plant and only proposed protection for 16 species. Because it takes at least one year to finalize proposed listings, these 16 will likely be the only species protected in all of 2011. Under the Clinton administration, by contrast, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed 498 species for an average rate of 62 species per year.

“We had hoped to see serious reform of the Fish and Wildlife Service under Secretary Salazar, but instead it’s only been more foot-dragging and delay,” said Greenwald. “Meanwhile, species that badly need protections provided by the Endangered Species Act are facing increased habitat loss, the effects of climate change and other threats to their survival.”

Background on the species
The Mexican wolf was listed as an endangered subspecies of the gray wolf in 1976, but in 1978 all gray wolf subspecies’ listings were consolidated into a species-level listing for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Although it does receive some protection from listing of the gray wolf overall, a separate listing as a subspecies or distinct population would compel the government to develop a modern recovery plan for the Mexican wolf, which is declining toward extinction as the government delays again and again. Today, only about 42 Mexican wolves survive in the wild. The Center filed a petition to list the Mexican wolf on Aug. 11, 2009. The Fish and Wildlife Service issued an initial positive finding, but has failed to make the 12-month finding determining whether listing is warranted.

The giant Palouse earthworm is a native of the Palouse prairies of eastern Washington and Idaho, which have been plowed and paved. Today it occupies just 3 percent of its former range. It has been found only five times in the past 110 years, including this year when University of Idaho researchers found two live specimens on a prairie near Moscow, Idaho. The earthworm was first petitioned for protection in 2006. After that petition was rejected by the Bush administration, the Center and allies petitioned again on June 30, 2009. The following month, the Obama administration reversed course and agreed to consider the new petition, but is now late on making a 12-month finding.

Discovered in 1937, the spring pygmy sunfish was twice presumed extinct during the 70 years it has been known to science. It is limited primarily to headwater springs in the Tennessee River watershed and historically occurred in three small disjunct spring complexes (Cave, Pryor and Beaverdam springs), separated by up to 65 miles. Two of the three populations have disappeared. The Cave Springs population was extirpated in 1938 due to inundation by the formation of Pickwick Reservoir; the Pryor Springs population disappeared by the late 1960s, most likely due to dredging and chemical contamination; and the single remaining native population occupies only roughly five river miles within the Beaverdam Springs complex. The Center and fisheries biologist Mike Sandel petitioned to list the sunfish November 24, 2009. The Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to make a finding on the petition.

The grass pink orchid occurs in wet prairies and open savannahs, where it requires frequent burning and is under threat from forces like habitat destruction for urban and agriculture sprawl, livestock grazing and fire suppression. It once occurred across 17 states from Minnesota to Texas and across to Florida, but is now believed to survive in only eight: Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana. The petition was submitted by Douglas Goldman, a concerned scientist on May 28, 2008. The Fish and Wildlife Service issued an initial positive finding, but has failed to make the 12-month finding determining whether listing is warranted.

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