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For Immediate Release, August 23, 2010

Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Prairie Orchid One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protection

CHICAGO— Following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today determined that the Oklahoma grasspink orchid may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is the eighth decision the agency has issued since the Center filed suit Feb. 17 to force protection for 93 species. Previous decisions have been made on protections for the striped newt, Mohave ground squirrel, Tucson shovel-nosed snake, Berry Cave salamander, Ozark chinquapin, least chub and Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly. The grasspink 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. 

“This is a good day for the Oklahoma grasspink and the prairie habitats it depends on,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center. “But the Obama administration continues to move painfully slowly to protect new species under the Endangered Species Act, frequently only taking action in the wake of lawsuits.”

In addition to the 93 species covered by the Center’s suit, there are currently 245 species that are designated by the Fish and Wildlife Service as candidates for protection. Most have been waiting decades for a decision. To date, the Obama administration has not substantially increased the pace of species listings since it took office. The administration has finalized protection for 51 species from Hawaii, most of which were proposed under President George W. Bush. In the continental United States, it has only finalized protection for one species, a plant. By comparison, the Clinton administration listed an average of 65 species per year, for a total of 522. Even with the listing of species from Hawaii, the current administration is falling short.

“There are hundreds of wildlife species that, like the grasspink, are facing extinction and are desperately in need of protection,” said Greenwald. “Wholesale reform is needed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to unseat a culture of delay and foot-dragging, but we’ve yet to see such comprehensive reform in the endangered species program under President Obama.”

The grasspink 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. The petition was submitted by Douglas Goldman, the scientist who first described the orchid as a separate species.

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