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For Immediate Release, February 13, 2012

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495      

Habitat Protection Finalized for Rare Cave-dwelling Creatures in Texas

SAN ANTONIO— In response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, Citizen’s Alliance for Smart Expansion and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized protection of 4,200 acres of critical habitat today for nine rare, cave-dwelling invertebrates in Bexar County, Texas. The designation cut roughly 1,700 acres from a February 2011 proposal, but is still nearly quadruple the size of a 2003 Bush-era designation that left out a number of places where the species live and failed to protect enough land adjacent to the caves.

“Protecting the habitat of these mysterious, cave-adapted animals — which don’t exist anywhere else on Earth — gives them a shot at survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “All it will take to save these unique creatures, some of which have lost the power of sight and all their color as they evolved in the dark, are modest restrictions on urban sprawl in Bexar County.”

With colorful names like “robber baron cave harvestman,” “vesper cave spider” and “Comal Springs riffle beetle,” the nine species are immediately threatened by poorly planned urban sprawl. Although these invertebrates have adapted to the moist, dark environs in the interior of caves, having lost both their vision and their pigmentation, what happens at the surface, near the cave entrances, also directly affects their chance of survival. Intact native vegetation around the cave openings is a source of nutrition, helps maintain the temperature and moisture levels of caves, and helps stop the spread of invasive species like fire ants, which threaten these species. If surrounding areas are turned into housing developments, the caves will be permanently altered and the species will disappear. 

“We’re in an extinction crisis not unlike the one that killed off the dinosaurs, except this time the cause isn’t an asteroid,” said Greenwald. “It’s us and our decisions. Ending this crisis and saving species is about choosing to make some places off-limits to development — there is no other way.”

The groups were represented in the litigation by Bill Bunch of Save Our Springs Alliance.

The species named in today’s decision are the robber baron cave harvestman, vesper cave spider, Government Canyon cave spider, Madla’s cave spider, robber baron cave spider, helotes mold beetle, Cicurina veniiRhadine exilis and Cokendolpher cave harvestman. These nine karst-dwelling species all occur in one or more caves of Bexar County, Texas, and are threatened by rapid urban sprawl around San Antonio.

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