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For Immediate Release, June 27, 2013

Contact:  Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Lawsuit Seeks to Save Four Florida Animals From Extinction Due to Sea-level Rise,
Groundwater Depletion and Pollution

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect four Florida species under the Endangered Species Act. The Center petitioned for protection for the animals — a bird, a lizard, a crayfish and a mussel — in 2009, but the Service has failed to make a final decision on their protection. The Florida Keys mole skink and MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow could go extinct due to rising sea levels from global climate change. The Panama City crayfish and the Suwannee moccasinshell, a freshwater mussel, are threatened by drought, groundwater depletion, pollution and development. 

Ozark hellbender
Florida Keys mole skink photo courtesy USFWS. This photo is available for media use.

“It’s just common sense that we should save Florida’s animals from extinction, because the same things that threaten their survival threaten our own,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Many areas of Florida are threatened by the effects of climate change, from drought and groundwater depletion to rising sea levels. Scientists predict that a sea-level rise of 3 to 6 feet is highly likely in Florida within this century.

The Florida Keys mole skink is a tiny, colorful lizard found mainly along the sandy shoreline of Dry Tortugas and the Lower Keys, which are at risk of inundation from rising seas. The mole skink was once locally common, but its population has declined up to 30 percent, and it is now considered rare.

The Suwannee moccasinshell is a small freshwater mussel found only in the Suwannee River drainage in Florida. It requires good water quality to reproduce. Until it was rediscovered in 2012, scientists feared it could already be extinct because it hadn’t been seen since 1994. At 2 inches long, it has a black or yellowish-green shell shaped like a rhomboid. Severe drought in recent years threatens the mussel and other animals that depend on the Suwannee River for survival.

McGillivray’s seaside sparrow lives only in a narrow fringe of tidal marshes that are threatened by rising seas. The sparrow once ranged from North Carolina south into Florida’s Volusia County, but has not been spotted south of Duval County in Florida in years. Seaside sparrows are highly vulnerable to extinction. The dusky seaside sparrow was declared extinct in 1987, and the Cape Sable seaside sparrow is currently listed as endangered.

The Panama City crayfish is known only from the flatwoods and temporary ponds of a small area of Bay County. It is a small brown crayfish with a 2-inch long body and red dots on its head, and could disappear due groundwater depletion, development and pollution.

“We just lost two Florida butterflies, the Florida Zestos and rockland grass skipper, to extinction. Their loss was a preventable tragedy because they disappeared before they were awarded Endangered Species Act protection. The Endangered Species Act can save Florida’s animals, but first they have to be granted a spot on the list,” said Curry.

The four Florida species are among 10 species across the country that the Center is prioritizing for Endangered Species Act protection this fiscal year. Under a settlement agreement with the Service that expedites protection decisions for 757 species, the Center can push forward 10 decisions per year. The other priority species for 2013 include a fox, a New England songbird, the hellbender salamander, the boreal toad, the bridled darter, which is a fish found in Tennessee and Georgia, and critical habitat for the loggerhead sea turtle.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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