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For Immediate Release, July 31, 2013

Contact:  Angela Crane, (503) 717-6405

172 Groups Across United States Urge Faster Protection for Endangered Species

WASHINGTON A coalition of 172 citizen groups sent letters today to eight U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional directors urging the agency to expedite efforts to protect hundreds of imperiled plants and animals around the country under the Endangered Species Act. The diverse coalition of conservation, wildlife-rehabilitation, animal-welfare, faith, educational, tourism and women’s organizations is urging the federal government to fight the extinction crisis by swiftly implementing protection under the Act for more rare and vanishing species.

“The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its care, but it only provides a safety net to species once they’re protected,” said Angela Crane, endangered species organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s just not acceptable that we recently lost two Florida butterflies to extinction before they ever gained protection. That’s why these 172 groups all over the country are urging the Service to take immediate action so more species aren’t lost forever.”

There has been a backlog of plants and animals needing protection almost since passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, with hundreds of species now waiting decades for protection. In 2011 the Center reached an agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service that requires the agency to consider protection for 757 species over six years. The agreement only requires the Service to determine whether protection is warranted; it does not require the agency to protect any of the species.

The letters sent today ask the agency to actually provide protection for these species and highlight particular species from each region, including the Hawaiian honeycreeper (‘i‘iwi), Rio Grande cutthroat trout, eastern massasauga rattlesnake, Black Warrior waterdog, eastern small-footed bat, Montana Arctic fluvial grayling, Pacific walrus and relict leopard frog.

“The sooner we protect endangered plants and animals, the more likely it is we’ll be able to save them and the less it will cost,” said Crane. “Under our settlement agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been making progress in addressing the backlog of species in need of protection, but many imperiled species are still being left behind. We urge Congress to give the agency more funding to save our country’s endangered species before it’s too late.”

Background on some of the species featured in the letters:

Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper (‘i‘iwi): With its fiery-red body, this bird hovers like a hummingbird and has long been featured in the folklore and songs of native Hawaiians. It is in danger of immediate or near-term extinction across the whole western portion of its range. Climate change is causing disease-carrying mosquitoes — with diseases that include avian pox and malaria — to move into the honeycreeper’s higher-elevation refuges. Honeycreepers have already been eliminated from low elevations on the islands by these diseases.

Rio Grande cutthroat trout: Characterized by deep crimson slashes on its throat — hence the name “cutthroat” — the Rio Grande cutthroat is New Mexico’s state fish. It once swam the cool, clear waterways in the Rio Grande Basin of New Mexico and southern Colorado, but is now limited to less than 10 percent of its historic range. Logging, road building, grazing, pollution and exotic species have pushed it to the brink of extinction.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake: Small, sluggish and shy, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake was once found across the Midwest and Northeast. Today it has lost most of its upland habitat due to wetlands draining for farms, roads, homes, and urban development. Habitat destruction, in combination with persecution from people who fear these docile snakes, has decimated the species.

Black Warrior waterdog: Resembling a large, gilled, aquatic salamander, the waterdog requires a wide and moderately flowing riverine habitat that offers ample hiding places under submerged ledges, logs and rocks. One of the most endangered waterdogs in the country, its severe decline is the result of river sedimentation and pollution from mining and forestry, poultry farms, cattle feedlots and industrial and residential sewage effluent.

Eastern small-footed bat: Characterized by its black mask and black ears this bat with an 8-10 inch wingspan is among the species most affected by white-nose syndrome. It is experiencing declines of up to 100 percent in affected hibernacula, primarily in the states of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Virginia. White-nose syndrome, along with habitat destruction from mineral extraction, logging, residential and agricultural development, create double-barreled threats to the bat’s survival.

Montana Arctic fluvial grayling: A glacial relict of a much larger Arctic population, this grayling is a victim of the battle over water as river diversions and agricultural dewatering have drastically shrunk its Montana population. At one time there were two separate populations of Arctic grayling in the lower 48 — one in Michigan and one in the upper Missouri River headwaters of Montana. The Michigan population went extinct in the 1930s, and the remaining Montana population is hanging on by a thread, reduced to a single population in a 50-mile stretch of the Big Hole River. Water wars and drought have plagued the area, reducing the remaining fish population to such a degree that in recent years the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has not been able to estimate the population. Since 1991 the Montana Grayling has been caught up in a bureaucratic eddy, with the Service acknowledging that it needs protection but failing to provide it. 

Pacific walrus: With tusks like an elephant and the body of an overgrown seal, this pinniped plays a major role in the culture and religion of many northern peoples. Like the polar bear, the Pacific walrus is severely endangered due to oil drilling and the rapid and accelerating loss of Arctic sea ice, which has shrunk a dramatic 50 percent since 1972. Walruses require sea ice to ensure a continuation of the species, including for use as “haul-out” areas for resting, socialization, and birthing and calving grounds.

Relict leopard frog: Before being rediscovered at eight springs in Nevada in the early 1990s, this frog had the dubious distinction of being one of the first North American amphibians thought to have become extinct. But the population continues to teeter on the brink of extinction. Frogs have subsequently disappeared from two of the rediscovered locations and only about 500 to 1,100 adult frogs remain. None of the springs occupied by relict leopard frogs are secure from human impacts. 

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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