Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

August 15, 2001

Petition demonstrates that the Midvalley Fairy Shrimp is in danger of extinction and listing.

Contacts: Carol Witham, VernalPools.Org (530) 753-5872
Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity (510) 841-0812
More Information: Midvalley Fairy Shrimp, Goldenstate Biodiversity Initiative

Today the Center for Biological Diversity ("Center") and VernalPools.Org filed a listing petition under the federal Endangered Species Act ("ESA") for the Midvalley Fairy Shrimp. The petition demonstrates that the species faces a significant threat of extinction and requests that U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ("Service") promptly protect the species.

Fairy shrimps are crustaceans that live in vernal pools, seasonal wetlands that fill with water during fall and winter rains. Fairy shrimps swim upside down and filter bacteria, algae, and protozoa from their aquatic habitat. They are short-lived animals that hatch and reproduce during a short interval in the winter when the vernal pools are filled with water. Fairy shrimp cysts (encysted embryos) fall to the bottom of the pool where they withstand the hot, dry summers of California's grasslands. After one or more dry seasons, the cysts will hatch when the pools are once again inundated, and the cycle of life begins again.

The Midvalley Fairy Shrimp (Branchinecta mesovallensis) is a newly-described species that inhabits pools in only a handful of counties within the Great Central Valley, including Sacramento, Solano, Merced, Madera, San Joaquin, Fresno, and Contra Costa counties. The Midvalley Fairy Shrimp is closely related to three other federally listed species, the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp, Conservancy Fairy Shrimp, and Longhorn Fairy Shrimp. These three species were listed by the Service in 1994, primarily due to the threats posed by destruction of their vernal pool habitat. Today's petition demonstrates that the Midvalley Fairy Shrimp is at an even greater risk of extinction that these species, however, because it has a more restricted range and inhabits the most shallow and ephemeral vernal pools.

Vernal pools are one of the most threatened habitat types in the world. Over 97% of California's original vernal pool habitat has already been lost due to urban sprawl, agribusiness, offroad vehicles, livestock grazing, and wetland draining. Vernal pools are home to many plants and animals that in turn form a valuable part of the food chain for a wide array of animals, including birds of prey, shorebirds, migratory waterfowl, frogs, toads, salamanders and pollinating insects. "Fairy shrimps are a vital part of the web of life," said Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Service must act immediately to prevent the Midvalley Fairy Shrimp and its habitat from disappearing forever."

One of the greatest threats to the Midvalley Fairy Shrimp is the University of California's plans to build a new campus and city on one of the largest remaining vernal pool mosaics in the state. The proposed 1,300 acre UC Merced campus will directly impact dozens of acres of vernal pools some of which are occupied by the Midvalley Fairy Shrimp. Increased urban sprawl, agricultural and residential conversion, and indirect impacts (such as altered hydrology) resulting from the proposed UC Merced campus, a new town of 30,000 people, and associated infrastructure development are anticipated to destroy, fragment and degrade nearby Midvalley Fairy Shrimp habitat as well. "Perhaps the largest single threat facing this species is the proposed UC Merced campus at Lake Yosemite," said VernalPools.Org Coordinator, Carol Witham. "The new site adjacent to the Merced Hills Golf Course contains important Midvalley Fairy Shrimp habitat and impacts will be significant."

Today's petition sets in motion a process that sets definite timelines the Service must follow in deciding whether to list the species. Within 90 days, the Service must decide whether the petition presents sufficient information showing the listing may be warranted. Within one year, the Service must either propose the species for listing or find that the listing is not warranted or precluded by other priorities. If the Service finds that listing is warranted, the listing must be finalized within 2 years of the receipt of this petition.

Under the Bush administration, the Service has vowed not to accept or consider listing petitions for new species until at least the end of this fiscal year. Since Bush took office, only two species have been listed under the Endangered Species Act, one as a result of a Center petition and one as the result of a Center lawsuit. At this time in the Clinton administration, 42 species had been listed. "The Bush Administration has deliberately decided to stand by and do nothing while multiple species, including the Midvalley Fairy Shrimp, spiral towards extinction," said Siegel. "If they fail to process this important petition, we will challenge the listing moratorium in court."


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