June 24, 2004
Contact: Noah Greenwald, 503-243-6643
U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE ORDERED TO CONSIDER ENDANGERED STATUS FOR THREE WESTERN SPECIES
SAND DUNE LIZARD, SOUTHERN IDAHO GROUND SQUIRREL AND TAHOE YELLOW CRESS NEED PROTECTION NOT FOOT DRAGGING
The District Court of Oregon issued a decision Monday ordering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the Sand dune lizard ( New Mexico), southern Idaho ground squirrel, and Tahoe yellow cress warrant protection as endangered species by December 20, 2004. The three species were all the subject of petitions submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups between December 2000 and June, 2002. By law, Fish and Wildlife has one year to determine if a species warrants listing following submission of a petition. They argued that they didn’t have to issue findings because the species were already recognized as candidates. The court rejected this argument.
“These species are an important part of the web of life and deserve the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re glad the court rejected the Bush Administration’s continued foot-dragging and ordered them to consider these species for protection.”
Placing species on the candidate list has been a favorite method of the Administration for delaying protection of species they know deserve protection. Listing as a candidate provides no protection to species and often results in lengthy delays in real protection. The Tahoe yellow cress, for example, has been a candidate for protection for 29 years, first petitioned by the Smithsonian Institute July 1, 1975. Such delays are not atypical. A review of all species listed as threatened or endangered in the U.S., showed that on average the agency took nearly ten years to list candidate species. At least 34 species have gone extinct waiting for protection under the ESA.
“Today’s court order puts a stop to the Bush Administration’s cynical efforts to avoid protecting our Nation’s wildlife,” states Greenwald. “The Bush Administration has only protected 31 plants, animals, and fish to date, compared to 394 species protected during the Clinton Administration’s first term and 234 during the first Bush Administration—an atrocious record.”
Fish and Wildlife claims they don’t have enough money to list species needing protection. A review of their annual budget requests, however, reveals that year after year the Department of Interior fails to request enough money for listing. According to their own estimates, 153 million is needed to deal with the listing backlog, yet the Bush Administration requested slightly more than 9 million in 2003.
“The Bush Administration is manufacturing a budget crisis to cover up their opposition to endangered species protection and poor implementation of the Nation’s most important environmental law,” concludes Noah Greenwald.
Background on the species:
The Sand Dune Lizard has the second smallest range of any lizard in North America, only occurring in southeastern New Mexico and western Texas on sand dunes covered by shinnery oak. This unique plant is often only 4-5’ tall, but can be thousands of years old and comprises the largest stand of oak in the country. The heart of the Sand Dune Lizard’s range is the Mescalero Sands—a narrow crescent shaped area of beautiful rolling dunes in southeastern New Mexico. The lizard is threatened by a combination of oil and gas drilling and herbicide spraying to create forage for livestock.
The Tahoe Yellow Cress inhabits a narrow seven foot zone between Lake Tahoe’s low water line (6223 ft.) and one foot above the high water line (6230 ft.). Forty-eight populations are known to have historically existed on the shores of Lake Tahoe. These populations have declined due to extensive development, fluctuating water levels, pier construction and recreation. Only ten populations were found in 1999.
The southern Idaho ground squirrel has one of the smallest ranges of any ground squirrel, limited to the low rolling hills of Gem, Payette and Washington Counties of Southwestern Idaho. Its sagebrush steppe habitats have been decimated by livestock grazing, development, and invasive species. Although many consider ground squirrels “varmints” that are only good for target practice, they actually serve a number of useful functions, such as aerating soil, creating homes for other creatures like burrowing owls, and acting as a source of prey for badgers, birds of prey and other predators.