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For Immediate Release, June 30, 2009

Contacts:  Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Steve Paulson, Friends of the Clearwater, (208) 476-7688

Conservation Groups Again Petition to List Giant Palouse Earthworm as an Endangered Species

Rare, Lily-smelling Earthworm Has Been Seen Only Four Times in Past 110 Years

PORTLAND, Oreg.—  Friends of the Clearwater, Center for Biological Diversity, Palouse Prairie Foundation, Palouse Audubon and Palouse Group of Sierra Club filed a petition today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting that the agency protect the giant Palouse earthworm as an endangered species. The earthworm has been found only four times in the past 110 years, including in 2005, and is immediately threatened by agriculture, urban sprawl, and invasive earthworms.

“The giant Palouse earthworm is critically endangered and needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to have any chance of survival,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sometimes reaching three feet in length, white in color, and reportedly possessing a unique lily smell, the giant Palouse earthworm is found only in eastern Washington and northern Idaho and would be a tragedy to lose.”

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a previous petition from the groups to protect the earthworm, arguing that there was not enough information about the species. This move was typical of the administration, which adamantly opposed protecting species under the Endangered Species Act. Indeed, the administration protected only 62 species in eight years, compared to 522 species protected under the Clinton administration. In submitting the new petition, the groups provided additional information demonstrating the extreme rarity of, and severe threats to, the species.

“The giant Palouse earthworm has lost the vast majority of its habitat to agriculture and urban sprawl,” said Steve Paulson with Friends of the Clearwater. “Indeed, the Palouse Prairie, which comprises much of the earthworm’s presumed range, is considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in the U.S., with less than two percent remaining in a native state.” 

Sightings of the earthworm have all been in areas with native vegetation in the Palouse prairie region of eastern Washington and northern Idaho or around Ellensburg, Washington. The earthworm appears to need moist soils with native vegetation. Recent surveys of both native habitat and former agriculture areas found only introduced earthworms, with one exception: In 2005, a researcher from the University of Idaho found a single giant Palouse earthworm in an area of native vegetation near Moscow, Idaho.

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