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For Immediate Release, April 21, 2011

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Lawsuit Launched to Protect 400-plus Freshwater Species in Southeast Under Endangered Species Act

ATLANTA The Center for Biological Diversity and five southeastern conservation groups filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to respond to an April 2010 petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for 403 species dependent on the region’s troubled waterways. Among the fish, crayfish, mussels, birds and others included in the petition are the Florida sandhill crane, hellbender and Black Warrior waterdog salamanders, Alabama map turtle and burrowing bog crayfish.

“Unfortunately, the Southeast’s rivers are the extinction capital of North America,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center. “Dams, pollution, growing demand for water and global climate change mean these 403 species need Endangered Species Act protection to have any chance at survival.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to determine whether the petition presented sufficient information to warrant further consideration within 90 days and determine if the species warranted protection within one year. The agency has now missed both deadlines.

“These species are on the brink of disappearing forever, and the Obama administration seems intent only on delay and inaction,” said Greenwald. “It’s dangerous foot-dragging — yet another result of an endangered species program that’s been broken for more than a decade and badly needs reform.”

To date, President Barack Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Service has only protected 55 species, for a rate of 27 species per year. This is better than under the last Bush administration, when only seven species per year were protected by the agency, but far worse than under the Clinton administration, when 62 species were listed per year for a total of 498 species. Of the 55 species protected under President Obama, 48 live on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and were protected in a single decision.

“These 403 species are an integral part of what makes the Southeast unique,” said Greenwald. “Saving them would improve the health of southeastern rivers and help ensure a high quality of life for people now and in the future.”  

The Southeast’s rivers and streams are a hotspot of biological diversity, harboring 493 fishes (62 percent of U.S. fish species) and at least 269 mussels (91 percent of U.S. mussel species). The combined threat of dams, urban and agricultural sprawl, logging, mining, livestock grazing, pollution, invasive species, climate change and other factors are a massive assault on the health and integrity of Southeast rivers and are resulting in an extinction crisis. For example, the Coosa River in Alabama and Georgia is the site of the greatest modern extinction event in North America: the loss of 36 species following construction of a series of dams. Overall, the Mobile Basin is home to half of all North American species that have gone extinct since European settlement.      

Groups joining the Center include The Clinch Coalition, Dogwood Alliance, Gulf Restoration Network, Tennessee Forests Council and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Learn more about the campaign:
See an interactive map showing a list of the species by state:
Watch a slide show of focal species in the petition:

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