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For Immediate Release, November 13, 2012

Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487

Pennsylvania Cave Creature One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protection

CATHERINE TOWNSHIP, Pa.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced an initial positive response today on a petition from conservation groups to protect the Heller Cave springtail, a tiny cave creature found only in a central Pennsylvania cave system recently threatened by a proposed limestone quarry. The Center for Biological Diversity and Juniata Valley Audubon Society sought the springtail’s protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in a petition filed in October 2011.

“The Heller Cave springtail will disappear forever if its only home on the planet is destroyed,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate for the Center. “Today’s decision is a hopeful sign that this little biological marvel will remain a part of Pennsylvania’s natural heritage into the future.”

In 2010 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit to Gulf Trading and Transport for a proposed quarry adjacent to the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, on the boundary between Blair and Huntingdon counties. However, the Department failed to require adherence to a “total avoidance area” around the caves to protect the eastern small-footed bat, as stipulated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which has listed the bats as a threatened species. The bat, which hibernates in the Heller Cave complex, has declined dramatically in recent years due to the rapidly spreading bat disease known as white-nose syndrome, making protection of surviving populations even more critical. 

The Heller Cave springtail, which was only recently discovered by biologists, has no special status under Pennsylvania law and was not included in the Commission’s requirements for protection of state-listed species at the quarry site.

Earlier this year the Center and Juniata Valley Audubon Society succeeded in halting the quarry through a settlement agreement with Gulf Trading and Transport and the Department of Environmental Protection. But the settlement does not guarantee permanent protection for the Heller Caves or the imperiled species that live there.

“Even tiny life forms like the Heller Cave springtail deserve a place to live,” said Matteson. “And our descendants deserve a world as rich in biological diversity as the one we inherited. Creatures large and small are all a part of that.”

The springtail belongs to a group of arthropods that live in various underground environments. This particular species is a little over an eighth of an inch in length; like other springtails, it is able to jump distances many times its body length. Cave-dwelling springtails are highly dependent on the stable temperatures and high humidity found in caves, and the Heller Cave springtail would likely not survive long if exposed to outside surface conditions. Among other springtails of its type, the Heller Cave springtail is a geographic outlier; no other similar springtail species is found as far north and east in North America.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will now conduct an in-depth status review of the springtail and decide whether the species warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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