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For Immediate Release, January 31, 2013

Contact:   Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821
Kat Logan Smith, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, (314) 229-3042

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Ozark Hellbenders, Four Other Endangered Species on
Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest

COLUMBIA, Mo.— Two conservation groups today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agencies’ failure to protect the Ozark hellbender, Hine’s emerald dragonfly, Tumbling Creek cavesnail and two endangered mussels on Mark Twain National Forest, where logging, road use and other activities are polluting waterways. 

Hine's emerald dragonfly
Hine's emerald dragonfly photo by P. Burton, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“Poorly managed recreation and timber harvest pollutes waterways on the Mark Twain National Forest that the Ozark hellbender needs to survive,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a biologist and attorney at the Center. “To save the hellbender, we have to protect the rivers that people treasure, too, for drinking water, fishing and boating.”

Management of Mark Twain National Forest is guided by a forest plan prepared in 2005.  Since the plan was written, several aquatic species that live near or on the Forest have been protected as endangered or had critical habitat designated. Specifically, in accordance with a historic settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity and other litigation, the Fish and Wildlife Service protected the Ozark hellbender and two mussels — called the “spectaclecase” and “snuffbox” — as endangered and designated critical habitat for the Hine’s emerald dragonfly and Tumbling Creek cavesnail. Habitat for all of these animals is being harmed by timber harvests, grazing, road construction and recreational activities that cause soil or pollutants to enter waterways.

The lawsuit launched today, under the Endangered Species Act, would require the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit the 2005 plan to analyze the impacts of activities in the Forest on these newly protected endangered species and essential habitats. Such analysis is critical to ensure the animals’ protection through best management practices and other measures. The lawsuit will likely result in forest-plan amendments — for instance, a prohibition on construction of bridges or boat ramps near hellbender habitat.    

“As stewards of Mark Twain National Forest, the Forest Service needs to stop dragging its feet and get to work protecting the endangered species whose existence depends on the health of the Forest’s waterways,” said Kat Logan Smith, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “Because the health of the water is directly impacted by activities on the land, the agency needs to ensure its projects safeguard our irreplaceable wildlife resources.”

Photos for media use are available here.

About one-third of known locations of the Ozark hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) occur on Mark Twain National Forest. Because populations have plummeted due to water-quality degradation, the Fish and Wildlife Service added the Ozark hellbender to the endangered species list in October 2011. This salamander — at nearly 2 feet long, one of the largest in the world — is uniquely adapted to aquatic life, with a flattened body that allows it to cling to river bottoms in strong currents.

Spectaclecase (Cumberlandia monodonta) and snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra) mussels are experiencing rapid declines and were therefore added to the endangered species list in early 2012. The snuffbox is found on the Black River in Missouri, which flows through Mark Twain National Forest, and spectaclecase populations on the Forest have been reduced to a few isolated sites. Forest-management activities that add sediment to streams harm both of these mussels. Another concern is activities such as boating, which could spread harmful invasive species like the zebra mussel.

The Hine’s emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana) is known for its beautiful emerald eyes and is one of the most endangered dragonflies in North America. At least nine known locations of the dragonfly occur on the Mark Twain — all in open bogs with standing or sheet flow water. In April 2010 the Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat on the Forest in response to a lawsuit from the Center. Activities of concern include timber harvest and road construction, as well as off-road vehicle and equestrian use near the dragonfly’s fragile habitats. 

The Tumbling Creek cavesnail (Antrobia culveri) is a small, blind, aquatic snail found in only one cave, on private property, in Taney County, Mo. The Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for the Tumbling Creek cavesnail in June 2011. While the cavesnail does not occur on the Forest, activities within the cave recharge area (the land area that supplies water to the cave and its streams; in this case about 25 percent of that area lies within the Forest) can harm the designated critical habitat. Activities that have the potential to move soil into waterways, such as the clearing of trees and other vegetation, also damage water quality for the snail, which is the primary cause of its decline.

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.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) state-level conservation organization, is a force for clean air, clean water and clean energy in Missouri. Since 1969 we have educated and activated Missourians to protect the land we all love.

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