Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 15, 2019

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Lawsuit Launched Over Trump Administration Failure to Protect 9 At-risk Species

Protection Wrongfully Delayed for Sierra Nevada Red Fox, Red Tree Vole, Eastern Gopher Tortoise

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to protect nine imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act, including the San Francisco Bay Delta population of longfin smelt and the Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly.

The eight animals and one plant live in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Today’s notice also covers the Berry Cave salamander, Hermes copper butterfly, Sierra Nevada red fox, red tree vole, gopher tortoise, magnificent ramshorn snail and a large flowering shrub called marrón bacora.

“The Trump administration’s appalling hostility toward protecting our wildlife is driving these species toward extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “We can save creatures like the Sierra Nevada red fox, but we have to act quickly before they disappear.”

This is the second notice to sue the administration that the Center has filed in less than a week. Last week’s notice covered 26 species for which the administration failed to make determinations and provide protection or designate critical habitat. 

All nine species in today’s notice have been found to warrant protection as threatened or endangered species. But their protections have been delayed under a provision of the Endangered Species Act that allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to withhold protections if they are making “expeditious progress” listing other species.

Yet the Trump administration is not making expeditious progress in listing species, which makes delaying protection for the nine species illegal. To date, the administration has only listed 16 species — the fewest protected by any administration in its first two years since the Reagan administration, when James Watt was Interior secretary. 

By comparison, the Obama administration listed 72 species and the Clinton administration listed 196 during their first terms. 

“The Trump administration’s foot-dragging is putting rare animals and plants at risk of disappearing forever,” said Greenwald. “Just last year a freshwater snail known as the Ozark pyrg went extinct while waiting for protection. Even if species do finally get protections, the delays are likely to make recovery more difficult and expensive. 

If the administration does not list the species under the Endangered Species Act, the Center will file suit in 60 days.      

Species Background 

Sierra Nevada red fox — The Sierra Nevada red fox lives in remote, high mountains in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges of California and Oregon. The Center petitioned for protection of the fox in 2011 and filed a lawsuit in 2013 to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a decision on the animal’s protection. The fox has suffered drastic population declines due to logging, grazing, poisoning, trapping and off-road and over-snow vehicles. Only around 70 adult foxes are known to survive in California, and the size of the small Oregon population is unknown.

Red tree vole, North Coast population — The North Coast population of red tree vole is a distinct population of the red tree vole that is only found along Oregon’s northern coast. Red tree voles live nearly their entire lives in trees. They have been nearly wiped out by a long history of logging and wildfires in the North Coast, including the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.

Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly —This small, dark-brown butterfly with black and deep orange markings is associated with rare soil types likely related to the nectar plants it needs for feeding. The butterfly is only known from the Mariaco Commonwealth Forest and the coastal cliffs in a small area in Quebradillas, where it is severely threatened by urban sprawl. Only a handful of individuals have been seen in recent years, and the harlequin’s status following Hurricane Maria is unknown.

Eastern gopher tortoise — Gopher tortoises have shovel-like front legs and strong, thick back legs to help them dig intricate burrows, which are used by more than 360 other species. Gopher tortoises in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama are already protected under the Endangered Species Act, but those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still await protections. The tortoises need large, unfragmented long-leaf pine forests to survive. They are severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites. It also and exposes them to mortality from being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or shot.

Longfin smelt — Longfin smelt were once one of the most abundant fishes in the San Francisco Bay and Delta; historically they were so common that their numbers supported a commercial fishery. Due to poor management of California's largest estuary ecosystem, which has allowed excessive water diversions and reduced freshwater flow into the Bay, the longfin smelt has undergone catastrophic declines in the past 20 years.

Magnificent ramshorn This snail is endemic to the lower Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina. It is currently extinct in the wild because of massive alteration of its historic habitats by dams, development and pollution. Two captive populations keep hope alive, but stream restoration is badly needed to restore this species to the wild.  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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