No. 364, August 11, 2005










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Implementing a settlement agreement won by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the Southwest Alaska sea otter on the endangered species list on 8/9/05. Otter populations in the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula declined precipitously in the past decade, leading Center scientists to document the species’ plight and file a petition to have it protected in 2000. Unfortunately, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. stalled the listing process initiated by the Alaska office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Center and Turtle Island were forced to file suit in 2003, winning a listing proposal in 2004.

In 2005, government biologists concluded that the sea otter continued to decline after the Center filed its petition. Yet, Washington bureaucrats again delayed the protection process, forcing the Center to file a second suit resulting in the final listing rule.

After the fur trade nearly pushed the sea otter over the precipice of extinction, the species was saved by an international treaty banning fur trade. The Alaska sea otter population made a remarkable comeback, and by 1985 it comprised over 80% of the world’s total sea otter population. Unfortunately around 1985, it began one of the most widespread and precipitous population declines in recorded history. Endangered listing will ensure its survival as the Endangered Species Act has a 99% success rate as preventing extinction and has improved the status of the great majority of species it protects.

Learn more about Alaskan sea otters and the Center's efforts to protect them, click here.


Implementing a legal settlement agreement obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity and Forest Guardians, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed three southwestern snails and a crustacean on the endangered species list on 8/10/05. The Roswell springsnail, Koster's tryonia, Pecos assiminea, and Noel's amphipod occur in four small wetland areas in the Roswell Basin of southern New Mexico and Northern Texas. The basin is underlain by two aquifers that bubble up through soluble limestone and dolomite deposits, creating unique karst formations including underground streams, springs, seeps, and wetlands. The area in which these three snails and Noel's amphipod are found is the last known habitat for other endemic mollusks and crustaceans as well. Unfortunately, all are threatened by groundwater pumping, oil and gas exploration, water pollution, and wetland draining.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list these and seven other species as endangered in 1985. An initial decision to protect them was issued in 1986, but as is often the case, the process stalled and nothing further happened until the Center filed suit in 2001. A listing proposal was issued in 2002, but the process again bogged down, prompting a second lawsuit. This month’s listing comes some 20 years after the state petitioned for protection.

All four species will now benefit from the development of a federal recovery plan. The Pecos Assiminea was also granted critical habitat.


Ending more than a decade of delays, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watershed Project have reached an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring the agency to decide whether the Montana fluvial arctic grayling should be placed on the endangered list by April 2007.

A member of the salmon family, the arctic grayling is widely distributed across Canada and Alaska. Historically, fluvial populations existed in only two places in the lower 48 states: Michigan and the upper Missouri River of Montana. The Michigan populations went extinct by the 1930s, and populations in Montana were restricted to the Big Hole River by the end of the 1970s. It was acknowledged to be an endangered species in 1994, but its protection has been stalled for over a decade. The grayling’s slide toward extinction has been driven by dewatering of its stream habitat and loss of the riparian forests. Extensive water withdrawals from the Big Hole River and seven consecutive years of drought continue to threaten it.

Pressure to list the grayling under the Endangered Species Act has spurred new conservation measures. Last year, the Natural Resource Conservation Service paid about one million dollars to Big Hole landowners to leave water in the river. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks is working on a "candidate conservation agreement with assurances" hoped to provide more habitat protection, but flows are presently below levels necessary to sustain Grayling survival and recovery.


The Center for Biological Diversity has reached a legal agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will result in the protection of 12 species of picture wings on the federal endangered list. The species have been under review for protection since scientists sounded warning bells in 1995. Under the agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service will make a final decision on protecting the species in April 2006.

Hawaii is renowned for its unique species, but few are as amazing as the 111 species of picture wing flies that evolved from a single female migrating from the mainland some five million years ago. Their evolution is one of the most well studied in all of nature and has led to numerous advances in genetics and evolutionary theory. Scientists recently discovered that the picture wings may possess auto-immune system characteristics previously unknown to medical science which may unlock cures for AIDS, cancer, or the West Nile virus.

Hawaiian picture wings are often called the "birds of paradise" of the insect world because of their intricate mating rituals and dances. One of the species in today’s suit, Nalo kihikihi (Drosophila heteroneura) is also known as the "hammerhead" because its males have evolved a long, narrow head much like that of the hammerhead shark to attract females and to butt heads with male competitors. Like some birds and mammals, but rare in the insect world, picture wings defend special mating areas called "leks" where males dance, wrestle, sing, or butt heads in a performance designed to impress females.

Unfortunately, Hawaiian picture wings are gravely threatened. Seventeen or more may already be extinct; as many as 50 may be in serious decline. The hammerhead, for example, formerly occurred at 16 sites on four of the island of Hawaii’s five volcanoes. It disappeared from every site and was feared extinct until rediscovered at a single site on the Hualalai volcano in 1993.

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