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Endangered Amargosa vole at risk of extinction from hot spring tourism

The Center for Biological Diversity accuses the U.S. Bureau of Land Management of allowing too much recreational activity in the mammal's tiny wetland habitat.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The endangered Amaragosa vole, of which just a few hundred survive along a small stretch of the Amargosa River near the California-Nevada border, faces extinction in the next couple of years from tourists visiting the hot spring in the mammal's habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday, claiming it has failed to protect the Amargosa vole against the encroachment of its wetland habitat by campers and other visitors to the Borehole Spring and the nearby town of Tecopa Hot Springs.

“Amargosa voles are on the brink of extinction, but federal officials are looking the other way while people party around the clock in these little animals’ only home,” Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the center and a local resident, said in a statement. “Many visitors to this hot spring have an anything-goes mentality, and without thoughtful management their activities threaten the voles’ continued existence.”

Representatives of the Bureau of Land Management had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

The voles have been the subject of intense conservation efforts over the past decade, according to the center, as scientists and wildlife managers have fought to keep them from going extinct. A captive-breeding program, habitat restoration, and creation of a lifeboat population helped start the voles on a path to recovery.

Amargosa voles live most of their lives in a very small home range of about one-quarter of an acre, according to the center. They have been known to “surf” rare flash-flood waters, traveling long distances between suitable habitat patches. The marsh created by the hot spring is the voles’ stronghold, the center said, and at times it has held as much as 90% of the global population of the rare creatures.

Recent studies have concluded the subspecies has an 85% chance of going extinct by 2026 if nothing is done to protect its habitat.

The center claims BLM is violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to prevent degradation of the Amargosa vole's habitat, and wants a judge to order the agency to reinitiate consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure activities that jeopardize the Amargosa vole are not authorized.

The Center of Biological Diversity is represented by its own attorneys Lisa Belenky and Hallie Kutak.

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