Feds Keep Protections for Southwest Bird, Declare Georgia Snail Extinct

The southwestern willow flycatcher. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey)

(CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday it would keep federal protections for Southwest migrant bird but declined to list a Georgia snail because it is already extinct.

The service received a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, representing several development, business and cattlemen’s associations, seeking to have the southwestern willow flycatcher removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The group said the bird does not constitute a valid subspecies, and is no longer subject to the threats identified by the service when it listed the subspecies as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

In its announcement, Fish and Wildlife said “an exhaustive review of the best available information from the U.S. Geological Survey, species experts, state and federal agencies, taxonomic organizations, and the service’s Conservation Genetics Program’s critical review, led to the conclusion that the southwestern willow flycatcher is a subspecies protectable under the ESA.”

An evaluation of the current threats confirmed the flycatcher still needs protection, the agency added.

Threats that existed when the bird was listed in 1995 included habitat loss and modification by dams and reservoirs, water diversion and groundwater pumping, invasive plants, urban and agricultural development, grazing, drought, climate change, and isolated small populations. A later study by the U.S. Geological Survey reports beetles released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to control invasive tamarisk pose an additional threat to the flycatchers by dramatically destroying even more of the birds’ shrinking habitat.

“The fact that the Pacific Legal Foundation could not even sway the Trump administration shows just how loony its argument really is,” Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “We’re relieved the precious southwestern willow flycatcher and the streamside habitats it needs to survive will stay protected.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, one of Fish and Wildlife’s most frequent petitioners and complainants on behalf of imperiled species, maintains Pacific Legal Foundation’s petition was based on the “work of a scientist who does not believe the well-documented existence of subspecies in birds, a category that includes Darwin’s famous finches.”

Pacific Legal Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comments.

“The Pacific Legal Foundation doesn’t seem to care much about the validity of the science in their petitions,” Robinson said. “And they seem to care even less about the diversity of species that sustains and enriches our lives. We’ll fight their attempts to defile nature at every turn.”

While the center is relieved that the flycatcher will retain its federal protection, the group maintains the fate of a small Georgia snail, also mentioned in the service’s announcement Thursday, was sealed due to the agency’s failure to timely act on a 2010 petition to list it.

“The service should have proposed protection for the beaverpond marstonia in 2011, but did not act on the petition until the center sued the agency in 2016 to obtain a court-ordered deadline for the decision. The snail was first added to the candidate waiting list for federal protection in 1984,” the group said in response to the announcement.

The beaverpond marstonia was a freshwater snail less than a fifth of an inch long. Its known historical range encompassed three creeks in Georgia. According to Fish and Wildlife, it was last observed in 2000.

“Repeated surveys for the species, starting in 2014 through March of 2017, in the locations it was previously found and in surrounding areas with similar habitat have yielded no specimens,” the service said. The agency believes the snail is extinct, and therefore no longer in need of federal protection.

“It’s heartbreaking to lose wildlife to extinction, especially when timely intervention could have saved the species,” Tierra Curry, a Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist, said. “The loss of the beaverpond marstonia is yet another wake-up call to the Fish and Wildlife Service that urgent action is needed to prevent the extinction of more Southeast species.”

The loss of the snail marks a dozen Southeast species gone extinct in the past decade, the center said, and more than 50 Southeast species have been lost to extinction in the past century.

“The Southeast region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service feels no sense of urgency about preventing the extinction of small but incredibly important species like snails and insects. They’re shirking their responsibility to prevent irreplaceable wildlife from being lost forever,” Curry said.

 

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