Feds Sued to Force Protections for 8 Endangered Species

A gopher tortoise. (Judy Gallagher via Wikipedia)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Trump administration failed to give Endangered Species Act protections to the longfin smelt, the eastern gopher tortoise and six other highly vulnerable species – even after finding that the wildlife qualified – conservationists claim in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

A United Nations report on biodiversity issued this month said over 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction due to climate change and the destruction of habitat for food and energy production and waste disposal projects.

Researchers found 27,159 species are threatened, endangered or are already extinct out of nearly 100,000 species that were examined in depth, according to the study.

Despite warnings from scientists, the Trump administration has been delaying protections for “critically imperiled” plants and animals according to the lawsuit filed by Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper.

Along with the longfin smelt and eastern gopher tortoise, conservationists seek protections for the Hermes copper butterfly, marron bacora, Sierra Nevada red fox, red tree vole, Berry Cave salamander, and the Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly.

The eastern gopher tortoise uses webbed legs to dig burrows which are then used by more than 360 other species across the southern U.S. states.

“They are severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites,” the conservationists said of the tortoise in a statement. “Development also exposes tortoises to mortality from being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or persecuted by humans.”

The groups added that while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already determined the eight species qualify for federal protections under the Endangered Species Act, it has simply “refused” to extend them.

More than 500 species are waiting for approval decision from the agency, according to the lawsuit, which added that while federal policies allow the agency to delay protection when it is making “expeditious progress” listing other species, that is not the case now.

Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement Thursday that longfin smelt were once abundant in the San Francisco Bay and Delta but have been nearly wiped out after freshwater diversions over the last three decades.

“The longfin smelt needs protection now if it’s going to have any chance at survival,” Miller said. “Trump officials’ delay in protecting these fish and other species is cataclysmic. They’re stalling safeguards for imperiled wildlife for no other reason than to please campaign contributors in Big Ag and other industries.”

Jon Rosenfield of the San Francisco Baykeepers said the bay’s ecosystem “downfall” is marked by the decline of the longfin smelt population.

“We can’t fix these big problems by burying our heads in the sand, as the Trump administration seems intent to do,” Rosenfield said in a statement.

The groups want a judge to order the federal agencies to publish proposed protection rules for the eight species and to find their delay in doing so unlawful.

U.S Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Margaret Everson are named defendants in the lawsuit. Neither responded to requests for comment by press time.

The Trump administration has only listed 17 species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Obama and Clinton administrations listed 72 and 196 species, respectively, during their first two years, the conservationists said.

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