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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Four Tiny Creatures Get Species Protection Nod

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized the listing for a tiger beetle, and proposed two stoneflies and a crustacean for Endangered Species Act protections.

One of the four species, the Kenk's amphipod, is included in a six-year workplan that resulted from the 2011 settlement agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the agency to speed listing decisions for hundreds of backlogged species. That workplan was slated to wind down at the end of September.

The proposed listing of the two stoneflies is the result of a 2015 settlement agreement between the CBD and the agency.

The fourth species, the Miami tiger beetle, was once thought extinct until it was rediscovered in 2007. The CBD and other conservation groups petitioned the agency on its behalf in 2014, and the agency responded in December 2015 with a proposal to list the beetle as an endangered species.

The pine rocklands habitat where it is found in southern Florida is home to other ESA listed species, including six plants and two butterflies. The pine rocklands are fragmented due to agriculture and urban development, and conditions for stressed species are worsened by climate change and rising sea levels. Two newly proposed developments threaten the Miami tiger beetle, which is found in only two small isolated populations.

"We are listing the beetle to ensure its continued survival and conserve its shrinking habitat. We are working closely with prospective developers and key stakeholders in Miami-Dade County to ensure that the Miami tiger beetle is considered in development or management plans," Cindy Dohner, USFWS Southeast Regional Director, said.

The iridescent beetle is just one-quarter to one-third of an inch long, one of the smallest tiger beetles in the United States. They are aggressive predators of ants.

"It's a huge relief to know that this tiny, mighty creature will now be around for years to come," CBD's Florida director Jaclyn Lopez said. "Endangered Species Act protection will help ensure the beetle's rare pine rockland hunting grounds remain intact in the face of ever-pressing development."

A far different threat imperils the two stoneflies proposed for threatened status under the ESA, which are found in and around Glacier National Park in Montana and possibly in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The tiny winged insects, which are about the size of a pencil eraser, according to the agency, are found in snowfields and frigid glacial meltwaters. "The good news is four potential new populations of the western glacier stonefly are believed to have been found in the Beartooth Mountains in southwestern Montana, and Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The bad news is their glaciers are melting, putting the icy streams where stoneflies thrive in danger from drought and climate change," the agency said. The stoneflies are found in remote areas, almost entirely on federal lands.

The western glacier stonefly and the lednian stonefly are important organisms in their aquatic ecosystems, and provide significant nutrition to fish. Stoneflies are sensitive to degraded water quality and water pollution. "As go the glaciers of Glacier National Park, so go these two unique stoneflies," CBD's endangered species director Noah Greenwald said. "Global warming is changing the face of the planet before our eyes, and, like these two insects, many species are seeing their habitats disappear."

The Kenk's amphipod, an eyeless, colorless crustacean about a quarter inch long, is found in ground water around the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Four of the five sites where it is found are inside parks where they are more protected, the agency said.

The agency is proposing the amphipod for threatened species status. The agency had placed the amphipod on its candidate list in 2010. The 2011 settlement agreement with the CBD directed the agency to make listing determinations for all species that were on the candidate list in 2010. The amphipod suffers from degraded habitat as the freshwater springs it depends on throughout its range have been fouled by sewage, pesticides and pollution from development. Climate change also affects precipitation and ground water levels. "I live next to Rock Creek Park, and am really happy that this little critter will soon get the protection it desperately needs," CBD's endangered species policy director Brett Hartl said. "Although it may be one of the most uncharismatic species considered for protection under the Act, these tiny crustaceans are a bellwether for the health of D.C.'s freshwater springs and creeks. And what they're telling us about our water quality is not good."

The listing of the Miami tiger beetle as an endangered species under the ESA is effective Nov. 4. Comments on the proposal to list the Kenk's amphipod as an endangered species are due Nov. 29, and written public hearing requests are due Nov. 14. Comments on the proposal to list the two stoneflies as threatened species are due Dec. 5, and written public hearing requests are due in writing by Nov. 18.

Beetle photo credit: Johnathan Mays, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Amphipod photo credit: Irina Sereg, National Park Service

Stone fly photo credit: Joe Giersch, United States Geological Survey

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