Protection Proposed for Tiny Texas Water Snails

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Following the mandate of a 2011 landmark settlement agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing four snails and two amphipods in west Texas as endangered. The USFWS also has proposed critical habitat designations for the species.
     Read Courthouse News’ Environmental Law Review.
     Under a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the USFWS must make initial or final determinations on over 750 species by 2018, including the six invertebrates, according to the environmental group’s press release.
     The tiny aquatic invertebrates live in two shrinking Chihuahuan Desert spring system habitats in the Pecos River drainage basin of west Texas, with the snails feeding on fine-particle organic material, and requiring flowing water habitats, and the two amphipod species being inland crustaceans, which also require well-oxygenated water and are often considered ecological indicators of ecosystem health and integrity.
     The species and their habitats are threatened by variables that differ from one spring system to the other and between species, but which include spring-flow decline primarily from agricultural pumping and possible climate change, potential water quality changes from agricultural contamination and nearby oil and gas operations, the introduction of competing non-native species, and the growth of bulrushes and the activities of feral hogs, which affect water flow, as detailed in the background section of the proposed regulation.
     These species have been in bureaucratic limbo for decades, with the Phantom springsnail and Phantom cave snail proposed for listing in 1976, the two amphipods proposed for protection in 1984 and the Diamond Y Spring snail and Gonzalez springsnail proposed in 1989, according to the action. “Last year’s agreement led to this important step toward on-the-ground protection,” the environmental group’s press release states.
     Out of the proposed 450.6 acres of critical habitat, 444.4 acres are owned by the nonprofit Nature Conservancy conservation organization, with the rest owned by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and a private party, according to the rule.
     The USFWS is preparing an economic analysis of the proposed designations and will request public comments on it, including from independent specialists with scientific expertise in these species or related fields, and commercial information regarding the proposed listing, by Oct. 15, 2012, and expects to publish a final determination to list one or more of these species as threatened or endangered within one year or to withdraw the proposed rule at that time if new information supports that decision, the action states.

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