US to Decide Protections|for 9 Threatened Species

     (CN) — Nine species, from birds to bugs, will be placed under protection of the Endangered Species Act as the result of a settlement agreement between federal regulators and the Center for Biological Diversity.
     As recounted in court documents filed Tuesday in D.C. Federal Court, the center submitted a series of petitions to the Interior Department between 2010 and 2015, requesting enhanced protections for a variety of species.
     The species include fish (the Barrens topminnow and Virgin River spinedace); a freshwater snail (the beaverpond marstonia); a mollusk (the Canoe Creek pigtoe); insects (the cobblestone tiger beetle); a bird (the spotted owl); reptiles and amphibians (the alligator snapping turtle and foothill yellow-legged frog); and a mammal (the Northern Rockies fisher).
     The settlement says all of the findings on the threatened species were reviewed for 90 days by the department, it “concluded that the petitions presented substantial information indicating that the listings … may be warranted.”
     Species like the alligator snapping turtle, whose traditionally flourished in the diverse areas of the Mississippi River watershed, have seen their habitat reduced by an estimated 95 percent, the court documents said.
     The agreement guarantees protected status of the turtle no later than September 2020.
     The barrens topminnow, a fish common to the Tennessee Barrens Plateau, once had an estimated population of 4,500 to 5,000 in the region; now the total population is estimated to be in the hundreds. That species will fall under the ESA purview no later than December 201, the settlement says..
     The beaverpond marstonia, common to the Flint River watershed in Crisp County, Georgia, has not been found once by researchers in the last few years.
     The picture was no less bleak with the California spotted owl. Its population has decreased by 22 percent in the southern Cascades over the span of 18 years, the settlement said.
     The numbers of the Virgin River spinedace, a silvery fish which lives in the river basins of northwestern Arizona, southeastern Nevada and parts of Utah, have been reduced by 55 percent, the parties said.
     The agreement includes a provision allowing for the modification of protection deadlines, also requires the parties to submit to mediation, rather than litigation, if any element of the deal unravels.
     The agreement also notes that if “sufficient resources to complete the actions required” are unavailable, the Interior Department can petition the court to modify the agreement.
     In such cases, the department has agreed to compensate the center for all of its attorney’s fees.

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