The Interior Department this morning said it will conduct reviews to determine whether 374 water-dependent species in the Southeast deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The decision, known as a 90-day finding, comes a year and a half after a coalition of environmental groups petitioned the agency to offer federal protections for 404 aquatic species, citing threats from dams, water diversions and logging, farming and wetlands development (Greenwire, April 21, 2010).
Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service said it will initiate a more thorough status review to determine whether any, or all, of the species merit a listing as threatened or endangered.
"The Endangered Species Act has proved to be a critical safety net for America's imperiled fish, wildlife, and plants," Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. "Our finding today is the first step in determining whether these species need the special protection afforded by the act."
But final decisions on whether to list the 374 species will likely not occur within the next six years while the agency implements a court-approved settlement with WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity to issue final listing decisions on 251 "candidate" species that deserve protections, according to FWS, but are precluded by higher priorities. Those species include the lesser prairie chicken, walrus, wolverine, golden trout and Miami blue butterfly (E&ENews PM, Sept. 9).
Species announced today include 13 amphibians, six amphipods, 17 beetles, three birds, four butterflies, six caddisflies, 81 crayfish, 14 dragonflies, 43 fish, one springfly, two isopods, four mammals, one moth, 35 mussels, six non-vascular plants, 12 reptiles, 43 snails, eight stoneflies and 75 vascular plants, FWS said.
One of the species is the Florida sandhill crane, which has a long neck and legs and resembles a heron except for a bald patch of red skin on top of its head.
Most of the species are found in small areas, but some -- such as the green floater mussel and the black rail -- were once found over much larger areas and have experienced significant habitat reductions, the agency said.
Threats to the species include habitat impacts, overutilization, disease, predation and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, amid other factors, it said.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said today's announcement shows Interior is finally moving to protect some of the many hundreds of imperiled species in the United States.
"We petitioned for these 374 species based on recognition that the Southeast is a globally recognized hot spot for freshwater diversity," he said. "That freshwater diversity is highly threatened from urban sprawl, pollution, dams and, increasingly, invasive species and climate change."