Monday, July 15, 2024

Ten Virginia Species Closer to Gaining Federal Protections After Lawsuit Agreement

Freshwater mussels from the Clinch River. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

WASHINGTON — Virginia’s aptly named overlooked cave beetle is one of 10 species found in the state scheduled to be considered for protections under the Endangered Species Act.

In response to a federal lawsuit filed by the national environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed July 24 to expedite its decisions on 33 species.

Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the center, said in a press release, “It’s inexcusable how long it’s taken for these rare species to move toward protection. We could lose two out of every five wild species if we don’t act now, so we need urgency from the Fish and Wildlife Service, not delays.”

Under the agreement, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the USFWS has to reach a decision as to whether the 33 species should be protected or not under the Endangered Species Act by certain dates.

Five species found in Virginia and throughout the Southeastern region of the U.S. – the Cumberland moccasinshell, Tennessee clubshell, Tennessee heelsplitter and Tennessee pigtoe freshwater mussels along with crustacean Morrison’s Cave amphipod – require a decision by Aug 15.

Four species found exclusively in Virginia – the Hubbard’s cave beetle, Little Kennedy cave beetle, Shenandoah cave beetle and overlooked cave beetle – require a decision by Dec. 15.

The spiny scale crayfish, also found in Virginia and throughout the Southeast, requires a decision by Sep. 1, 2025.

According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ Species of Greatest Conservation Need list released this year, all but the Cumberland moccasinshell and Tennessee clubshell have a “very high” conservation need.

The department describes these very high-need species as having a high risk of extinction and “very low levels” of population requiring “immediate management” for stabilization and recovery.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a similar lawsuit last year against the USFWS in regards to the endangerment status of numerous freshwater mussels. Many of Virginia’s mussel populations have been vanishing in recent decades due to a range of threats, including pollution of water bodies through mining extraction activities and sediment runoff.

According to the center, the USFWS is required to determine if species warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act – which has been credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction – within two years of receiving a legal petition.

But most species, according to the center, wait an average of nine to 12 years before protection status is determined. Nearly 50 species have been declared extinct while under consideration for protection, the nonprofit added in its release.

“The wellbeing of humans is directly dependent on the wellbeing of wildlife, large and small, so we need to prioritize enough funding to list and recover all imperiled species for their sake and for our own,” said Curry.

Seven of the 10 species found in Virginia now up for consideration have documentation on potential endangerment status dating back as far as 1984 and 1989, according to the USFWS website.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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