19 Western species won’t receive federal protections

The animals range from minuscule Nevada mollusks to dwindling Pacific walruses.

 

On Oct. 4, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that 25 animals were not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Nineteen of those species — ranging from a sooty-colored woodpecker that hunts beetles in burned forests, to tiny snails found only in a few isolated springs in the Great Basin desert — live in the West. In no case did the Service find the species’ numbers to be increasing at this time; still, the Service concluded that none were in danger of disappearing altogether in the future. Here are the Western species that didn’t make the cut:

Courtesy Lee Turner
14 different species of Nevada springsnail

A surprising diversity of these minuscule molluscs lives in freshwater springs scattered across the Great Basin desert of Nevada and Utah. But those tiny aquatic havens are challenged by the region’s growing aridity: As groundwater pumping increases, some springs will run dry, according to the Service’s assessment. For example, one of the three springs where a springsnail called the Corn Creek Pyrg dwells is likely to dry up in the coming years because of groundwater pumping. As the water goes, so will that population. But the species is not a candidate for listing, because two other populations will remain. Thirteen other springsnail species are also not candidates.


Mike Laycock/NPS

Black-backed woodpecker

These dusky-backed birds blend in against the burned trees where they often forage. Because they have only three toes on each foot, they are not the most agile climbers, but their modified feet — and heads — make them excellent at clinging to burned trees and excavating beetle larvae. Though their range extends across the boreal forests of the northern U.S. and southern Canada, black-backed woodpeckers are rare. While petitioners for listing argued that the woodpeckers in the Pacific Northwest and in the Badlands of South Dakota were unique enough to warrant separate protections — and might even be two new subspecies, based on genetic research — the Service disagreed.


Stephen Corn/USGS.

Boreal Toad

Living in shallow, slow-moving water in high elevation forests and meadows in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, boreal toads are dwindling mainly because of chytrid fungus, an infection that's wiped out amphibians across the planet. It’s unknown how many boreal toads are left. Toads with chytridiomycosis stop absorbing electrolytes through their skin; eventually, their hearts stop. The Service believes that the toads will develop adequate resistance to the chytrid fungus over the next 50 years to survive this global epidemic, and that climate change will not further decimate the toads’ remaining populations in the meantime.


BLM

Fisher

Close relatives of otters, minks and weasels, fishers are among the only predators capable of taking down porcupines. These tough little solitary creatures live in complex, mature forests, where they den in naturally occurring cavities in downed timber and old snags. Fur trappers decimated fisher populations in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The northern Rocky Mountain population, ranging from northern Idaho to southwestern Montana, has been found to be genetically distinct from other fisher populations, but it’s unknown how many count among its numbers. The species was rejected for listing because the Service found that trapping — which continues legally in Montana and incidentally in Idaho — does not pose a significant threat to the animals.


Greg Jacobs/NPS

Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle

This half-inch, brown and white beetle, with an iridescent green and brown head and giant chomping mandibles, is adapted to life on the sand. It’s covered in white hairs that protect it from abrasion, and it burrows into the sand to get out of the heat and cold. It’s unknown how many of these shiny arthropods, which live only in southern Colorado’s Great Sand Dune formation, exist, or how connected to one another their sub-populations are. According to the Service, neither gas and oil leases held by private corporations on tiger beetle habitat, nor future predictions of a hotter and drier climate, nor ongoing trampling by sand dune tourists, elk, or ranched bison pose enough danger to the endemic beetle for its existence to be in jeopardy.


Joel Garlich-Miller/USFWS

Pacific Walrus

One of the largest fin-footed mammals in the world, the Pacific walrus lives in the shallow continental shelf waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas, where it depends on patches of frozen pack ice to reach offshore breeding and feeding areas. It’s unknown how many Pacific walruses remain. Their migration patterns are intertwined with sea ice patterns: In the winter, they spend time on Bering Sea ice. As that ice melts, females and juveniles migrate north to feeding areas in the Chuchki sea, where sea ice historically has remained year-round. The Service agreed in 2011 that the Pacific walrus was sliding toward extinction and declared its listing under the ESA “warranted but precluded.” Yes, the walrus was going extinct and should be protected by listing, the agency decided, but other listings were more pressing. Now, nearly seven years later, the Service has backtracked. While acknowledging that sea ice loss from climate change is the biggest threat to the pinniped’s survival, the Service concluded that the magnitude of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on marine ecosystems — including sea ice loss, prey reduction, and walrus responses — can’t accurately be predicted beyond 2060. The Service further found that Pacific walruses will be able to adapt to using terrestrial habitat, rather than ice, for breeding and feeding.

Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor with High Country News. Follow her at @Kapoor_ML

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