Center for Biological Diversity Responds after Administration denies protection to the Eastern Hellbender Salamander and other imperiled species
WASHINGTON – The Center of Biological Diversity is accusing the Trump administration of “Utter Disdain” for the environment after the administration recently denied protections to the eastern hellbender, instead protecting a distinct population segment of hellbenders that makes up just one percent of the highly imperiled species. Eight other species were also denied protections.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. “This decision reeks of the Trump administration’s utter disdain for protecting our environment and the weird and wonderful creatures in it,” said Elise Bennett, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney working to protect reptiles and amphibians. “It flagrantly ignores the reality of the hellbender’s dire situation and gives these imperiled animals a big shove toward extinction.”
The hellbender is a fully aquatic salamander – the largest in North America – that has been steadily disappearing from streams in the eastern United States. The animals have been waiting for Endangered Species Act protection for more than eight years.
Seventy-eight percent of historically known hellbender populations have disappeared or are in decline. They face threats from chemical pollution and sedimentation caused by development, deforestation and dams.
The hellbender is particularly vulnerable to water contamination because of its permeable skin and sensitive eggs, which it lays in water.
Disease can also cause catastrophic loss of hellbenders. Emerging infectious diseases are on the rise, particularly among salamander populations, and hellbenders are showing symptoms of fungal infection across their range.
“The Trump administration made a clear choice to shrug off a species’ struggle against extinction,” said Bennett. “Saving the hellbender would also save rivers and streams that many Americans use, but denying protections puts all that at risk. There’s no question we’ll be carefully scrutinizing this one.”
The Trump administration also denied protection for eight other species, including two fish, a snail and three crayfish from the Southeast, the Chihuahua scurfpea and red-crowned parrot.
The administration has now denied protections for 55 species, while listing only sixteen under the Endangered Species Act. The Center is evaluating whether it will challenge the denial of protection for all of these species.
Known by colorful names like “devil dog,” “snot otter,” “grampus” and “Old Lasagna Sides,” the eastern hellbender can grow up to 2 feet long. Its nicknames reference the loose, frilly skin along its sides and the mucus-like secretions it expels when frightened. The hellbender lives in cool, free-flowing rivers and streams, where it hides under rocks to wait for passing prey.
The Center petitioned to protect the eastern hellbender under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. Today’s decision comes after two legal settlements the Center entered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 and 2013 to expedite protections.
Hellbender photo by Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity
Experts say scaling back program puts North Carolina red wolves ‘on a swifter path toward extinction’
WASHINGTON— Thirty prominent scientists with expertise in ecology, genetics and other areas relevant to wolf conservation submitted a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Nov. 30 expressing concerns over the agency’s plans to dramatically curtail its recovery program for red wolves, the nation’s most imperiled wolf population.
Joseph Hinton, David Rabon, John Vucetich and other scientists urged the Service to identify additional red wolf reintroduction sites rather than remove wolves from the wild and drastically curtail the size of the recovery area in North Carolina, as the agency recently proposed.
“The Service has once again allowed politics instead of science to drive decisions on red wolf recovery – and the science is clear that scaling back this recovery program only puts these animals on a swifter path toward extinction,” said Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Service needs to listen to these experts and take the actions necessary to recover red wolves in the wild before it’s too late.”
In September the Service proposed to confine red wolf recovery to federal public lands, shrinking the animals’ recovery area from five counties in North Carolina to just one bombing range and one wildlife refuge in a single county. In the past couple of years, the agency has allowed the wild population of red wolves to drop to as few as 45, down from its peak of 130. Shootings and nonlethal removals threaten the wolves by disturbing pack dynamics and promoting hybridization with coyotes.
“Wild red wolves now face a perilously high risk of extinction. The Service’s recent actions seem consistent with abandoning red wolves rather than recovering them,” said Dr. John Vucetich, a professor and scientist at Michigan Technological University. “The Service has not adequately justified shifting resources away from the wild population. The most prudent action, by far, would be to protect the existing red wolf population in North Carolina and identifying new reintroduction sites elsewhere in the Southeast.”
“Red wolf recovery has been a testing ground for notable conservation strategies and innovation,” said Dr. Joseph Hinton, a postdoctoral researcher at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. “The science shows that the red wolf can be saved, and that the Service should re-implement those previous management practices to ensure the long-term viability of the wild population in eastern North Carolina.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.