In its annual list of species considered to be candidates for Endangered Species Act protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has cited at least 12 species that either can be found, or were found, in the National Park System.
Among those listed are the fisher, a weasel-like mammal whose native habitat ranges throughout the Northwest, to a mud turtle found in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona.
There are now 192 species recognized by the USFWS as candidates for ESA protection, the lowest number in more than 12 years. Officials said this reduction reflects the agency’s successful efforts to implement a court-approved work plan that resolves a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA Listing Program. Since its implementation, this agreement has significantly reduced litigation-driven workloads and allowed the agency to protect 25 candidate species under the ESA, and propose protection for 91 candidate species.
The agreement will continue to allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of the ESA’s protections over the next five years, said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.
“We’re continuing to keep the commitments we made under this agreement, which has enabled us to be more efficient and effective in both protecting species under the ESA, as well as in working with our partners to recover species and get them off the list as soon as possible,” said Director Ashe. “Our ultimate goal is to have the smallest Candidate List possible, by addressing the needs of species before they require ESA protection and extending the ESA’s protections to species that truly need it.”
Candidate species are plants and animals for which the Service has enough information on their status and the threats they face to propose them as threatened or endangered, but developing a proposed listing rule is precluded by the need to address other higher priority listing actions. Candidate species do not receive protection under the ESA, although the Service works to conserve them. The annual review and identification of candidate species provides landowners and resource managers notice of species in need of conservation, allowing them to address threats and work to preclude the need to list the species. The Service is currently working with landowners and partners to implement voluntary conservation agreements covering 5 million acres of habitat for more than 130 candidate species.
Here, according to a USFWS post in the Federal Register, is a look at the latest addition of candidate species that can be found, or were found, in the National Park System:
* The Sonoyta mud turtle occurs in a spring and pond at Quitobaquito Springs on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and Quitovac Spring of Sonora, Mexico. Loss and degradation of stream habitat from water diversion and groundwater pumping, along with its very limited distribution, are the primary threats to the Sonoyta mud turtle. The Sonoyta mud turtle may also be vulnerable to aerial spraying of pesticides on nearby agricultural fields. Sonoyta mud turtles are highly aquatic and depend on permanent water for survival.
The area of southwest Arizona and northern Sonora where the Sonoyta mud turtle occurs is one of the driest regions in the Southwest. (The USFWS expects) surface water in the Rio Sonoyta to further dwindle in the foreseeable future but not as imminently as previously believed since National Park Service staff have implemented several actions to stabilize the water levels at Quitobaquito Springs.
* The Nevares Spring naucorid bug is an aquatic insect that has a distribution that is limited to the Travertine-Nevares Springs Complex within Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, California. Surveys indicate that it is a rare species within the aquatic invertebrate community. The Travertine and Nevares Springs areas have eight water collection facilities that provide water for commercial and domestic uses. Information pertaining to the historical distribution of the Nevares Spring naucorid bug prior to the development of the local water collection systems is not available.
However, several of the aquatic habitats where the insect occurred have been eliminated or substantially reduced in size. It is likely that the species occupied a large area of habitat where suitable micro-habitat features were present. The widespread loss of aquatic habitat within the Travertine-Nevares Springs Complex since the water collection systems were installed suggests the species has experienced major reductions in abundance and distribution as springbrook environments were eliminated or reduced in extent. The adverse effects of water diversion activities are most pronounced during the summer months, when aquatic habitats and the species that occupy those habitats are most restricted, and therefore vulnerable to perturbation. In addition, as the human population in southwestern Nevada grows, the demand for ground water and the application for permits to pump more ground water from the underground aquifer that supplies water to desert springs, seeps, and streams in Death Valley National Park will grow.
This would likely reduce the quantity of water supplies to desert seeps, springs, and streams and reduce the habitat available to the Nevares Spring naucorid bug.
* The fisher is a carnivore in the family Mustelidae and is the largest member of the genus Martes. Historically, the West Coast population of the fisher extended south from British Columbia into western Washington and Oregon, and in the North Coast Ranges, Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, and Sierra Nevada in California. Because of a lack of detections with standardized survey efforts over much of the fisher’s historical range, the fisher is believed to be extirpated or reduced to scattered individuals from the lower mainland of British Columbia through Washington and northern Oregon and in the central and northern Sierra Nevada in California. Extant populations of native fisher are isolated to the North Coast and Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains of northern California and southwestern Oregon, and the southern Sierra Nevada in California. Descendants of a fisher reintroduction effort also occur in the southern Cascades in Oregon.
Two recent reintroduction efforts in Olympic National Park in Washington and in the northern Sierra Nevada in California have completed the movement and release of fishers to their respective study areas. Several years of monitoring are still needed to determine if these will become successfully-established populations. ... Major threats that fragment or remove key elements of fisher habitat include various forest vegetation management practices such as timber harvest and fuels reduction treatments.
* Relict leopard frog. Natural relict leopard frog populations occur in two general areas in Nevada: Near the Overton Arm area of Lake Mead, and Black Canyon below Lake Mead. These two areas represent a small fraction of the historical distribution of the species. Its historical range included springs, streams, and wetlands within the Virgin River drainage downstream from the vicinity of Hurricane, Utah; along the Muddy River, Nevada; and along the Colorado River from its confluence with the Virgin River downstream to Black Canyon below Lake Mead, Nevada and Arizona.
Factors contributing to the decline of the species include alteration, loss, and degradation of aquatic habitat due to water developments and impoundments, and scouring and erosion; changes in plant communities that result in dense growth and the prevalence of vegetation; introduced predators; climate change; and stochastic events. ... In 2005, the National Park Service, in cooperation with the Fish and Wildlife Service and other Federal, State, and local partners, developed a conservation agreement and strategy intended to improve the status of the species through prescribed management actions and protection.
Conservation actions identified in the agreement and strategy include captive rearing of tadpoles for translocation and refugium populations, habitat and natural history studies, habitat enhancement, population and habitat monitoring, and translocation.
* The Texas hornshell is a freshwater mussel found in the Black River in New Mexico, and in the Rio Grande and the Devils River in Texas. Until March 2008, the only known extant populations were in New Mexico’s Black River and one locality in the Rio Grande near Laredo, Texas. In March 2008, two new localities were confirmed in Texas: one in the Devils River, and one in the mainstem Rio Grande in the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River segment downstream of Big Bend National Park. In 2011, the Rio Grande population near Laredo was resurveyed and found to be large and robust.
The primary threats to this species are habitat alterations such as streambank channelization, impoundments, and diversions for agriculture and flood control. ... Numerous conservation actions to benefit the species are under way in New Mexico, including the completion of a State recovery plan for the species, and are beginning in Texas on the Big Bend reach of the Rio Grande. Due to these ongoing conservation efforts, and because at least one of the populations appears to be robust, the magnitude of the threats is moderate. However, the threats to the species are ongoing and remain imminent.
* Meltwater lednian stonefly. This species is associated with clean, cool streams and rivers. Eggs and nymphs (juveniles) of the meltwater lednian stonefly are found in high-elevation, alpine, and subalpine streams, most typically in locations closely linked to glacial runoff. The species is generally restricted to streams with mean summer water temperature less than 10 °C (50°F). Adults emerge from the nymph stage and mate in streamside vegetation.
The only known meltwater lednian stonefly occurrences are within Glacier National Park, Montana. Climate change, and the associated effects of glacier loss (with glaciers predicted to be gone by 2030)— including reduced streamflows, and increased water temperatures—are expected to significantly reduce the occurrence of populations and extent of suitable habitat for the species in Glacier NP. In addition, the existing regulatory mechanisms do not address environmental changes due to global climate change.
* Anchialine pool shrimp. This species was originally thought to be endemic to the Hawaiian Islands with populations on the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii. Recent information indicates this species may also occur in Rapa Nui, a special territory of Chile. The current status of this species in Rapa Nui and the primary threats there are unknown at this time.
The primary threats to this species in Hawaii are predation by fish (which do not naturally occur in the pools inhabited by this species) and habitat loss from degradation (primarily from illegal trash dumping). The pools where this species occurs on the islands of Maui and Hawaii are located within State Natural Area Reserves (NAR) and in a National Park. Both the State NARs and the National Park prohibit the collection of the species and the disturbance of the pools. However, enforcement of collection and disturbance prohibitions is difficult, and the negative effects from the introduction of fish are extensive and happen quickly.
On Oahu, four pools are located in a National Wildlife Refuge and are protected from collection and disturbance to the pool; however, on State-owned land where the species occurs, there is no protection from collection or disturbance of the pools.
* Schmoll milkvetch is a narrow endemic perennial plant that grows in the mature pinyon-juniper woodland of mesa tops in the Mesa Verde National Park area and in the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park in Colorado. The most significant threats to the species are degradation of habitat by fire, followed by invasion by nonnative cheatgrass and subsequent increase in fire frequency. These threats currently affect about 40 percent of the species’ entire known range.
Cheatgrass is likely to increase given its rapid spread and persistence in habitat disturbed by wildfires, fire and fuels management, development of infrastructure, and the inability of land managers to control it on a landscape scale. Other threats to Schmoll milkvetch include fires, fire break clearings, drought, and inadequate regulatory mechanisms. (The USFWS considers) the threats to the species overall to be imminent and moderate in magnitude, because the species is currently facing them in many portions of its range, but the threats do not collectively result in population declines on a short time scale.
* The pineland sandmat is only known from Miami-Dade County, Florida. The largest occurrence, estimated at more than 10,000 plants, is located on Long Pine Key within Everglades National Park. All other occurrences are smaller and are in isolated pine rockland fragments in heavily urbanized Miami-Dade County. Regional water management intended to restore the Everglades could negatively affect the pinelands of Long Pine Key in the future.
At this time, (the Service does) not know whether the proposed restoration and associated hydrological modifications will have a positive or negative effect on pineland sandmat. This narrow endemic may be vulnerable to catastrophic events and natural disturbances, such as hurricanes.
Overall, the magnitude of threats to this species is moderate; by applying regular prescribed fire, the National Park Service has kept Long Pine Key’s pineland vegetation intact and relatively free of exotic plants, and partnerships are in place to help address the continuing threat of exotics on other pine rockland fragments. Overall, the threats are nonimminent because fire management at the largest occurrence is regularly conducted and sea-level rise and hurricanes are longer-term threats and because regional water management actions are only proposed, so they will not be implemented in the immediate future.
* Digitaria pauciflora (Florida pineland crabgrass) This perennial grass was historically found in central to southern Miami-Dade County, Florida, most commonly in habitat along the border between pine rockland and marl prairie. Pine rocklands in Miami-Dade County have largely been destroyed by residential, commercial, and urban development and by agriculture. With most remaining habitat having been negatively altered, this species has been extirpated from much of its historical range, including extirpation from all areas outside of National Parks.
Two large occurrences remain within Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve; plants on Federal lands are protected from the threat of habitat loss due to development. However, any unknown plants, indefinite occurrences, and suitable habitat remaining on private or non-conservation land are threatened by development. Continued development of suitable habitat diminishes the potential for reintroduction into its historical range. Extant occurrences are in low-lying areas and will be affected by climatic changes, including rising sea level. ... Regional water management intended to restore the Everglades has the potential to affect the pinelands of Long Pine Key, where a large population occurs. At this time, it is not known whether Everglades restoration will have a positive or negative effect.
* Six small populations of Guadalupe fescue, a member of the Poaceae (grass family), have been documented in mountains of the Chihuahuan desert in Texas and in Coahuila, Mexico. Only two extant populations have been confirmed in the last 5 years: one in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park. ... Despite intensive searches, a population known from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, has not been found since 1952, and is presumed extirpated.
The potential threats to Guadalupe fescue include changes in the wildfire cycle and vegetation structure, trampling from humans and pack animals, possible grazing, trail runoff, fungal infection of seeds, small sizes and isolation of populations, and limited genetic diversity. The Service and the National Park Service established a candidate conservation agreement (CCA) in 2008, to provide additional protection for the Chisos Mountains population, and to promote cooperative conservation efforts with U.S. and Mexican partners. The threats to Guadalupe fescue are of moderate magnitude and are not imminent due to the provisions of the CCA and other conservation efforts which address threats from trampling, grazing, trail runoff, and genetic diversity, as well as the likelihood that other populations exist in mountains of Coahuila and adjacent Mexican states that have not been surveyed.
* Ochrosia haleakalae is a tree found in dry to mesic forests, often on lava, on the islands of Hawaii and Maui. This species is currently known from 8 populations totaling between 64 and 76 individuals. Ochrosia haleakalae is threatened by fire; by feral pigs (Sus scrofa), goats (Capra hircus), and cattle (Bos taurus) that degrade and destroy habitat and may directly forage upon it; and by nonnative plants that compete for light and nutrients. This species is represented in ex situ collections.
Feral pigs, goats, and cattle have been fenced out of one wild and one outplanted population on private lands on the island of Maui and out of one outplanted population in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii. Nonnative plants have been reduced in the fenced areas. The threat from fire is of a high magnitude and imminent because no control measures have been undertaken to address this threat that could adversely affect O. haleakalae as a whole. The threats from feral pigs, goats, and cattle are ongoing to the unfenced populations of O. haleakalae. The threat from nonnative plants is ongoing, imminent, and of a high magnitude to the wild populations on both islands as this threat adversely affects the survival and reproductive capacity of the majority of the individuals of this species, leading to a relatively high likelihood of extinction.
* Sicyos macrophyllus is a perennial vine found in wet Metrosideros polymorpha (ohia) forests and subalpine Sophora chrysophylla-Myoporum sandwicense (mamane-naio) forests. Sicyos macrophyllus was historically known from Kipahulu Valley on Maui and was widely distributed on the island of Hawaii. Currently, this species is known from 10 populations totaling between 24 and 26 individuals in the Kohala and Mauna Kea areas, and in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Puna area) on the island of Hawaii.
It appears that a naturally occurring population at Kipuka Ki in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is reproducing by seeds, but seeds have not been successfully germinated under nursery conditions. This species is threatened by feral pigs (Sus scrofa), cattle (Bos taurus), and mouflon (Ovis musimon) that degrade and destroy habitat, and by nonnative plants that compete for light and nutrients. This species is represented in ex situ collections. Feral pigs have been fenced out of some of the areas where S. macrophyllus currently occurs, but the fences do not exclude mouflon. Nonnative plants have been reduced in the populations that are fenced.
However, the threats are not controlled and are ongoing in the remaining, unfenced populations, and are, therefore, imminent. Similarly the threat from mouflon is ongoing and imminent in all populations, because the current fences do not exclude them. In addition, all of the threats are of a high magnitude because habitat degradation and competition from nonnative plants present a risk to the species, resulting in direct mortality for a species that already has very low population numbers, or significantly reducing the reproductive capacity.