Oct 24, 2011

6 Species Slouch Toward Endangered Status

By Elena Watts
For Reporting Texas

AUSTIN — The federal government has added six Texas species as endangered-species candidates, putting them toward the end of a long line of plants and animals awaiting a final ruling on their status.

Earlier this month the Fish and Wildlife Service added five mussels and the red-crowned parrot, native to the Rio Grande Valley, to its “warranted but precluded” list. That’s the label the service applies to species that merit protection, but must await federal funding to move them toward endangered status.

Species on the list will stay there until the wildlife service has the budget to complete their classification as endangered. Even when that happens, it’s still a long haul to preserve a species.

A green-cheeked Amazon parrot. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr.

The red-crowned parrot is native to Mexico, according the National Audubon Society, where its range is decreasing. The population in the Rio Grande Valley has adapted to woody areas near cities. The parrot’s popularity as a cage bird has added pressure on the species.

The five mussels include the Texas fatmucket, golden orb, smooth pimpleback, Texas pimpleback and Texas fawnsfoot. The mollusks are native to the Colorado, Brazos, Trinity and lower Nueces rivers.

“Once they make the federal list, we have recovery money from Congress that is not a set amount and not enough to make huge strides,” said Brady McGee, an Austin-based biologist for the service. “Recovery is a slow process, and sometimes there is not enough money to save a species.”

The parrot and mussels aren’t on the list of species subject to a recent legal settlement that requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to fast-track species that have been waiting for classification as endangered. The Georgetown salamander is among four Central Texas species moving forward under the settlement.

Over the past several months, the wildlife service rejected endangered status for three South Texas moths, the cactus pygmy owl and the Oklahoma grass-pink orchid. Service documents published in the Federal Register indicated the species weren’t sufficiently threatened, or that not enough information was available to make a judgment.

“It’s hard to say there’s a national impact or threat to a species when we don’t know anything about it,” McGee said. “Petitioners can help us out by providing more information on the species.”

Congress mandates protection of endangered species in the 1973 Endangered Species Act. More than 90 of the nation’s 1,385 endangered species are in Texas.