Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ENV: Grande Stripetail

Group wants feds to protect rare stonefly
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press Writer, May 12, 2009, 7:51PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An environmental group is suing the federal government over a rare stonefly that used to live along the Rio Grande in parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Texas but has not been seen for nearly 30 years.

WildEarth Guardians filed its lawsuit in federal court in Denver on Tuesday, alleging that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it denied a petition that sought federal protections for the Grande stripetail.

The last documented sighting of the Grande stripetail was in 1980 along the Rio Grande upstream from Radium Springs, N.M., when a handful of nymphs were collected.

Nicole Rosmarino, WildEarth Guardians' wildlife program director, said Tuesday that scientists fear the stonefly may be extinct.

"We think that the Fish and Wildlife Service has denied this stonefly a closer look, which any reasonable person I think would agree the stonefly deserves," she said. "It hasn't been seen in decades. Of course it's imperiled."

The stonefly was one of nearly 700 species included in a mass listing petition filed by WildEarth Guardians in 2007. The insect is now the first of those species to land in court over the agency's denial to consider possible protections.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said it denied protection for the Grande stripetail because WildEarth Guardians' petition addressed the insect's biology and habitat but not specific threats.

WildEarth Guardians argues that agriculture and a limited population are threats to the insect's survival.

According to the lawsuit, stoneflies are one of the oldest groups of insects. Their relatives have been found in fossil records from the Permian period, the end of which is known for one of the greatest mass extinctions in the planet's history.

While stoneflies managed to survive, the lawsuit states that scientists believe modern rates of extinction rival those that occurred at the end of the Permian.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Charna Lefton said the agency wouldn't know if the stonefly still exists because it only tracks those species that are on its threatened and endangered species lists or candidates for the lists.

Rosmarino said there are cases in which the agency has granted protections for species that were previously thought to be extinct, including a rare Hawaii vine known only by its scientific name of Phyllostegia hispida.

"There were at least a couple of occasions where they feared its extinction but then rediscovered it and I think that's probably going to be the case for this stonefly," Rosmarino said.

If the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't take a closer look at the stonefly, Rosmarino said that would guarantee that no more research is done on the insect and it could vanish without anyone knowing.

The stonefly — an aquatic insect that requires highly oxygenated water — can be used as an indicator for the health of other species living along the Rio Grande, including the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow and the southwestern willow flycatcher, Rosmarino said.

"This stonefly's extreme rarity signals the decline of the Rio Grande ecosystem," she said. "Whether fish or fly, all of the Rio Grande's aquatic animals deserve a living river."

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