Wolves, Salamanders, and Snakes – Oh My!

On July 1, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published notice of its 90-day findings on petitions to list 31 species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Of these 31 species, all of which occur in the United States, the Service made positive 90-day findings on 21 petitions.  A positive finding on a listing petition prompts a 12-month review of each species by the Service to determine whether listing is warranted.  Of the remaining ten petitions, the Service concluded that nine petitions failed to provide substantial information demonstrating that listing action may be warranted.  Most species addressed in the findings originated from a 53-species mega-petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in July 2012.  If the Service finalizes its May 21, 2015 proposed rule to revise the regulations for species listing petitions, multi-species petitions such as the one filed by CBD will no longer be accepted by the Service.

Perhaps most notably, the Service’s publication included a denial of the petition to reclassify or downlist the gray wolf (Canis lupis) from its current status as endangered to threatened.  Twenty-two petitioners (including the Humane Society of the United States, CBD, and the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) signed the 2015 petition requesting reclassification of the gray wolf (excluding the Mexican wolf subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) throughout the conterminous United States).  The Service first concluded that the petition failed to provide substantial information indicating that the population proposed for reclassification may qualify as a distinct population segment.  The Service acknowledged that this finding alone was enough to deny the petition for reclassification, but stated that the status of the gray wolf has been a source of significant controversy over the past few years, and due to the controversy, also concluded that the petition did not provide substantial information indicating that the gray wolf at large would qualify as threatened rather than endangered.

The Service made positive 90-day findings for the following 21 species:

  • Alligator snapping turtle
  • Apalachicola kingsnake
  • Arizona toad
  • Blanding’s turtle
  • Cascade Caverns salamander
  • Cascades frog
  • Cedar Key mole skink
  • Foothill yellow-legged frog
  • Gopher frog
  • Green salamander
  • Illinois chorus frog
  • Kern County slender salamander
  • Key ringneck snake
  • Oregon slender salamander
  • Relictual slender salamander
  • Rim Rock crowned snake
  • Rio Grande cooter
  • Silvery phacelia
  • Southern hog-nosed snake
  • Spotted turtle
  • Western spadefoot toad

The Service concluded that the petitions for the following species did not present substantial information:

  • Blue Ridge gray-cheeked salamander
  • Caddo Mountain salamander
  • California giant salamander
  • Colorado checkered whiptail
  • Distinct population segment of North American wild horse
  • Gray wolf, excluding Mexican wolf, in the conterminous U.S.
  • Olympic torrent salamander
  • Pigeon Mountain salamander
  • Weller’s salamander
  • Wingtail crayfish

The Service commenced a full status review of each of the 21 species on which it made a positive 90-day finding, and has solicited information specific to each species from the public.  The public comment period will remain open until August 31, 2015.

  • Brooke M. Marcus

    Brooke Marcus is a natural resources lawyer focused on assisting the renewable energy sector with maintaining compliance with environmental laws. She is go-to counsel for matters involving the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the ...

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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