Almost five years after receiving a listing petition, yesterday, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service finally issued its 90-day petition finding for the Mohave ground squirrel (Xerospermophilus mohavensis), finding that "listing may be warranted."
The listing petition was jointly filed by the Defenders of Wildlife and Dr. Glenn R. Stewart on September 5, 2005. Although the Endangered Species Act contemplates that the Fish & Wildlife Service will issue a 90-day petition finding within 90 days of receiving a petition, approximately six months after receiving the petition for the Mohave ground squirrel, the Service explained in a letter to petitioners that it would not be able to address the petition because 2006 listing funds had already been allocated. Without further explanation, the Fish & Wildlife Service failed to act on the listing petition for the next three years.
In 2010, however, the Fish & Wildlife Service finally addressed the petition, and determined that based on the information in the petition and the information in its files, "listing the Mohave ground squirrel may be warranted due to destruction, modification, or curtailment of the species’ habitat or range." In support of this conclusion, the Fish & Wildlife Service found that numerous activities were potentially impacting the Mohave ground squirrel’s habitat, including urban and rural development on public and private lands, military activities at Fort Irwin, livestock grazing, and transportation activities.
Petitioners had also asserted that because there is a positive correlation between rainfall and survival of the Mohave ground squirrel, decreased precipitation due to climate change was adversely affecting the ground squirrel’s habitat. The Fish & Wildlife Service did not find this assertion persuasive, however, explaining that while it agreed that there would be an overall decrease in precipitation due to climate change, it did not believe that current climate change models are "capable of making meaningful predictions of climate change for specific, local areas such as the range of the Mohave ground squirrel."
Having found that listing of the Mohave ground squirrel may be warranted, the next step for the Fish & Wildlife Service is to make a 12-month finding on whether listing of the species is warranted.