On September 20, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) listed three separate species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). USFWS listed the Sonoyta mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense) as endangered, and the ‘I’iwi (Drepanis coccinea) and pearl darter (Percina aurora) as threatened species under the ESA. Despite listing all three species, the USFWS deferred designating critical habitat for the three species. The three listing decisions, all of which were compelled by settlements that the USFWS entered into during the Obama administration, are summarized below.
- The Sonoyta mud turtle is an isolated, native, endemic freshwater species found in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. The mud turtle depends on aquatic habitat with adjacent terrestrial habitat. Of the five remaining known populations of the Sonoyta mud turtle, only one is known to occur in the United States in the pond and channels associated with Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. The USFWS final rule provides that loss of water supporting aquatic and riparian habitat is the primary threat to the turtle’s future viability.
- The ‘I’iwi is a Hawaiian bird species, found primarily in closed canopy, montane wet or montane mesic forests. The remaining populations of the ‘I’iwi are restricted to forests above approximately 3,937 feet in elevation on the island of Hawaii, east Maui, and Kauai. The USFWS final rule identifies avian malaria as the primary driver of the ‘I’iwi’s decline.
- The pearl darter is a small fish, historically found within the Pearl and Pascagoula River drainages in Mississippi and Louisiana. Today, the pearl darter occurs in scattered sites within an approximately 415-mile area of the Pascagoula drainage, including the Pascagoula, Chickasawhay, Leaf, Chunky, and Bouie Rivers and Okatoma Creek and Black Creek. According to the USFWS final rule, water quality degradation is the principle cause of the pearl darter’s decline.
Just a day earlier, on September 19, 2017, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) published its final rule listing the Maui dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) as an endangered species and the South Island Hector’s dolphin (C. hectori hectori) as a threatened species under the ESA. Both types of dolphin are subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin, which is among the world’s smallest dolphins and occurs only in the coastal waters of New Zealand. Currently, the estimated total population of South Island Hector’s dolphin is between 11,923 to 18, 942 dolphins. NMFS estimates that only 63 Maui dolphins older than one year old exist today. According to NMFS’s recent species status review, bycatch – dolphins being accidentally caught when other species are being fished – is the primary factor in the dolphins’ decline. Because neither dolphin occurs within areas under U.S. jurisdiction, NMFS did not designate critical habitat for either species.