COLUMBIA, Mo.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed listing the Ozark hellbender as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The Ozark hellbender is a rare salamander only found in rivers and streams in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. This salamander is strictly aquatic and can grow to nearly two feet long.
The Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2001 that the Ozark hellbender warrants listing as a threatened or endangered species, but that such listing was precluded. Instead of moving it toward protection, the agency added the salamander to the list of candidate species. In May 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the agency to list more than 200 candidate species, including the Ozark hellbender. The Center followed the petition with a lawsuit arguing that continued delay of protection for all of the candidate species was illegal. That lawsuit is still pending in federal court, with a decision expected any day.
“The proposed listing of the Ozark hellbender is cause for celebration,” said Collette Adkins Giese, newly hired attorney for the Center and likely the world’s first attorney focusing exclusively on protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “The Ozark hellbender faces many threats to its survival, including water quality fouled by mining, fertilizer runoff and animal operations. Protection under the Endangered Species Act would give this species a fighting chance.”
Although protection for the hellbender is now moving forward, another 245 species are not so lucky and remain on the candidate list waiting for protection. Most have been waiting for decades. To date, the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Obama administration has not substantially increased the pace of species listings. It did finalize protection for 51 species in Hawaii, but in the continental United States it has only finalized protection for one plant and proposed protection for 15 species. This means there will be few listings finalized in the remainder of 2010.
“Like the previous administration, the Obama administration is failing to provide prompt protection to wildlife that desperately need it,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director with the Center. “To date, the administration has failed to substantially reform the long-broken program for protecting species under the Endangered Species Act.”
The Ozark hellbender is a subspecies of the eastern hellbender. Hellbenders go by many common names, including alligator of the mountains, big water lizard, devil dog, ground puppy, leverian water newt, mud-devil, vulgo, walking catfish and waterdog. Hellbenders are uniquely adapted to their aquatic life. They have a flattened body that fits in crevices and allows them to cling to the river bottom avoiding strong currents. They also have numerous folds of skin on their sides that allow increased oxygen absorption from the water.