10 Reptiles and Amphibians Pushed Toward Extinction in the U.S.
A new report by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) identifies the nation’s top 10 amphibians and reptiles in need of immediate federal protection to stave off extinction. The list includes a yellow-legged frog from California’s high Sierras, a two-foot-long eastern salamander and a colorful northeastern turtle.
The report, Dying for Protection: The 10 Most Vulnerable, Least Protected Amphibians and Reptiles in the United States, details the population declines and ongoing threats that have left once-common species like the western pond turtle and boreal toad spiraling toward extinction.
“These increasingly rare frogs, salamanders and turtles are on the fast track toward extinction if we don’t step up and rescue them,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a CBD lawyer and biologist who specializes in conserving amphibians and reptiles. “And it’s not just about protecting these irreplaceable amphibians and reptiles; it’s about protecting the health of the priceless environment we share with them.”
Some of the species included in the report have lost more than 90 percent of their habitat and, without Endangered Species Act protection, many will continue to decline due to fragmentation of their declining populations, pesticide pollution, killer diseases and over-collection. Scientists now estimate that one in four of the nation’s amphibians and reptiles are at risk of extinction, yet they make up only 61 of the approximately 1,400 U.S. species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Last year the CBD and several internationally renowned conservation scientists, including E.O. Wilson and Thomas Lovejoy, filed a petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for 53 of the nation’s most threatened species of amphibians and reptiles. In 2011 the CBD signed a landmark settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that is speeding protection decisions for 757 species, including dozens of amphibians and reptiles. The 10 species included in the report are among the neediest of the many reptiles and amphibians still waiting for the lifesaving protection of the Act, which over the past 40 years has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals entrusted to its care.
However, amphibians and reptiles continue to disappear at an alarming rate.
“Frogs, turtles and salamanders are some of nature’s most delightful and fascinating creatures,” said Adkins Giese. “They also help control populations of insects and rodents and in some cases even provide cures for diseases. We can and should help them avoid an extinction crisis.”
Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog (California)
Although they once greeted visitors by the hundreds at some high mountain lakes, populations of these three-inch frogs have now declined by about 90 percent due to introduced fish, toxic pesticides, killer diseases and habitat loss. In accordance with the CBD’s 2011 landmark settlement, two species of mountain yellow-legged frogs were proposed for federal protection in April, along with more than a million acres of critical habitat essential for their protection and recovery. The increasingly rare California amphibians still face an uphill battle for protection as anti-conservation groups and politicians are fighting the proposal.
Eastern Hellbender (New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi)
These two-foot-long, fully aquatic amphibians are threatened with extinction due to dams and water pollution, including mountaintop-removal coal mining that contaminates their once-pristine stream habitats. With flattened bodies, paddle-like tails for swimming and numerous folds of skin for oxygen absorption, these amphibians known as “devil dogs,” “mud devils,” “walking catfish” and “snot otters” are uniquely adapted to aquatic life. Once they were found across most of the eastern U.S., but it is now unknown in how many states North America’s largest amphibian still survives. The hellbenders have been under consideration for Endangered Species Act protection since the CBD petitioned for them in 2010.
Florida Keys Mole Skink (Florida)
This tiny, colorful lizard, once common along the sandy shoreline of the Dry Tortugas and Lower Keys, has declined by up to 30 percent and continues to be threatened by development and sea-level rise. Because it burrows in loose shore soils and uses stones and driftwood for cover, the mole skink could be pushed to extinction by sea levels projected to rise up to six feet within this century. In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that Endangered Species Act protections for the lizard may be warranted but the agency failed to make a final decision within one year, as the Act requires. The CBD is prioritizing the skink for a protection decision through its work with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (New Mexico, Texas)
This small, brown lizard that buries itself in sand to regulate its body temperature and avoid predators is considered one the nation’s most imperiled lizards. Under continuous threat from ongoing oil and gas drilling and herbicide spraying for livestock grazing, it clings to survival on a very small and increasingly fragmented range in southeastern New Mexico and west Texas. After spending nearly 30 years as a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing, the lizard was proposed for federal protection in 2010, only to see the Fish & Wildlife Service reverse course 18 months later and withdraw the proposal in favor of voluntary, but unenforceable, conservation agreements with private landowners that are now being challenged in court by the CBD and its ally as illegal.
Eastern Gopher Tortoise (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina)
Once widespread across the Southeast, these foot-long tortoises have been reduced to small, isolated populations by pine plantations and suburban sprawl that have destroyed the majority of their longleaf pine habitat. Grazers who can live more than 50 years, gopher tortoises are critical to healthy ecosystems because they build elaborate burrows that provide habitat for more than 360 other species including rabbits, quail, owls, frogs and snakes. The tortoises are also threatened by rattlesnake hunters, who purposefully destroy tortoise burrows while collecting snakes for cruel “rattlesnake roundups.” In 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the tortoises warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act but placed the species on a list of candidate species awaiting federal protection.
Boreal Toad (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Nevada)
Once common in the western U.S., boreal toads have seen their populations plummet in recent decades due to the spread of a deadly fungus and the destruction of high-elevation stream and wetland habitat by pollution and poorly managed recreation and livestock grazing. Prior to a recent reintroduction effort these three- to four-inch toads were nearly extirpated in southern Wyoming and likely extirpated in New Mexico. They now exist in less than one percent of their historic breeding areas in the southern Rockies. In response to a CBD petition, in 2012 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted and initiated a full status review of the toads in the southern Rocky Mountains, Utah, southern Idaho and northeastern Nevada.
Blanding’s Turtle (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin)
This medium-to-large turtle targeted by the pet trade because of its beautiful yellow chin and throat once ranged through much of the Great Lakes region and the northeastern U.S. But after extensive declines from collection, habitat loss, road mortality and intense predation on eggs and hatchlings the only large remaining populations are found in Minnesota and Nebraska. They’re also threatened by “turtle derbies,” in which wild turtles are exposed to infectious diseases after being caught and brought into close proximity during races that are still part of some small-town summer celebrations. Since 2012 the turtle has been under consideration for Endangered Species Act protection.
Western Pond Turtle (Washington, Oregon, California)
These four- to 10-inch long “pond” turtles that live in streams and rivers and spend lots of time on land were once common from western Washington south to northwestern Baja California. But due to habitat destruction, disease, runoff contamination and pesticides the turtle essentially has been extirpated from its historic habitat in the lower Puget Sound, and only two populations remain in the Columbia River Gorge. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley the turtles are estimated to have declined to roughly one percent of historic levels and in California most remaining populations are small and declining with low viability. The western pond turtle is one of six turtles included in the CBD’s 2012 listing petition.
Louisiana Pine Snake (Louisiana, Texas)
These four- to five-foot-long powerful constrictors with notoriously low birth rates were once common in parts of Louisiana and Texas. But with the ongoing loss of its the longleaf pine ecosystem it is likely already extinct in Texas, and fewer than 100 likely remain in Louisiana. Unless the snake receives urgently needed protections, scientists predict it will likely go extinct in the wild within a decade. Fortunately the snake is scheduled to receive Endangered Species Act protection by 2014 under the CBD’s settlement with the Service that is leading to listing decisions for hundreds of candidate species awaiting federal protection.
Peaks of Otter Salamander (Virginia)
Known only to a 12-mile stretch of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, these darkly pigmented, five-inch-long salamanders have one of the most restricted ranges of any salamander in the U.S. Because these lungless amphibians never move more than a few feet from underground retreats located in the mature oak and maple forests of a single ridge top they cannot shift their range upslope as the climate warms, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change. The salamander is one of 24 salamanders included in the CBD’s 2012 listing petition, but ongoing logging and habitat destruction continue to place it at great risk of extinction
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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