Acuna cactus stays on endangered list, Southwestern willow flycatcher faces review

A Southwestern willow flycatcher, which favors trees and shrubs near waterways, has been an endangered species since 1995. (Photo by Jim Rorabaugh via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The acuna cactus was added to the Endangered Species List in 2013, by which time its numbers has dwindled to about 3,600 plants, documents say. (Photo by Barry Rice/CalPhotos)

The Western bumblebee was once of the of most common bees in the country, but its numbers have fallen in recent decades due to a variety of pressures. (Photo by Steve Amus/USDA)

WASHINGTON – Federal officials Tuesday rejected a request to remove the acuna cactus from the endangered species list, but said they will give further consideration to a petition to delist the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Those were two of eight species in Arizona that were part of a batch of preliminary decisions released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on 29 species across the country.

The service said there was enough evidence to advance 16 of the 29 to a “rigorous” 12-month review process to see which ones will be added to, stay on or fall off the list.

On again, off again

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service action on eight Arizona species that people want added to, or taken off, the Endangered Species List:

Delisting requests

  • Southwestern willow flycatcher: Petition moves forward
  • Acuna cactus: Petition denied

    Listing requests

  • Western bumblebee: Petition moves forward
  • Arizona night lizard: Petition denied
  • Bezy’s night lizard: Petition denied
  • Arizona wetsalts tiger beetle: Petition denied
  • MacDougal’s yellowtops: Petition denied
  • Patagonia eyed silkmoth: Petition denied
  • “The petition is the first step in evaluating whether something warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Jeff Humphrey, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman for the Southwest region.

    Six species in Arizona did not make the cut for further consideration – which is what saved the acuna cactus – but the service said it will review the petition to add the Western bumblebee to the endangered list.

    Tierra Curry, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said it’s not surprising that the acuna cactus will stay on the list, noting that climate change has made the desert hotter and drier. The cactus was only recently added by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013, when the known population of the small, barrel-shaped plants had dwindled to just 3,600.

    Curry said the Center for Biological Diversity was “definitely going to oppose” the delisting of the Southwestern willow flycatcher during an upcoming public comments period. The bird that has been listed as endangered since 1995.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service said it received a petition from multiple groups seeking to delist the bird, and decided that there were substantial challenges to the bird’s scientific classification that merited another look. The flycatcher is found in the Southwest and breeds in trees and shrubs by rivers, swamps and wetlands, according to the service.

    “I think that’s definitely a bad decision,” Curry said of the plan to move forward on the flycatcher.

    “Rivers in the Southwest have never been more threatened,” she added, noting dropping water levels and high demands from a growing human population.

    The requests on the cactus and the flycatcher were the only ones to delist species in Arizona – the other six all sought to put plants, animals or insects on the list.

    The service rejected five of those six, but agreed to consider the petition for the Western bumblebee. The bee was once one of the most common bumblebee species, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, but its populations have declined in the past 20 to 30 years, especially in the West.

    The service said there were substantial findings that disease, pesticide use and climate change, among other factors, have impacted the species.

    Petitioners sought emergency listings for the Arizona wetsalts tiger beetle and the MacDougal’s yellowtops shrub, amid fears that proposed development near the Grand Canyon threatened to destroy their habitat. But the development was rejected, putting the beetle and shrub out of harm’s way, Curry said.

    She said that the service’s decision to not move forward on petitions for two lizards and a silkmoth was likely due to inadequate information to prove they were threatened.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service has been deciding the fate of more and more petitions in batches in the past two years in an effort to increase efficiency, Humphrey said. Additionally, environmental and advocacy groups have been filing petitions in batches, he said.

    He said the service is trying to release results three or four times a year, with the next set of petition decisions likely to be released around May.