Mohave Ground Squirrel Considered for Endangered Species Listing

The Department of Interior is currently considering a petition by Defenders of Wildlife to list the Mohave Ground Squirrel as an endangered species.  The Mohave Ground Squirrel--whose range spans portions of the western and north-western Mojave Desert--is currently listed as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act, but it is not recognized under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

I have to take this opportunity to correct mistaken references to the Mohave Ground Squirrel (MGS; alternatively: Mojave Ground Squirrel) on this blog as an "endangered species," even though it has not technically been listed as such under Federal authorities. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)--part of the Department of the Interior--has deemed the petition contains substantial information indicating that listing the MGS as an endangered species may be warranted.    According to the Federal Register (April 27, 2010; Vol 75, Number 80), the USFWS is soliciting scientific, commercial, and other information to conduct a comprehensive "status review" of the Mohave Ground Squirrel.  At the end of this status review, which could last months, the USFWS will issue a determination as to whether or not it agrees with the petition.

You can submit comments or information at the website by 28 June 2010, although keep in mind that the USFWS is probably most interested in science-based or specific information concerning the MGS' status and the threats to its survival based on criteria set forth in the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Federal Register listing, the USFWS must consider whether the status of the species meets one or more of the following criteria:   (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.

The USFWS found that the petitioner (Defenders of Wildlife) only presented compelling information on the destruction, modification or curtailment of MGS habitat.  The petition did not successfully argue that the other criteria impacted the MGS' survival.  Nevertheless, anybody familiar with development and population growth in the Mojave Desert (and any reader of this blog) is aware that the threat of habitat destruction alone is sufficient to imperil a species.  The habitat destruction in the western Mojave Desert is particularly acute,  which does not bode well for the MGS.

One of the potential hurdles to the listing of the Mohave Ground Squirrel is the relative lack of information concerning its habitat characteristics, survival, and population trends.  Without this data, any petitioner will have difficulty conveying the threats to the MGS population.  The Desert Managers Group, which consists of several government agencies and stakeholders in the California deserts,   has sought to encourage more research into the MGS status.  According to the MGS research strategy outlined on its website, the Desert Managers Group noted that funding and resource shortfalls have beleaguered research attempts to date.  For example, a workshop to convene experts to discuss strategies for monitoring the MGS was not funded or scheduled, in part due to a lack of resources in the California Department of Fish and Game.

At the end of the day, the MGS is another Mojave Desert species whose plight serves as a warning of the stresses being placed on the health of the Mojave Desert, and jeopardizing the future of Mojave wilderness.  The survival of any species in the Mojave--not just the MGS--is integral to the ability of future generations of Americans to enjoy Mojave wilderness.  So whether or not the USFWS ultimately lists the Mohave Ground Squirrel as an Endangered Species, the threats to the Mojave and its species are real and are growing, and are outpacing the public and the government efforts to manage and preserve the Mojave's treasures.

Photo by P. Leitner, 1997, from Defenders of Wildlife Petition to the USFWS


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