Potential ESA Listing of the Spider and Flat-tailed Tortoises
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has made a 90-Day Finding that the listing of the Spider tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides) and the Flat-tailed tortoise (Pyxis planicauda) as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act may be warranted. This includes all subspecies. If you have business, scientific, or display interests in these species, it is critical for you to provide information. Comments are due September 8, 2014.
What to do:
- Submit relevant information and comments directly to FWS at www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FWS-HQ-ES-2014-0012-0001;
- Provide USARK with your concerns, relevant scientific and commercial data, and any other information you believe useful to assist it developing the Association’s comments. Email information to info@USARK.org.
Federal Register Announcement: www.usark.org/wp-content/
Spider Tortoise Petition: www.usark.org/wp-content/
Flat-tailed Tortoise Petition: www.usark.org/wp-content/
FWS Notice of Petition Page: www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-HQ-ES-2014-0012-0001
Sample Comment from a tortoise breeder: www.usark.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Pyxis-Comment-1.pdf
The 90-day finding does not mean that the FWS has decided to list these species. Nor is this your last opportunity to comment unless FWS decides that spider or flat-tailed tortoise do not qualify for listing. If FWS decides that either should be added to the list of threatened or endangered species, they will need to publish a proposed rule and give the public a chance to comment on the merits of listing before actually adding them to the list.
Below are examples of the types of information that would be helpful to FWS along with further information on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) process. In general, at this stage, the FWS is looking for scientific data, information on trade and captive breeding programs, and conservation efforts currently being undertaken. This information will help determine if the species qualifies for listing under the ESA.
While you may disapprove of the listing of Spider or Flat-tailed tortoises, it is important to back that up with data, explanations, and any other information that tends to show the listing it not warranted. For those involved in commercial trade, in addition to economic impact information, you should also explain how the markets for these species operate and how trade benefits and does not harm the species in the wild.
What does the 90-Day Finding mean?
The term “90-day finding” comes from the ESA. When a non-governmental organization submits a petition claiming that a species should be added to the list of threatened or endangered species, FWS must make a determination as to whether a petition presents “substantial scientific or commercial information” that a species may qualify for listing. It does not mean that FWS has determined that these tortoise species qualify for listing within the meaning of the law.
The “substantial” information threshold is very low and based only on information in a petition. As the FWS regulations note, claims in a petition are “substantial” if they ‘‘would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted.’’ FWS can and does decide that a species does or does not qualify as threatened or endangered after reviewing information submitted in response to a 90-day finding.
What type of information should I provide FWS?
In general, FWS is looking to gather information on the status and population trends of Spider and Flat-tailed tortoises in their native ranges. FWS is also looking for information on threats to wild populations and whether those threats are increasing or decreasing.
Particularly relevant to USARK members engaged in reptile trade, research, or the display and education sectors, it will be important to provide information on:
- Captive breeding programs for those in the commercial pet trade as well as for conservation purposes;
- The amount and patterns of trade in Pyxis, and whether the such trade involves wild-caught or captive-bred tortoises;
- Non-commercial trade of these species for research, captive breeding programs, and display/education;
- Tracking systems in place to ensure the traceability of these tortoises in trade;
- Conservation efforts being undertaking to protect these animals in their native range; and
- Any information showing differentiation—genetic, behavioral, or in physical characteristics—between wild and captive-bred members of these species.
To the extent any scientific research, raw data, or grey literature exists on the last point, this may be the most important information that can be provided.
Consistent with its regulations, FWS is specifically requesting the following information on Pyxis arachnoides and Pyxis planicauda:
- Habitat requirements;
- Genetics and taxonomy;
- Historical and current range, including distribution patterns;
- Historical and current population levels, and current and projected trends; and
- Past and ongoing conservation measures for the species, its habitat, or both.
How does FWS determine if a species qualifies for ESA listing?
The ultimate question FWS must answer is whether a species is in present (imminent) danger of extinction in all or a substantial portion of its range, or is likely to reach the point of near-extinction “in the foreseeable future.” If in imminent danger of extinction, the species qualifies as “endangered.” If the trends or threats show that point is likely to occur only in the future, the species qualifies as “threatened.”
To make this determination, tFWS must consider these five factors set forth in the law:
- The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the species' range;
- Over-utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
- Disease or predation;
- The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms;
- Other natural or man-made factors affecting species’ continued existence.
These factors should help guide your comments and the information you provide. For instance, explanations of existing regulations in the species’ range states and the international conservation efforts can be particularly helpful in showing how these species are protected from extinction.
What is the difference between a threatened and endangered listing?
In terms of the impacts on commercial trade, a finding that one or both of these species is endangered could have a devastating impact on the pet trade. In general, no species that is considered endangered may be sold or transported in the course of a commercial activity.
If a species is listed as threatened, FWS has the flexibility to create special rules that could, for instance, allow for the continuation of captive breeding programs and trade in captive bred tortoises that help provide a conservation benefit to the species in the wild.
Therefore, information that tends to show neither of these Pyxis species is in immediate danger of extinction would be particularly helpful.
Isn't an ESA listing good?
While listing a species under the ESA may sound positive, it can actually greatly hamper and destroy conservation efforts.
When non-native species (the mentioned tortoises are from Madagascar) are listed under the ESA, usually little is done by the U.S. to effectively help save these species as the U.S simply does not have the funding or expertise to save species all over the world. The USFWS is pressured by petitions and lawsuits from “environmental groups” that may or not have good intentions. Unfortunately, even conservation and the advertised saving of endangered species can be abused only to make money and do little or nothing to save species. Just like many “animal welfare” groups (that are actually extremist animal rights groups, “conservation and environmental” groups are not always what they seem and often use fraudulent advertising. Even well-meaning groups may not understand the ramifications of their actions.
What may happen, is interstate transportation of these species may become unfairly regulated, or even illegal, and someone who breeds these animals that are endangered in the wild, would not be able to send offspring to other breeders or facilities to save the species. As deforestation, industrialization, pollution and human overpopulation continue to decimate wild populations of animals, captive breeding and keeping of these species will be all that remains as their natural habitat is destroyed.
Dedicated and passionate herpers have been establishing genetically-diverse breeding groups of these species for many years. The little money collected by selling offspring to zoos, museums and other advanced hobbyists will never cover their expenses.