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Groups Seek Endangered Species Act Protection for “Canary in Coal Mine” 
For Immediate Release: September 25, 2003

For More Information Contact:
Jeremy Nichols, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance; (307) 742-7978
Scott Hoffman Black, The Xerces Society; (503) 534-2706
Brian Brademeyer, Native Ecosystems Council; (605) 348-8404
Erin Robertson, Center for Native Ecosystems; (303) 546-0214

Laramie, WY—A coalition of conservation and scientific organizations filed a petition today requesting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protect the Black Hills mountainsnail (read “mountain-snail”) – a declining land snail that exists only in the Black Hills – under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Once common throughout the northern and central Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, the Black Hills mountainsnail has experienced significant declines over the years. Only 32 colonies are known to exist today and at over half of these colonies, the snail is considered rare. Experts agree that the snail is now considered to be critically imperiled and at risk of extinction.

Described as a ‘canary in the coal mine,’ because of its sensitivity to environmental change, the Black Hills mountainsnail is an important indicator of forest health. The snail depends on undisturbed forest and riparian (i.e., streamside) habitat, making it especially vulnerable to the effects of habitat degradation and environmental change.

Over a century of widespread domestic livestock grazing, intensive logging, and massive road construction in the Black Hills has seriously degraded the health of the forest, leading to the decline and endangerment of the Black Hills mountainsnail. Domestic livestock grazing in particular is reported to have caused the decline and loss of several snail colonies throughout the 1990’s as a result of trampling and destruction of the snail’s habitat, especially in wetlands.

“Our ‘canary in the coal mine’ is literally dying,” said Jeremy Nichols with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “We’re losing the Black Hills mountainsnail and with it, the health of our forest and our environment.”

The lack of adequate protection measures is also a key reason for the decline of the Black Hills mountainsnail. The U.S. Forest Service, which is responsible for managing much of the snail’s habitat, has only recently (i.e., 2001) given the species any attention. However, current measures fail to ensure any level of protection for the species and its habitat.

“It’s clear that the snail is imperiled because of past logging, road building and livestock grazing,” said Brian Brademeyer of the Native Ecosystems Council. “Compounding the situation is that the Forest Service is taking no steps to restore the snail’s degraded habitat.”

Conservation concern over the Black Hills mountainsnail is not new. In 1991 and in 1994, the species was listed as a Category 2 Candidate species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, meaning that the best available scientific information indicated listing the species under the ESA was appropriate. In 1993, scientists recommended the species be listed under the ESA. Since then, little has been done to ensure adequate protection and snail populations have continued to decline, prompting conservationists to formally seek much-needed protection under the ESA.

Land snails, like the Black Hills mountainsnail, are an integral part of the web of life in the Black Hills. They consume organic material on the forest floor and recycle plant and animal waste. Without snails and other invertebrates, plant and animal waste would literally choke the Black Hills. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals also feed on land snails, forming an important link in the food chain.

Land snails are also important in that they provide windows into the overall health of the ecosystem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated, “Land snails are a particularly practical group to assess the health of an ecosystem.” An understanding of the health of land snails, like the Black Hills mountainsnail, can aid in assessing the effectiveness of ecosystem restoration projects, assessing the status and health of other native plants and animal populations, and measuring the effects of land management actions.

Endangered Species Act protection for the Black Hills mountainsnail would mean that its forest habitat would be protected and restored. It would also require the federal government to develop a recovery plan.Protection under the ESA would ensure a valuable and integral part of the web of life in the Black Hills is protected for the benefit of the health of our forest and our own communities.

“The Black Hills is has been over grazed, over logged and thousands of miles of roads have been scrapped through the landscape. This snail is another victim of the damage we have already done to this important ecosystem,” said Scott Hoffman Black Executive Director of the Xerces Society. “On the flip side habitat restoration that benefits this snail will also help protect our important old growth and wetland heritage.”

The petitioners, led by Laramie, Wyoming-based organization Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, include the Center for Native Ecosystems out of Colorado, the Black Hills Regional Office of Native Ecosystems Council, Prairie Hills Audubon Society of Western South Dakota, and The Xerces Society, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the diversity of life through the conservation of invertebrates.

A copy of the petition and more information about the Black Hills mountainsnail can be found at Biodiversity Conservation Alliance’s website: