St. Petersburg, Florida.In response to the Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit, the US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reconsider its refusal to endangered species Act protections for the Cedar Key mole, a highly endangered lizard found only on a few islands off Florida’s natural coast. The service must make a new decision by July 31, 2024.
The center’s lawsuit, filed earlier this year, challenged the service’s failure to base its 2018 decision on the latest and most accurate climate science, which showed that already rare lizards are at risk of extinction due to sea level rise, among other threats.
“I am relieved that the hawksbill will receive a new decision, and I believe the Fish and Wildlife Service will take into account the very real and urgent threats of climate change and rising seas,” said Elise Bennett, senior attorney at the center. “The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of species from extinction, and it can save these squirrels too, but only if the service decides to protect these beautiful little lizards.”
The service predicts that sea level rise will inundate nearly a third of the coastal lizard’s habitat by 2060 and nearly two-thirds by the end of the century. Habitats remaining above the water’s surface will be degraded by storms and salt water intrusion due to climate change. As habitats sink and deteriorate, urban development will prevent the orchid from moving to higher ground across roughly half of its range.
“We know that climate change and sea-level rise will transform Florida in the coming decades, endangering species and entire ecosystems,” Bennett said. “Burying our heads in the sand will not change this reality. That is why government officials must commit to looking at climate science with clear eyes and taking steps to protect Skink and the many other unique creatures that call Florida home.”
Decorated with a bright pink tail, the Cedar Key mole squirrel lives exclusively on the shores of the Cedar Key Islands, along nearly 10 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Lizards burrow into dry sand and chase insects under leaves, debris, and vegetation that have washed up on beaches. In addition to threats from climate change and development, skunks are also at risk from vehicular strikes, exposure to pollution and pesticides, over-collecting, and predation by wild animals and fire ants.
The center petitioned for Cedar Key mole skin protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. In 2015, the service found that the lizard could warrant protection, but in 2018 the agency ultimately denied the petition.