Feds eye protection for glacier-dependent bugs

asdf Joe Giersch
Can Montana’s glacier stoneflies survive global warming? Photo courtesy USFWS/Joe Giersch.

Montana stoneflies may get endangered species status

Staff Report

The meltdown of the Earth’s glaciers isn’t going to slow anytime soon, even if the world can agree on the big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions targeted as part of a global climate treaty this year.

And few alpine landscapes will feel the heat more than Montana’s Glacier National Park, where remnant glaciers from the last ice age have already dwindled to nearly nothing. Most of the remaining ice patches will probably be gone by 2050, and when they vanish, so will habitat for two species of stoneflies found nowhere else on Earth.Now, federal biologists will decide whether the bugs need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week announced it will review the status of the meltwater lednian stonefly and the western glacier stonefly during the next 12 months, making an endangered species decision by this time next year.

Stoneflies are aquatic insects whose young live in the cobbles of cold, highly-oxygenated freshwater streams. Their presence can be an indication of a healthy stream ecosystem.

The Service will assess the current status and potential risks to the distribution and persistence of these species, including the risk that climate change will reduce the extent of glaciers in the park and, as a result, the amount and quality of stonefly habitat in adjacent streams.

For now, the agency is seeking input from the public and other stakeholders to ensure a complete scientific review. Specific information is wanted on abundance, distribution, population trends, and any new life history information.

The Service is also seeking any new information regarding potential threats to the meltwater lednian stonefly and western glacier stonefly habitat from human-caused and natural factors, including the potential effects of climate change.

Following the status review, the Service will either publish a proposed rule to protect one or both species under the ESA, or issue a not-warranted listing determination in the Federal Register by September 30, 2016.

Previously gathered biological and threat assessment information for the meltwater lednian stonefly, currently a candidate species for ESA protections, can be found online at: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/meltwaterlednianstonefly.php.  Current information for the western glacier stonefly is available at: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/westernglacierstonefly.php.

Anyone wishing to submit information regarding these two species may do so by writing to:

Public Comments
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Montana Field Office
585 Shepard Way, Suite 1
Helena, MT 59602

Information must be received by December 15, 2015.

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