Rare Florida lizard back on track for endangered species protection

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida– In response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to reconsider its denial of Endangered Species Act protections to the Cedar Key mole skink, a highly endangered lizard found only only on a few islands off Florida’s natural coast. The Service must render 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 demonstrated that the already rare lizards are threatened with extinction by sea ​​level rise, among other threats.

“I am relieved the skink is getting a new ruling, and I believe the Fish and Wildlife Service will now consider the very real and urgent threats of climate change and rising seas,” said Elise Bennett, senior counsel at the Center. . “The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of species from extinction, and it can save these skinks too, but only if the Service decides to protect these beautiful little lizards.”

The Service predicts that sea level rise will flood nearly one-third of the lizard’s coastal habitat by 2060 and nearly two-thirds by the end of the century. The remaining above-water habitat will be degraded by storm surges and saltwater intrusion caused by climate change. As the habitat is drowned and degraded, urban development will prevent the lizard from moving to higher ground over about half of its range.

“We know that climate change and rising sea levels will transform Florida in the coming decades, putting entire species and ecosystems at risk,” Bennett said. “Buying our heads in the sand won’t change that reality. That’s why government officials must commit to looking at climate science with clear eyes and taking the necessary steps to protect the skink and so many other creatures. unique people who inhabit Florida.

Adorned with a light pink tail, the Cedar Key mole skink lives exclusively on the shores of the Cedar Key Islands, along approximately 10 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Lizards burrow into dry sand and hunt for insects under leaves, debris, and washed-up vegetation on beaches. In addition to threats from climate change and development, the skink is also vulnerable to collisions with vehicles, exposure to pollution and pesticides, overexploitation, and predation by wild animals and fire ants.

The center petitioned to protect the Cedar Key mole skink under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. In 2015, the Service found that the lizard might warrant protection, but in 2018 the agency ultimately denied the petition.

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