Published: Tuesday, October 04, 2011, 8:58 PM Updated: Wednesday, October 05, 2011, 5:49 AM
Northern spotted owl, we get it. Marbled murrelet, OK. But Masked duskysnail and Cinnamon juga?
They are among 26 rare slugs and snails will be studied for possible protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.
The decision, involving mollusks in Oregon, Washington and Northern California, does not guarantee listing under the act. Instead, it touches off a detailed biological review.
Unlike the 1990 listing of the Northern spotted owl, which led to logging restrictions, listing the mollusks as threatened or endangered won’t drastically change forest practices, said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. On federal forests, officials already must survey timber sales for slugs and snails and manage the sale accordingly, she said. “If they do get listed, it won’t keep projects from going forward.”
Jim Geisinger, executive vice president of Associated Oregon Loggers, said the cost of complying with restrictions that might follow a slug and snail listing could be astronomical. Issues include whether restrictions are extended to private timberland and whether the mollusks require “two-square yards or two-square miles” of protected habitat, he said.
“The potential is certainly there,” he said. “The devil is always in the details.”
The mollusks being studied include the Basalt juga, a river snail with three yellow bands on a white shell that lives in cold springs of the Columbia River Gorge, and the white-shelled Nerite pebblesnail, which lives in the Klamath River drainage in Jackson County. Others include the Masked duskysnail of the Wenatchee National Forest, the yellow-shelled Canary duskysnail of Northern California and the dark reddish-brown Cinnamon juga of the upper Sacramento River drainage.
All are susceptible to harm from logging, mining, grazing, pesticide and fertilizer use and water diversion, Curry said.
The creatures may not look appealing, but they are important to the forests and streams of the Pacific Northwest, Curry said. "They're part of the food web, they're important for nutrient cycling, they eat decaying matter and they're unique to the Pacific Northwest -- they're not found anywhere else," she said.
Officials with Portland's American Forest Resource Council, which often represents the timber industry's view on endangered species issues, were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups reached an agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year to expedite decisions on 757 species, including the slugs and snails.
However, the process of listing creatures as threatened or endangered moves about as fast as the objects of the study. If wildlife officials decide listing is warranted, they will then solicit independent scientific review and ask for public input. It takes about a year to move from proposing a species for federal protection to arriving at a final decision, according to a Fish and Wildlife news release.
Among other options, the wildlife service could decide listing the snails and slugs is warranted, but defers work because other animals are at greater risk.
Also Tuesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced the northern leopard frog, found in 19 western states, will not be listed as threatened or endangered.
The service also reduced by nearly 190,000 acres the amount of forest designated as "critical habitat" for the marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird that nests in older forests along the Pacific Coast.
The removed areas are not essential to the conservation of the species and do not meet the definition of critical habitat for marbled murrelet, the wildlife service said in a news release. About 3.8 million acres in northern California and southern Oregon retains a critical habitat designation, however.
Designation as critical habitat doesn't establish a refuge or affect land ownership, the wildlife service said.