Albuquerque (AP) - A tortoise, a hare, a mouse and half-a-dozen mussels are some of the creatures that a conservation group hopes to save through a "Western Ark" project aimed at petitioning the government for federal protection.
WildEarth Guardians filed eight petitions Thursday seeking protection for a diverse group of 13 plants and animals with ranges that span more than a dozen states and stretch into Mexico and Canada.
"We deliberately wanted to petition at once for a variety of plants and animals and this is to underscore that the Endangered Species Act really is like Noah's ark," said Nicole Rosmarino, the organization's wildlife program director. "We want as many species that are in need to board the ark as possible."
WildEarth Guardians reviewed the status of hundreds of species -- including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates -- looking for those that had the best cases for protection under the federal act.
"We really wanted a wide range just to demonstrate to the government and the public that that's what this law is all about," Rosmarino said. "The Endangered Species Act is all about protecting the rich tapestry of life."
The "Western Ark" petitions are the latest salvo in the battle the group has been waging against the federal government over endangered species listings. WildEarth Guardians points out that the polar bear was the first U.S. species to be listed in over two years and that all of the listings under the Bush administration have been prompted by either citizen petitions or legal action.
The organization in the past year has petitioned for protections for hundreds of species, including prairie wildflowers, butterflies, amphibians, fishes, snails, trees and cactus.
The Fish and Wildlife Service vowed at the beginning of this year to make a dent in the backlog of species needing to be reviewed for possible ESA protection. In a step toward that goal, the agency announced last month it was taking a new, ecosystem-based approach to the endangered species list and proposing an all-at-once addition of 48 Hawaiian species to list.
Rosmarino said the approach makes sense and is long overdue but the administration still has a lot of catching up to do.
She added that her group will keep plugging away with petitions and legal pressure.
"If nothing else, we're going to greet the next administration with a long line of passengers that urgently need to board the ark that the Endangered Species Act provides," she said.
Nearly all the species listed in the petitions filed Thursday face a common threat of climate change, including the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the Jemez Mountains salamander, the white-sided jackrabbit and the Sonoran desert tortoise.
The tortoise, which ranges across southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, is the focus of one petition filed jointly by WildEarth Guardians and the Western Watersheds Project. The groups say the tortoise's population has been reduced by more than half since 1987, and that urban sprawl, off-roading and grazing continue to put pressure on the species.
In addition, long droughts brought on by climate change are expected to result in less food and lower reproduction rates for the tortoise, the groups say.
Rosmarino said drought is also likely to have an impact on the white-sided jackrabbit's grassland habitat.
Without federal protection, Rosmarino said, conservationists worry that the tortoise and the jackrabbit -- like the other species listed in the petitions -- might be lost.
She quipped that the tortoise and the hare are not racing each other but are "in a race with extinction and neither of them has an interest in winning that race."
A tortoise, a hare, a mouse and a half-dozen mussels are some of the creatures that a conservation group hopes to save by petitioning the government under the Endangered Species Act.