An environmental group filed a petition Monday to list the Texas kangaroo rat as a federally endangered species because the sparse brushland where the large, hopping rodent makes its home is being threatened by development and agriculture.
The rat, which can grow more than a foot long from head to tail and hop up to a yard in a single bound, is already listed as threatened in the state. But Denver-based WildEarth Guardians wants a threatened or endangered listing through the Endangered Species Act.
The group also plans to seek protection this week for four other Great Plains species: the spot-tailed earless lizard, a fish called the prairie chub, an insect called the Platte River caddisfly and the Scott's Riffle beetle. The actions are part of the group's plan to file petitions and lawsuits over 36 days to persuade the Obama administration to make wildlife protection a priority.
"These five prairie species may not be household names, yet they reflect the great diversity of the Great Plains," said Lauren McCain with WildEarth Guardians. "They highlight our need to protect the sweeping but shrinking open spaces and the scarce, precious waters so fundamental not only to these animals but to the human inhabitants of the plains as well."
The nocturnal, four-toed rat, which looks like a massive gerbil, burrows underground and eats seeds, stems, grasses and crops such as oats. It used to be found in Oklahoma and several north Texas counties along the Red River. Its range is now down to just a handful of counties northwest of Dallas, roughly stretching from Bowie to Childress.
Threats to the rat and the other species include urban sprawl, agricultural expansion, oil and gas operations, invasions by nonnative species and pollution, the group said.
Getting animals listed federally is a process that could take five years or more. Once an animal or plant is listed, wide-ranging restrictions go into effect regarding the species and its habitat. If a species is endangered, it is in direct danger of extinction. A threatened species could be at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service considers the kangaroo rat a "species of concern," meaning it warrants federal protection but hasn't been granted it because of higher priorities facing the agency, spokeswoman Valerie Fellows said.
As for the other animals WildEarth Guardians hopes to list, the spot-tailed earless lizard is on the brink of extinction due to chemical pollutants and a ballooning human population in Texas, the group says.
The prairie chub has disappeared from parts of the Red River Basin in Texas and Oklahoma because of damns and other threats.
The Platte River caddisfly has lost habitat through water diversion, exotic species invasions and drought. The Scott's Riffle beetle appears only in one spring in Kansas, where it is threatened by depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, chemical contamination, and introduction of predatory fish, the group said.