Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Insect at Glacier National Park

By: Kurt Repanshek, National Parks Traveler
January 3rd, 2011

A small aquatic insect found only in five streams on the eastern flanks of Glacier National Park is facing extinction from climate change and should be given protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to two groups.

The western glacier stonefly could be wiped out by accelerated glacial melt being caused by warming temperatures, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and the Center for Biological Diversity. The two groups, which note that the park’s glaciers are expected to vanish by at least 2030 as a result of climate change, last week filed a scientific petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend ESA protection to the stonefly.

“Without major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, researchers predict that more than one-third of all plants and animals will go extinct by 2050,” said Sarah Foltz Jordan, a conservation associate with The Xerces Society. “This species is just one more example of why we need to address climate change before it is too late.”

Since 1900, the mean annual temperature in Glacier National Park has increased by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit — nearly two times the global mean temperature increase, according to the groups. Of the estimated 150 glaciers in the park in 1850, only 25 currently remain, and these are continuing to shrink.

“The loss of glaciers in Glacier National Park makes clear that climate change is happening now,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The impending loss of the western glacier stonefly is a harbinger of change that will result in the loss of millions of species, disruption of food production, loss of water storage in mountain glaciers, flooding of coastal areas and other impacts that threaten our very way of life.”

According to the groups, the western glacier stonefly has been described as an indicator species of the health of its freshwater habitats.

“Stoneflies are extremely sensitive to changes in water quality and are therefore among the first organisms to disappear from degraded rivers and streams; they play a significant role in many aquatic ecosystems, decomposing leaves and other organic material and forming the base of the aquatic food chain,” the groups said in a release. “Fly fishers have long recognized the important role stoneflies play in providing nutrients for fish. Despite their importance, these insects are one of the most imperiled groups of animals in North America: More than 40 percent of all stoneflies are considered vulnerable to extinction.

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