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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


February 28, 2006

Contacts:  Natalie Gates 605-224-8693 ext 34                       
 Diane Katzenberger 303-236-4578     

U.S. Fish and Wildlife SErvice will NOT CONDUCT IN-depth review to consider listing the BLACK HILLS MOUNTAINSNAIL

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reviewed a petition to list the Black Hills mountainsnail (Oreohelix cooperi) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and has concluded the petition does not provide substantial information to indicate listing may be warranted at this time.  The negative petition finding was published today in the Federal Register. 

The Service made the determination in response to a petition received in 2003 from the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, Native Ecosystems Council, Prairie Hills Audubon Society, the Xerces Society and Mr. Jeremy Nichols to list the Black Hills mountainsnail as threatened or endangered and to designate critical habitat.  

“The Service remains interested in the population status, trends and ongoing management actions important to the conservation of the Black Hills mountainsnail,” said Mitch King, the Service’s Acting Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region, “and we encourage interested parties to continue to assist in these conservation efforts.” 

The Black Hills mountainsnail has a complex taxonomic history and considerable uncertainty exists as to whether the petitioned entity, Oreohelix cooperi, is a listable entity under the ESA.  The snail is currently identified scientifically as a subspecies and assigned the nomenclature Oreohelix strigosa cooperi, more commonly known as Cooper’s Rocky Mountain snail.  The size of this subspecies varies; the largest size form was submitted by the petitioners as Oreohelix cooperi.  Such a classification is not currently widely accepted or published in peer-reviewed literature. Nonetheless, the Service analyzed the petitioners’ asserted threats to Oreohelix cooperi and found no substantial evidence to indicate that further review of the entity’s status is necessary.  

The Black Hills mountainsnail is a member of the family Oreohelicidae, which consists of numerous species and subspecies of mountainsnail – air-breathing land snails found in the western United States.  The snail appears to be limited to the Black Hills, occurring primarily within South Dakota with only a few recent records in the Bear Lodge Mountains of the Black Hills in northeast Wyoming. The species is most common within the Spearfish Creek drainage of South Dakota, but exists outside this drainage in the upper reaches of Rapid Creek, Higgins Gulch, Prospect Gulch, and Grand Canyon. 

The Black Hills mountainsnail is a litter-dwelling mollusk thought to be herbivorous, feeding on partially decayed deciduous leaves and other degraded herbaceous vegetation and/or associated bacteria or fungi.  The species potentially matures in one to three years, perhaps surviving in the wild two to six years.  Documented occupied habitats include lowland wooded areas and slopes at the base of cliffs within Ponderosa pine communities that dominate much of the Black Hills. 

The petitioners assert that the Black Hills mountainsnail is threatened by habitat changes and range reductions caused primarily by domestic livestock grazing, logging, road construction, herbicide and pesticide application, mining, spring development, groundwater extraction, and recreation. 

While a variety of human activities likely affect the Black Hills mountainsnail and/or its habitat, the petition does not provide substantial scientific information indicating that listing the Black Hills mountainsnail due to these activities may be warranted under the ESA.  With few exceptions, the petition fails to provide documentation to demonstrate that areas of habitat loss and degradation are also sites where Black Hills mountainsnail colonies occur or had previously occurred.  Nor is it apparent that the species has experienced, or is currently threatened by, significant declines in populations, habitat and/or range.  

The petitioners also assert land management by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of South Dakota, the State of Wyoming, and the City of Spearfish is currently inadequate and not protective of the Black Hills mountainsnail, contributing to a decline of the species.  The Service did not find that activities affecting the Black Hills mountainsnail named in the petition pose a threat to the continued existence of the species throughout all or a significant portion of its range.  In addition, the petitioners did not provide evidence that the Black Hills mountainsnail requires more specific management than currently exists to sustain it. 

In making this determination, the Service reviewed the petition evidence and literature cited, as well as other pertinent information readily available. 

This finding was prepared pursuant to a court-approved settlement resulting from a lawsuit filed against the Service by the petitioners. 

The ESA provides for citizens to petition the Service to take listing actions, including adding species to the list of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants as well as removing species from the list. The Service is required to make a 90-day finding on whether the petition presents substantial information that the petitioned action may be warranted.

For more information about this finding please visit the Service’s web site at or by contacting the Fish and Wildlife Service South Dakota field office at 605-224-8693. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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