In a 15-page filing Thursday in federal district court in San Francisco, attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper sued the Trump administration for failing to protect the Sierra Nevada red fox and seven other at-risk species across the nation, under the Endangered Species Act.

Four years ago, biologists in Yosemite touted two sightings of Sierra Nevada red fox in the far north section of the national park in December 2014 and January 2015, and they said it was the first time Sierra Nevada red foxes were spotted inside the park in nearly a century.

Biologists have been trying to learn if the rare carnivore is related to others documented in recent years in the Sonora Pass area.

"The Sierra Nevada red fox of California is one of the rarest mammals in North America, likely consisting of fewer than 50 individuals," National Park Service officials said in January 2015.

The nearest verified previous occurrences of Sierra Nevada red foxes were in the Sonora Pass area, north of the park, where biologists from UC Davis, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service were monitoring a small Sierra Nevada red fox population, first documented by the Forest Service in 2010, park service officials said.

In their court filing Thursday, lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper said protection for the Sierra Nevada red fox is warranted because research shows their population has been reduced to approximately 29 adults, including an estimated 14 breeding individuals.

Such a small population could be wiped out by population-level threats including adverse genetic effects of inbreeding, climate change, or chance events such as storms or local disease outbreaks.

Sierra Nevada red foxes have declined due to habitat destruction through logging, grazing, road building and fire suppression, Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity said Thursday. They are also vulnerable to poaching, poisoning, trapping, and disturbance by off-road and snow vehicles. Climate change is projected to dramatically shrink the fox’s habitat as warming pushes it farther up mountain slopes.

Endangered Species Act listing for Sierra Nevada red foxes would protect their habitat, require federal agencies to consult on and limit activities harmful to foxes, and would spur recovery planning efforts, Miller said.

David Bernhardt, the Interior secretary, and Margaret Everson, the acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, are named as defendants in the filing. Communications staff with the Interior Department forwarded questions to Fish and Wildlife staff and Department of Justice staff, who did not respond in time for publication.

According to Center for Biological Diversity advocates, the Trump administration has listed the fewest species for protection in its first two years since the Reagan administration. The Obama administration listed 72 species and the Clinton administration listed 196 species during their first two years. The Trump administration has listed 17 species under the Endangered Species Act.

Right now there are more than 500 species awaiting protection decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. United Nations scientists released a report earlier this month finding as many as one million species are at risk of extinction.

According to conservation advocates, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service has already determined the Sierra Nevada red fox and seven other species -- longfin smelt, Hermes copper butterfly, red tree vole, eastern gopher tortoise, Berry Cave salamander, Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly, and a large flowering shrub called marrón bacora -- all warrant endangered species protections. But the agency has failed to provide that protection.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the agency can delay protection for species if it is making expeditious progress listing other species, and that is not the case, staff with the Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper said.

The advocacy groups are asking federal court to issue an order declaring Bernhardt and Everson are unlawfully depriving the eight species of protection under the Endangered Species Act, and order them to publish proposed rules for the eight species.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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