BILLINGS — U.S. wildlife managers are revisiting a pending proposal to protect a rare, cold-water insect, after scientists confirmed its presence in new locations in Wyoming and Montana, officials said Wednesday.
The newly found populations of western glacier stonefly appear to face the same problem as the original population in and around Glacier National Park, where habitat loss due to climate change is reducing water flows in the mountain streams where the insects live.
"We expect climate change to be acting range-wide, even in these new habitats that were found," said biologist Jim Boyd with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The winged insects live along streams fed by melting glaciers and snowfields. They've recently been confirmed in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.
The glacier stonefly and another species known as the meltwater lednian stonefly were proposed for protections under the Endangered Species Act in October 2016. A final decision was expected last month, but that's now been put off until early 2018 as the government considers the new information on the glacier stonefly, officials said.
Boyd said one species could be given protections but not the other.
By 2030, the amount of stream habitat available to the meltwater lednian stonefly is expected to decrease more than 80 percent. Similar habitat losses are projected for the western glacier stonefly.
Last year's decision came after the Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the federal government to enact protections for the two species.
Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity said his group will be watching for any political interference as the issue is reconsidered.
President Donald Trump earlier this year said he was cancelling U.S. involvement in an international climate treaty and has previously suggested global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.
"When they make the decision do they deny, because we have a climate-denier-in-chief? Or do they move forward with protections that are certainly warranted?" Greenwald said. "It just highlights that if we don't get control of our greenhouse gas emissions we have a lot to lose."