Alanna Mayam

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Environmentalists petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday to conserve a dwindling subspecies of newt in Oregon’s Crater Lake through the Endangered Species Act.

The petition from the Center for Biological Diversity seeks federal protections for the Crater Lake or Mazama newt, a unique amphibian subspecies only found within the crystal-clear waters of the deepest lake in the United States.

The center contends that the Crater Lake newt has declined drastically due to compounding consequences of climate change and the introduction of predatory, non-native species. This is particularly true for the lake’s crayfish population — first introduced to the lake in 1915 to feed non-native fish — which have since grown to occupy 95% of the lake’s shoreline due to increasing water temperatures.

But the crayfish don’t only prey on newts, the center argues, explaining that the non-native species also feasts on the lake’s native plankton-consuming invertebrates. As such, the growing crayfish population not only competes with the newts for food, but it will inevitably increase algae growth in the famously clear lake housed inside the caldera of a collapsed volcano.

“These little newts have flourished in Crater Lake for thousands of years, and we have a responsibility to ensure they remain part of its ecosystem for generations to come,” said center attorney Chelsea Stewart-Fusek in a statement. “Losing the lake’s top native aquatic predator would mean losing a part of what makes Crater Lake so special to Oregonians and to the world. And losing them to introduced species and climate change illustrates how quickly our short-sighted actions can devastate our planet’s biodiversity.”

The center notes that the national monument’s managers have tried to eradicate the crayfish before, without success. By protecting the species under the Endangered Species Act, the group believes the service can utilize scientific recommendations of funding crayfish removal efforts while developing a comprehensive recovery plan.

“These adorable little newts are clinging to existence and need immediate federal protections because of the introduced species that prey on them at every stage of their lives,” Stewart-Fusek said. “Without more funding for conservation this important species will be lost, and Crater Lake’s ecology will be forever altered.”