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A tiny snail species in southern Arizona's Quitobaquito could soon get federal protection

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for public input on a proposed rule that would protect a tiny, endangered species in southern Arizona’s Quitobaquito Springs. 

Quitobaquito is an ancient spring and human-made pond along the U.S.-Mexico border in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It’s a  historic homestead to the Hia-Ced O’odham tribe and is also home to a handful of species found nowhere else in the world — some even share its name, like a springsnail called the Quitobaquito tryonia. 

Russ McSpadden with the Center for Biological Diversity says it’s the size of a grain of sand. 

"But it has a beating heart, and a shell, it moves around, if you’re at Quitobaquito, you can see them in the really clear waters," he said. 

But the site’s been in peril for years because of agricultural pumping, drought, leaks in the human-made pond and, most recently, border wall construction. The species was also named in a  lawsuit over border wall construction filed by the Center for Biological Diversity against the Trump administration in 2020.

Last week, an  audit from the Government Accountability Office found the construction had caused "significant damage" to sites along Arizona's borderland, including Quitobaquito. 

Under Fish and Wildlife’s proposed  rule, the springsnail would be listed as an endangered species and the agency could take steps to ensure its continued habitat. McSpadden says the designation could also spur international coordination to protect the species. The agency is  giving the public 60 days to send in comments to contribute to the final rule. 


Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.