Okay, okay, my headline is a tad sensational.
It’s just a way to draw attention to the rediscovery of one of the Northwest’s rarest species: Driloleirus americanus, better known, when it is known at all, as the giant Palouse earthworm. The earthworm, which may have once have reached 3 feet in length, was believed extinct until a 6-inch specimen was recently rediscovered by a grad student from Idaho.
The earthworm was found on a tiny 800-acre preserve, a remnant of an arid grassland that blanketed 2 million acres—an ecosystem now almost entirely converted to agriculture. For me, the earthworm’s decades-long absence, is a reminder of how important bread-and-butter land conservation is. When we don’t protect intact native landscapes, we rob the world—and ourselves—of the biological wealth we inherited. That’s the sad story of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, a species that went functionally extinct this month, largely because it lacked habitat.