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Group Applauds Finding for Vanishing Wetlands Wildflower
ALBUQUERQUE - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) gave the green light today on a petition submitted by WildEarth Guardians requesting protection (listing) for the Wright’s marsh thistle under the Endangered Species Act. The finding means that the Service will now conduct a full review to determine if the thistle warrants being placed on the list of threatened and endangered species.
Wright’s marsh thistle is thought to occur in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Mexico, but New Mexico appears to be its current stronghold. The Service found that the rare wetland wildflower is declining and may have vanished from large portions of its range. The agency determined that threats to the thistle include loss of its wetlands habitat, predation by insects, inadequate legal protections, and drought. It will further investigate the threat from climate change and other factors in its review.
“We are please that the Service will consider protection for this vanishing flower under the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s legal Ark,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Wetlands habitats are rich pockets of biodiversity in the arid southwest, and the thistle’s rapid decline signals that our wetlands are also disappearing,” stated Rosmarino.
The group argued in its petition, and the Service today agreed, that the thistle qualifies for listing under at least four of the five factors the agency considers in determining whether to grant a plant or animal federal protection. A species only needs to meet a minimum of one of those factors.
The thistle is one of 13 species that WildEarth Guardians petitioned for protection in October 2008 through its “Western Ark” initiative, which covered portions of 18 U.S. states. The Service has thus far agreed with the group on every petition for which the agency has made a decision. The Service gave the green light for the white-sided jackrabbit on July 22, the Jemez Mountains salamander on August 11, and the Sonoran desert tortoise on August 28. Other members of the Western Ark include the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, which the Service designated a formal candidate for federal protection; the Chihuahua scurfpea, for which the Service will issue a decision in early December under court order; and the Sprague’s pipit and six southeastern mussels, which are currently in court due to overdue petition decisions.
Because the initial finding on the thistle petition is positive, the Service must now undertake a review of the status of the species and make a decision based on that review. If the thistle is listed under the Endangered Species Act, the agency would have to develop a recovery plan to map out the steps that must be taken to reverse its decline. The Service would also be required to identify habitat critical to the conservation and recovery of the species. With today’s finding, the Service announced the beginning of a 60-day public comment period during which additional information can be submitted by agencies and the public. The comment period ends on November 9.
One of the few places where the Wright’s marsh thistle continues to be found is the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico. The Sacramento Mountains are a stronghold for the imperiled New Mexico meadow jumping and the Mexican spotted owl. This mountain range also hosts endangered species found nowhere else in the world, including the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly, the Sacramento Mountains thistle, and the Sacramento Prickly Poppy. Located in Otero County and threatened by extractive industries, these species face concerted efforts by the county and private interests to obstruct or strip away federal protection.