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Plants First Recognized To Be In Trouble in the 1980s
Washington, DC-Feb. 23. U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar published a decision in today’s Federal Register that three Utah plants – Frisco buckwheat, Frisco clover, and Ostler’s peppergrass – warrant protection (listing) under the Endangered Species Act, but he declined actual protection, citing higher priorities. The decision comes in response to a July 2007 petition filed by WildEarth Guardians and a 1975 petition by the Smithsonian. Unfortunately, the plants will receive no federal safeguards until they are actually listed as endangered or threatened. All three plants were first recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as warranting federal listing in the 1980s.
“These plants have been waiting for federal protection for decades. Legal safeguards are not only long past due – they are urgently required, in the face of growing threats,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.
There are now 259 species of plants and wildlife that are formal “candidates” awaiting federal listing. Over 80 percent of these species were first recognized as needing federal protection more than a decade ago, including the 3 Utah plants. Outside of Hawaii, Salazar has listed only 4 new U.S. species under the Act since taking office. At the current pace, it would take a century to get through the backlog of candidate species in the continental U.S.
Two conservation groups working to protect these plants – WildEarth Guardians and the Utah Native Plant Society – applaud the federal government’s recognition that the plants need Endangered Species Act protection. They further urge the government to actually list them under this law. Until they are listed, the plants will not benefit from the ESA’s shield.
“These three highly restricted, unique cushion plant endemics in the vicinity of the San Francisco Mountains have long been known to be among the most rare and threatened species in Utah's West Desert. By obtaining some federal recognition, it will encourage (but not restrict) private landowners to work cooperatively to protect their limited habitats and avoid extinction,” said Tony Frates, conservation co-chair and Utah rare plant guide coordinator for the Utah Native Plant Society.
FWS determined that the 3 Utah plants designated as ESA candidates today are threatened by habitat destruction from precious metal and gravel mining, which is likely to increase in the future; the spread of cheatgrass, which can both outcompete these native endemics and lead to increased wildfire; increased drought conditions due to climate change; vulnerability from small, isolated populations; and inadequate legal protections from these threats.
Frisco buckwheat (Eriogonum soredium) is a perennial buckwheat that grows up to 1.6 inches tall and 19.7 inches across. Its numerous flowers are white or partially pink; it blooms from June to August. Its habitat is Ordovician limestone outcrops. This buckwheat occurs only at 4 sites on private land in the southern San Francisco Mountains in Beaver County, Utah.
Ostler’s peppergrass (Lepidium ostleri) is a perennial mustard that grows up to 2 inches tall. Its flowers are white to cream and may have a purplish hue; it blooms from June to early July. This plant co-occurs with the Frisco buckwheat and is also only known from Utah's San Franciso Mountains.
Frisco clover (Trifolium friscanum) is a perennial legume that grows up to 1.2 inches tall. Its flowers are shaped like other clover species and are reddish-purplish; it blooms from late May to June. This clover’s habitat is also limited to small areas within the San Francisco, Wah Wah Mountains and Blue Mountain in Utah’s Millard and Beaver Counties Utah, with only five known locations on these mountain ranges. 71% of the plants are found at just 2 locations.
These plants were first recognized as in need of federal safeguards in a bygone era of American history: in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan served two terms as U.S. president; Mikhail Gorbachev headed up the USSR (and later received the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Cold War); Blondie and Prince topped the Billboard Chart; and tennis star Serena Williams was born.
In today’s decision, Secretary Salazar rejected federal listing for two other Utah plants, Hamilton milkvetch (Astragalus hamiltonii) and Flowers' penstemon (Penstemon flowersii) but invited the public to submit additional information regarding the status of these species. The groups remain concerned about this milkvetch and penstemon and plan to submit additional information to FWS to further make the case for legal protection.
For background information, including the 2007 petition which prompted today’s finding, contact Nicole Rosmarino at email@example.com or 505-699-7404.
Tony Frates, Utah Native Plant Society, 801-277-9240, firstname.lastname@example.org