Schmoll's milkvetch  Astragalus schmolliae
ESA status: candidate for listing

This species has been awaiting Endangered Species Act listing for
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Schmolls milkvetch pc  George San Miguel National Park Service

If a species is imperiled, it should be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), even if it occurs in a national park, and especially if it has waited more than 35 years for protection. Such is the case for Schmoll’s milkvetch. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision in December 2010 to make Schmoll’s milkvetch a candidate for listing under the ESA is just the latest milestone in this species’ long, winding journey to protection.

Schmoll’s milkvetch is a perennial wildflower that grows to 1-2 feet tall, with creamy white flowers and short hairs covering its leaves and stems. It usually flowers in late April or early May, through mid-June. It is endemic to Colorado and is one of the rarest plants in the state. The plant has a total of 4 populations, found in pinyon-juniper woodlands on mesa tops in Mesa Verde National Park and the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. It is threatened by cheatgrass proliferation, altered fire regimes, drought and climate change, and a lack of legal protections. Scientists consider Schmoll’s milkvetch to be “critically imperiled.”

The Smithsonian Institute first petitioned to list Schmoll’s milkvetch under the ESA in 1975. The FWS responded by proposing it for listing in 1976, but then withdrew that proposal in 1979, at which time the plant was instated to the candidate list. The flower then lost its candidate status in 1996, when over 2,000 species were dropped from the candidate list. WildEarth Guardians filed another petition in 2007 to list Schmoll’s mikvetch as “threatened” or “endangered,” and the FWS responded by placing the species back on the candidate list.

This plant continues on a bureaucratic odyssey that dates back to a bygone era of American history: in 1975, the United States was wracked by Watergate, embroiled in Vietnam, and governed by President Gerald Ford; Bill Gates founded Microsoft; the Louisiana Superdome opened; the Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in theatres; and soccer player David Beckham and actress Angelina Jolie were born. How much longer must Schmoll’s milvetch wait before finally being listed under the ESA? 

photo credit: George San Miguel, National Park Service