Endangered plant found only in SB County gets protected habitat
The Center for Biological Diversity won a victory Wednesday for an endangered plant found in only four places on Earth, all of them in San Bernardino County's High Desert.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set aside 14,069 acres of habitat north of Barstow and near Fort Irwin for preservation of the Lane Mountain milk-vetch.
The center has been trying - since the Bush administration gave the plant zero acres for habitat preservation - to gain protection for the plant, said the center's Ileene Anderson.
"Two and three-quarters of the total population of plants are on Fort Irwin and the remaining habitat is on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land," Anderson said.
In 2005, her organization sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that administers the Endangered Species Act, asking that land be set aside for the plant, she said.
The plant was listed as endangered in October 1998, the USFWS said. And the agency agreed to restudy the issue in 2007.
The plant grows only in an area of the west Mojave Desert north of Barstow and on the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, the federal agency said. In 2004, the USFWS said, 29,522 acres had been proposed as critical habitat for the milk vetch but they were excluded for national security reasons, apparently to meet the needs of Fort Irwin.
Military installations are exempt from the demands of the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS said.
Although it isn't known if the plant has food or medical uses for humans, Anderson said, its fruit and vines are valuable to small mammals and insects.
The plant also enriches the soil with nitrogen, making natural fertilizer for other plants.
The milk vetch, a member of the pea family, is a climbing vine and symbiotically uses those other plants and shrubs as scaffolding.
Anderson said UCLA has made efforts to propagate the species without success. It grows in the lab but dies when transplanted to likely sites.
The USFWS ruling will be published today in the National Register.
Copyright © 2011
This article originally appeared here.
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