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The Courier-Journal, May 5, 2014

Rare local plant gets federal protection
By James Bruggers


The Kentucky glade cress has suffered as the Louisville metro area has developed. Now, the federal Endangered Species Act may offer some help.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given Endangered Species Act protection to a small wildflower found only in Jefferson and Bullitt counties — the Kentucky glade cress.

As a result, developers could face some additional scrutiny if planning to build in areas of southeast Jefferson County and Bullitt County, where the rare plant clings to existence.

To Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center For Biological Diversity, the news is a cause for celebration "because this species has been waiting for protection for 39 years" — since its listing was first suggested by the federal agency.

The Arizona-based environmental group sued Fish and Wildlife Service to force listing decisions for more than 750 animals and plants, including the glade cress, after a 2011 settlement.

"Protecting the little fellow also protects the cedar-glade habitat," said Curry, who is based in Oregon but was raised in Knott County.

Charles J. Kavanaugh, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Greater Louisville, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Four years ago, Kavanaugh told The Courier-Journal he was not sure whether developers would voluntarily protect the glade cress on private property.

Bullitt County Judge Executive Melanie J. Roberts also did not return requests for comment.

But in Louisville, Metro Government's Planning and Design Services spokeswoman Jessica Wethington said the listing "could potentially impact development in southeastern Jefferson County. If a site is identified as a habitat area, an environmental assessment may need to be conducted to mitigate the impact."

The listing could prompt developers to modify their building plans if they involve federal money or federal permits, said Lee Andrews, who runs the agency's Kentucky office. But unless that federal connection exists, conservationists will have to rely on private property owners to voluntarily protect the plant, Andrews said.

Fish and Wildlife Service made the glade cress it a candidate for listing in 2009. A year later, biologists with the federal agency and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission expressed concerns that sewer extensions into the Floyds Fork area could spur growth, trampling the glade cress.

Then federal biologists last June proposed rules that would put the plant on the threatened-species list, while also identifying 18 areas totaling 2,053 acres as "critical habitat" in the two counties — places with features deemed essential to the plant's survival.

The agency announced Monday those rules were being made final and would go into effect in 30 days.

"We can help this plant," Andrews said. "We know where most of it is."

The Kentucky glade cress needs sunny areas that are wet in late winter to early spring, but then dry quickly, the agency said. It grows in areas with flat, thin soils.

Natural areas surrounding the glades that are protected from disturbance are critical to maintaining the plant's habitat, the agency said.

The glade cress has small white- to lilac-colored flowers and is found nowhere else in the world, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. It's main enemy is the conversion of its habitat to homes, shopping centers, roads and lawns.

Horseback riding, off-road vehicle use and certain grazing practices have also wiped out some of the plants, it found.

But key habitat is already being protected by The Nature Conservancy, the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, Louisville Metro Parks, Future Fund and 21st Century Parks, officials said.

Future Fund has included glade cress among its goals for Floyds Fork protection for more than 15 years, said Dr. Steve Henry, president of Future Fund, a land trust that operates along the Floyds Fork corridor in both counties.

The federal designation will encourage even more conservation, he said.

"It is unfortunate that this plant has declined to the point that federal listing is necessary," said Don Dott, executive director of the nature preserves commission. "But without concerted action to protect and restore its remaining populations, we risk seeing this plant disappear from the planet."

Reach James Bruggers at (502) 582-4645 or on Twitter @jbruggers.

Kentucky glade cress

Characteristics: Kentucky glade cress is an annual plant that grows 2 to 4 inches tall on areas of flat, thin soil.

Habitat: It grows only in extreme southeastern Jefferson County and the northeastern portion of Bullitt County.

Family: A member of the mustard family, it typically blooms in late February to early March and has a small white- to lilac-colored flower.

For details about the listing, go online to www.regulations.gov, and use the docket numbers FWS–R4–ES–2013–0069 (listing)

and FWS-R4-ES-2013-0015 (critical habitat).


© 2014 www.courier-journal.com.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton