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For Immediate Release, June 24, 2008

Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 490-0223 (cell)

Settlement Could Bring New Habitat Protections to a
Desert Plant Threatened With Extinction

LOS ANGELES— In the wake of a legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to reconsider the critical habitat designation for a very rare California desert plant — the Lane Mountain milk-vetch — which is threatened with extinction. The Bush administration previously designated zero acres of habitat to protect the milk-vetch, despite the fact that only four populations are left on the planet and recent studies indicate that the number of individuals is declining.

“The failure to designate any habitat as critical to the survival of the plant demonstrates a profound indifference to extinction,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is another example of the Bush administration’s attempts to undermine legal protections for imperiled species. The Fish and Wildlife Service knew the designations wouldn’t hold up in court, and is doing the right thing by revisiting the designation.”

The Lane Mountain milk-vetch (Astragalus jaegerianus) is only found in the central Mojave desert northwest of Barstow, California. A majority of the plants are located within the recently expanded boundaries of the Fort Irwin National Training Center, in areas that will be heavily used for desert tank training. On April 8, 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued final critical habitat for the Lane Mountain milk-vetch and designated zero acres for the unique pea-like plant, though the agency admitted that preservation of the remaining milk-vetch on public lands is critical to the survival of the species.

The Lane Mountain milk-vetch is a vining, perennial plant that grows up through shrubs. Like most members of the pea family, it helps to enrich desert soils by converting nitrogen in the air into usable fertilizer. This milk-vetch is scattered in a 20-mile-long region in San Bernardino County. Much of its habitat is threatened with destruction by off-road vehicles, mining, and suburban development.

The zero designation of habitat for the plant followed the Bush administration’s pattern of devaluing protection of critical habitat, resulting in many scientifically indefensible designations that have favored development at the cost of recovery.

Today’s court-approved settlement agreement reopens the public process of critical habitat designation. By 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service will propose new critical habitat designations for the milk-vetch; it will finalize the designation by 2011.

“The public will once again have the opportunity to submit hard science to the feds and this time, hopefully, science rather than politics will drive the designation of habitat that is critical for this plant’s survival,” said Anderson.

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