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For Immediate Release, November 16, 2009

Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943 or ianderson@biologicaldiversity.org

Riverside Fairy Shrimp and Two Rare Southern California Plants to Receive Additional Critical Habitat

LOS ANGELES— Responding to lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today agreed to reconsider flawed critical habitat designations for the Riverside fairy shrimp, willowy monardella, and Coachella Valley milk vetch. The three species are limited to Southern California, where much of their habitat has already been lost to urban sprawl and where they currently teeter on the brink of extinction.

“Like so many endangered species decisions by the Bush administration, the critical habitat designations for these three species were woefully inadequate,” said Ileene Anderson, biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Obama administration will need to designate substantially more acres for the fairy shrimp and two plants if they are to have a chance at recovery.”

The Bush administration designated a mere 306 acres for the fairy shrimp on April 12, 2005, zero acres for the milk vetch on December 14, 2005, and 73 acres for the monardella on November 8, 2006. In each case, the designations excluded thousands of acres identified by scientists as essential to the survival of the species, including 4,822 acres for the fairy shrimp, 17,746 acres for the milk vetch, and 1,863 for the monardella.

“Urban sprawl, off-road vehicles, and agriculture immediately threaten the survival of all three of these Southern California species,” said Anderson. “You can’t protect endangered species without protecting the places they live.” 

The lawsuit is part of a larger effort on the part of the Center to undo politically tainted decisions by the Bush administration that minimized protections for endangered species. Overall, the Center for Biological Diversity has sued to overturn Bush-era decisions covering 52 species, including a number of other Southern California species, including the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, and Santa Ana sucker. To date, the Obama administration has been settling the majority of these suits by agreeing to reconsider decisions that limited protection for endangered species. See: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/cleaning_up_the_bush_legacy/index.html.

According to the settlement agreements, new critical habitat designations for the three species will be proposed in 2011 and finalized for the Riverside fairy shrimp and willowy monardella in 2012 and for the Coachella Valley milk vetch in 2013.

Background on the three species:

The diminutive Riverside fairy shrimp is one of the rarest freshwater crustaceans. It inhabits a quintessentially California habitat known as vernal pools – seasonally inundated flat ponding areas that in spring host the development of not only rare insects like fairy shrimp but also rare annual plants. The Riverside fairy shrimp is only known from deeper pools in Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego counties in California. Much of its habitat has been destroyed by urban development, off-road vehicles, water diversions, grazing, and agricultural conversion. Only 24 small populations are left on the planet.

The Coachella Valley milk vetch, related to peas and beans with showy purple pink flowers that fade to blue, survives in stabilized sandy areas only in the Coachella Valley of eastern Riverside County, near Palm Springs. Much of its habitat has been destroyed by urban development, off-road vehicles, and agricultural conversion. The number of remaining populations is tough to evaluate, because the milk vetch only produces above ground plants in prime growing years, but estimates top out at approximately 46 populations on Earth.

The willowy monardella, a pungently scented, rosy-flowered, minty perennial plant, is known only in San Diego county. In fact, in 2003, a scientific study identified that the willowy monardella is actually two very different species – Monardella viminea and M. stoneana – with two very different habitats. M. viminea is known from only 15 locations in central San Diego county. M. stoneana is known from only five locations in southern San Diego county and one in Baja Mexico. Much of the habitat has been destroyed by urban development, off-road vehicles, livestock grazing, and agricultural conversion.

For more information on the species please visit http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/index.html

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