For Immediate Release, August 19, 2009
Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682x.305 firstname.lastname@example.org
Rare Virgin Island Plants Slated for Protections
ATLANTA—The Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement this week with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take steps to protect two rare Caribbean plants under the Endangered Species Act. The two species — Agave eggersiana and Solanum conocarpum — which are near extinction in the wild, had been denied Endangered Species Act protection for more than a dozen years. Under the settlement agreement, the Service will propose a listing rule for the Agave eggersiana by September 17, 2010, and propose a listing rule for the Solanum conocarpum by February 15, 2011.
“Listing these critically imperiled plants under the Endangered Species Act means that finally we can implement a recovery plan to reintroduce the plants into suitable habitat in the wild and protect the plants’ critical habitat,” said Jaclyn Lopez, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The U.S. Virgin Islands Division of Fish and Wildlife of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources first petitioned the Service to protect both plant species in 1996. In 1998, the Service determined that the petition presented substantial scientific information to support listing, and committed to issuing a final finding within nine months on whether the species should be listed. Nine months turned into 6 years, and in 2004 the Center filed a lawsuit, resulting in a settlement agreement requiring the Service to submit a final finding in 2006. The Service then inexplicably changed its position, disregarded the opinions of its own experts, and published a finding in 2006 that neither species should be listed. The Center again filed suit in 2008 challenging the Service’s finding.
Agave eggersiana is a robust, perennial herb native only to hillsides and plains in the eastern dry districts of the island of St. Croix. It has large funnel- or tubular-shaped flowers and can grow from 16 to 23 feet tall. Solanum conocarpum is a thornless, flowering shrub that may reach more than 9 feet in height and is found in dry, deciduous forest on the island of St. John.
Habitat for both plant species has disappeared due to intense deforestation for cotton and sugar cane cultivation. Now, residential and tourism-related development and grazing by feral animals also threaten the plants’ habitats. Much of the suitable habitat for A. eggersiana is found on privately owned land slated for residential development. The suitable habitat includes dry scrub thicket, most of which has been severely degraded by feral goats grazing and the practice of burning off vegetation. There may no longer be any remaining A . eggersiana plants in the wild; survival of the species may now depend on propagating the plants in nurseries, then reintroducing them.
There are only about 220 S. conocarpum plants left in the wild in two areas on St. John – 156 plants at Nanny Point on land recently donated to the Virgin Islands National Park and 60 plants on private land. A project funded by the National Park Service was initiated in 2003 to propagate and reintroduce S. conocarpum into areas within the park. But the plants are threatened by management practices such as trail and facility maintenance, as well as feral pigs, feral goats, Key deer, and donkeys. The plants on private land are at risk from residential and tourism development.
The small number of remaining S. conocarpum plants is particularly troublesome because scientific information suggests the plant is functionally dioecious – having male and female flowers on different plants – and may require higher numbers in order to reproduce effectively. Both plants can be viewed at the St. George Village Botanical Garden on St. Croix.
The Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver and the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory Law School represented the Center for Biological Diversity on the case.
The lawsuit and background information on the plants species can be found on the Center for Biological Diversity Web site at: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/plants/Virgin_Islands_plants/index.html
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.