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For Immediate Release, April 2, 2010

Contact:  Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943 office; (323) 490-0223 (cell); ianderson@biologicaldiversity.org

New Habitat Protections Proposed for California Desert Plant Threatened With Extinction

LOS ANGELES— As a result of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed 16,156 acres of habitat as critical to the survival and recovery of a very rare California desert plant – the Lane Mountain milk vetch – that 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.

“This proposal gives the milk vetch a chance at survival,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The proposal, however, fails to include all of the areas where the plants currently exist, excluding two of the four remaining populations.”

The Lane Mountain milk vetch (Astragalus jaegerianus) is only found in the central Mojave desert northwest of Barstow, California. More than half of the species’ range is located within the recently expanded boundaries of the Fort Irwin National Training Center, with some areas heavily used for desert tank training. The habitat on Fort Irwin is proposed to be exempted from the designation based on a commitment by the Army to establish two on-site conservation areas and a third “no-dig” zone, which limits the extent of ground disturbance.

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 science rather than politics has had a stronger hand in this proposed designation of habitat that is critical for this plant’s survival,” said Anderson. “Only by improving the designation to include all of its range will the plant truly have a chance at surviving and recovering.”

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