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For Immediate Release, May 18, 2011

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

New Habitat Protections Finalized 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 today finalized 14,069 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 had previously refused to designate any habitat protection for 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 critical habitat gives the milk vetch a chance at survival,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today’s designation fails to include all the areas where the plants currently exist by excluding two populations that are in harm’s way on Fort Irwin. But it is a 14,000-acre improvement for the remaining two populations over the previous critical habitat designation.”

The Lane Mountain milk vetch (Astragalus jaegerianus) is only found in the central Mojave desert northwest of Barstow, Calif. 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 exempted from the designation based on a commitment by the army to establish two onsite 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. The plant is scattered in a 20-mile-long region in San Bernardino County. Much of its habitat is threatened with destruction by off-road vehicles including tanks; mining; and suburban development.

“Full protection of all of the milk vetch’s habitat is critical to improving this rare plant’s odds of surviving and recovering, particularly as climate change advances and adds additional stress,” Anderson said.

Critical habitat is essential to identify and safeguard the habitat necessary to allow for recovery of the species. Species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering than those without critical habitat.


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