NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release Monday, July 8, 2002
JUDGE ORDERS CRITICAL HABITAT PROTECTION
SAN DIEGO -- A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate critical habitat for eight imperiled plant species in San Diego, Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo and Mono counties of southern and eastern California listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and the Center for Biological Diversity (Center) sued FWS November 15, 2001 asking that the agency designate critical habitat.
This legal victory is part of an ongoing campaign of CNPS and the Center to work with agencies and scientists to improve state and federal management, conservation and recovery of imperiled plants.
Critical habitat designation identifies the habitat that is essential to the survival and recovery of listed species and provides mechanisms for protecting that habitat from destruction or degradation. The Endangered Species Act mandates that critical habitat by designated for all federally listed species, allowing only limited exceptions. Despite its conservation value, and despite legal requirements, recent administrations have avoided critical habitat designation. Only 11% of federally listed species in the U.S. have designated critical habitat.
The problem is most severe for plants. In California critical habitat has been designated for less than 5% of federally listed plants as compared with fully 28% of California's federally listed animals.
"Critical habitat is essential to species survival and recovery," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center. "Habitat protection is a must for conservation of unique places like the Algodones Sand Dunes, where the Peirson's milkvetch is endangered by BLM's plan to re-open 50,000 acres to off-road vehicles."
Neglect of plants in land management makes no sense, say scientists, because plants are the foundations of all ecosystems. Any program to conserve animals such as the golden eagle, desert tortoise, California gnatcatcher, or California condor must be based on conservation of the native plants these animals depend on for survival.
Furthermore, healthy native plant communities provide critical ecosystem services we all need to survive. "Plants generate the oxygen we breathe, clean the water we drink, create the food we eat, as well as provide food and habitat for our native wildlife," said Jim Andre, a Botanist and Director of the University of California-Riverside's Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center. "We simply cannot successfully maintain a healthy environment without protecting native plants."
The eight plants live on federal public land or in areas under federal jurisdiction, such as wetlands.
"The law makes no provision for critical habitat to affect management of private lands in the absence of federal involvement" said Dr. Emily Roberson of CNPS, "Critical habitat designations improve land management by federal agencies, particularly in our rivers and wetlands and on the millions of acres of publicly owned National Forests, BLM public lands and wildlife refuges in California. Critical habitat designation is alsoone of the best ways we have to improve our understanding and management of rare species."
The court order comes amid a torrent of new studies showing declines in the diversity and health of native plants. Recent reports by the World Conservation Union and the Nature Conservancy found that at least 30% of native flowering plants in the U.S. are currently at risk of extinction.
CNPS recently released its sixth edition of the Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California, which shows 1438 of California's native plant species (nearly 25%) are at risk.
"Scientists all over the world are raising the alarm about the current rate of extinction," said Illeene Anderson, CNPS Southern California Botanist. "It is imperative that scientists and conservation advocates work with governments to conserve our remaining species and their habitats. That is what this victory is about."
The eight imperiled plants for which critical habitat will be designated in California:
Lane Mountain milk-vetch - Astragalus jaegerianus (Endangered)
Coachella valley milk-vetch - Astragalus lentiginosus
var. coachellae (Endangered)
Peirson's milk-vetch - Astragalus magdalenae var.
Fish slough milk-vetch - Astragalus lentiginosus var.
For more detailed information see the FWS 10/6/98
final listing rule covering these four desert species:
Munz's onion - Allium munzii (Endangered)
San Jacinto Valley crownscale - Atriplex coronata var.
thread-leaved brodiaea - Brodiaea filifolia (Threatened)
Threats (includes the 3 inland species above): One or more of the following: habitat destruction and fragmentation from agricultural and urban development, pipeline construction, alteration of wetland hydrology by draining or excessive flooding, channelization, off-road vehicle use, livestock grazing, weed abatement, fire suppression practices (including discing or plowing) and competition from invasive weeds.
spreading navarretia - Navarretia fossalis (Threatened)
For more detailed information see the FWS 10/13/98
final listing rule covering these four inland species:
Please contact Daniel Patterson at the Center for species photos.