Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: April 25, 2001
For More Information Contact Kieran Suckling (520) 623-5252 x304
Other Information: Golden State Biodiversity Initiative



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has agreed in a recent court filing to take final action under the Endangered Species Act to protect the Ventura Marsh Milk-vetch by May 15, 2001. The filing was made in reply to a motion for summary judgement in a lawsuit filed against FWS by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Ventura Marsh Milk-vetch was first petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection by the Smithsonian Institution in 1975. While the species has languished in the listing process for 26 years, it has been extirpated from public lands and has declined to a single location on less than half an acre of private land.

Kieran Suckling, Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity stated "We are pleased that after 25 years of foot-dragging and illegal delay, the Ventura Marsh Milk-vetch will finally receive protection under the ESA. It is only through luck that the Ventura Marsh Milkvetch did not go extinct awaiting ESA protection." Suckling noted that "92% of all endangered species in California are on the ESA from a citizen petition or citizen lawsuit. The Ventura Marsh Milk-vetch is a good example of the extreme danger for the environment from the Bush Administration's recent proposal to eliminate citizen lawsuits to protect endangered species."

On January 22, 2001, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in Federal District Court in San Francisco against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to force the agency to list the Ventura Marsh Milk-vetch as a federally endangered species. The nearly extinct plant formerly occupied coastal wetlands in Ventura, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties.

The Ventura Marsh Milk-Vetch (Astragalus pyenostachyus var. lanosissimus) was first discovered in Bolsa Chica Marsh in Orange County in 1882. It formerly occurred in coastal wetlands in Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties, including Ballona Marsh. By 1967 only a single individual plant was known to exist, though in the same year, clippings of the plant were discovered in the freshly mowed McGrath State Beach. Currently, a single population exists on less than half an acre of private land slated for toxic remediation and development.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a science-based environmental advocacy organization. The Center was founded in 1989, and has more than 6,000 members. In California, the Center has offices in Berkeley and San Diego. The Center works to protect endangered species and wild places throughout western North America and the Pacific through science, policy, education and environmental law.

The suit is being heard in front of Federal Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco.


The Ventura Marsh Milk-vetch (Astragalus pycnostachyus var. lanosissimus) is an herbaceous perennial in the pea family. It has a thick taproot and multiple erect, reddish stems, 16 to 36 inches tall, that emerge from the root crown. The blooming time has been recorded as July to October, however, the one extant population was observed in flower in June 1997.

With the exception of the extant Ventura County population, the species is believed extirpated from all other areas from which it has been collected. In Los Angeles County, this taxon was collected in the late 1800s and early 1900s from Santa Monica, Ballona marsh, and ``Cienega'' (probably near Ballona marsh). These coastal areas are now urbanized within the expansive Los Angeles metropolitan area. About 90 percent of the Ballona wetlands, once encompassing almost 2000 acres, have been drained, dredged, and developed into the urban areas of Marina del Rey and Venice. Ballona Creek, the primary freshwater source for the wetland, had been straightened, dredged and channelized by 1940.

The listing process for the Ventura Marsh Milk-Vetch began in 1975 and is a study in delay and inaction. In 1975 the Smithsonian Institute petitioned the FWS to list the Ventura Marsh Milk-vetch under the ESA. This was met with a 1976 listing proposal by the USFWS (41 FR 24523). The USFWS took no action on the proposal for three and half years, at which time it revoked the proposal because the ESA (at that time) required that proposals must be finalized within two years.

In 1980, the milk-vetch was designated as a "category 1" (45 FR 82480). No action was taken to propose listing or protect the species, however. The one known population disappeared in the 1980's and the plant was reclassified as a "category 2" species that may be extinct in 1993 (58 FR 51144). It was subsequently re-discovered in 1997 on a degraded dune system near Oxnard which was slated for toxic remediation and development. The 1997 population of 374 plants declined to less than 200 plants in 1998. The USFWS issued a new listing proposal on June 25, 1999 (64 FR 28136). By law, the USFWS should have issued a final listing rule on June 25, 2000. Despite the overt threat of complete extinction, the agency again violated the ESA and delayed action. The final listing rule for the milk-vetch is now more than two decades late.

The single known population of the Ventura Marsh Milk-vetch occurs in a degraded site near the city of Oxnard. From 1955 to 1981 the land on which it occurs was used as a disposal site for oil field wastes (Impact Sciences, Inc. 1998). In August 1998, the City of Oxnard released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for development of this site (Impact Sciences, Inc. 1998). The project proposed for the site includes remediation of soils contaminated with hydrocarbons, followed by construction of 364 homes and a 6-acre lake on 91 acres of land.


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