May 25, 2004
Noah Greenwald, Ctr. for Biological Diversity, 503-484-749
Jacob Smith, Ctr. for Native Ecosystems, 303-546-0214
AFTER YEARS OF DELAY, AGREEMENT REACHED ON LISTING OF TWO RARE PLANTS; THIRD STILL NEEDS ACTION
GENTRY INDIGOBUSH AND PORTER FEATHERGRASS COULD RECEIVE PROTECTION AFTER 24 YEARS OF DELAY, ACUNA CACTUS STILL WAITING AFTER 29 YEARS
Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Center for Native Ecosystems and Colorado Native Plant Society reached agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for the agency to make a decision on listing of two rare plants as threatened or endangered species. Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list Gentry indigobush January 2, 2002, and Center for Native Ecosystems and Colorado Native Plant Society petitioned to list Porter feathergrass March 5, 2002. After the agency failed to respond to the petitions, the groups filed suit September 17, 2003. The agreement requires the agency to make a decision on the petitions by January 31, 2005. In a related matter, CBD filed a formal 60-day notice of intent to sue the agency for failing to respond to a petition to list the Acuna cactus.
All three plants have been waiting for protection for decades. The cactus and feathergrass were first petitioned by the Smithsonian Institute in 1975 and 1978, respectively. All three were made candidates for listing by Fish and Wildlife in 1980. Such delays in protection are not uncommon. Of the 285 species currently recognized as candidates for listing, 78% have been waiting for protection for at least 10 years, 37% at least 20 years and 25% have been waiting at least 25 years. Delays in protection have real consequences with at least 27 species having gone extinct after recognition as candidates.
"These plants are just a few of the hundreds of plants and animals for which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to withhold protections," states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is shirking its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and allowing populations to decline and go extinct."
The three plants are all highly imperiled. Gentry indigobush and Acuna cactus are found in only a handful of locations in southeastern Arizona and Porter feathergrass is found at fewer than 25 sites in the region around South Park, Colorado. The plants are threatened by a combination of livestock grazing, mining, water diversion, development and other factors. "Without protection under the Endangered Species Act, these three plants face extinction," states Jacob Smith, executive director of Center for Native Ecosystems. "We are pleased the Service has agreed to consider protecting two of the three species, but wish we didn't have to take them to court before they do it."
The Bush Administration has only listed 31 species to date, all under court order, compared to 394 species listed during the Clinton Administration's first term. The Bush Administration claims that they don't have enough money to list species needing protection. A review of their annual budget requests, however, reveals that year after year the Administration requests only a fraction of the money that Fish and Wildlife says it need to properly implement the Endangered Species Act. For instance, this year it has requested only $17 million of the total $153 million needed to address the backlog of endangered species listings and critical habitat designations. "The Bush Administration is manufacturing a budget crisis to cover up their opposition to endangered species protection and poor implementation of the Nation's most important environmental law," states Jay Tutchton, an attorney with CBD, who represented the groups.
Background on the Plants:
Acuna cactus is a small (<10" in height) cylindrical, spiny cactus covered with showy pink to purple flowers. Found at only roughly seven small sites, the cactus is restricted to two disjunct parts of Arizonaone between Florence and Kearny in south-central Arizona, and another in around Organ Pipe National Monument in southern Arizona. It is threatened by a combination of mining, urban development, livestock grazing, illegal collection, and spread of exotic plants.
Gentry indigobush is a perennial herb in the legume family with violet flowers. It occurs in sandy, gravelly soils in the floodplains of small creeks. It is known from only three placesa recently discovered and poorly studied site in Mexico, a site on the west slope of the Baboquivari Mountains on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, and in Sycamore Canyon. Gentry indigobush is threatened by a combination of livestock grazing, hydrologic alterations, foot-traffic of migratory workers and plans by Tucson Electric Power to build a powerline upstream of its habitat.
Porter feathergrass is a rare grass found nowhere in the world but Colorado's South Park region. It inhabits rare wetlands, some of which date back to the last Ice Age. Water grab efforts by cities in the Denver metropolitan area threaten this imperiled plant with extinction. Other threats include irresponsible off-road vehicle use, mining, and poor land management.
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