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Native Plant Conservation

Plenty, August 19, 2008

Should we care about an endangered dandelion?
By John Platt

What endangered plants deserve saving, and which species will get the attention and support of government conservation efforts? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may have supplied the answer this week when they published a critical habitat ruling for two endangered plants, the California dandelion (Taraxacum californicum) and the San Bernardino Mountains bluegrass (Poa atropurpurea). The agency's ruling lowers the expected amount of protected habitat for the bluegrass, and, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, fails to protect key populations of the dandelion.

It took just shy of ten years to establish critical habitats for these two species, and even that was only accomplished through lawsuits by the CBD.

Each of these two species boasts only a few dozen individual plants in isolated populations. The Fish and Wildlife Service definitely did its due diligence (each ruling is dozens of pages long), but it's also obvious that they were hardly excited about protecting a lowly dandelion or species of grass.

The CBD obviously cares about them, but they're the only ones making a stink. There has never been -- nor, I imagine, will there be -- much outcry from the public to do more to protect these two species. Polar bears, sure. Pests that eat up our lawns? Never.

Which is a shame, because a species is often more than it appears to be all by itself. As the CBD points out, "These two plants inhabit areas that are the lifeblood of southern California -- moist meadows. Protecting their habitat protects our water."

It's too bad more people don't see the big picture. The Bush Administration included.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton