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Coachella Valley milk vetch
E&E News , February 13, 2013

FWS designates critical habitat for imperiled Southern Calif. plant
Laura Petersen, E&E reporter

The Obama administration yesterday designated 9,600 acres in Southern California's Coachella Valley as critical habitat for an endangered plant.

The Riverside County area -- known for its big spring music festival and booming development -- is home to the Coachella Valley milk vetch, a flowering foot-tall plant added to the endangered species list in 1998.

Dependent on sandy dunes and flats, the milk vetch has been nearly wiped out by development sprawling east of Los Angeles. The plant continues to be threatened by development, groundwater pumping, invasive plants, alteration of stream flows and off-highway vehicles.

The critical habitat designation includes not only areas where the plant grows, but other areas deemed essential for its conservation, according to the final rule.

The designation doesn't affect private property. Federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that federally funded or permitted projects within the designated areas don't harm the plant.

The proposal was applauded by environmental groups that sued Fish and Wildlife after the agency during the George W. Bush administration chose to forgo designating critical habitat. The service had originally proposed a designation of 3,583 acres.

"Today's habitat protection is a huge improvement over the previous zero-acre designation by the Bush administration, but it's disappointing that the final protected area doesn't include 16,000 additional acres that were proposed for protection in 2011," Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton