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For Immediate Release, October 2, 2012

Contact:  Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Two Arizona Plants and 100,000 Acres of Habitat Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

TUCSON, Ariz.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed federal protection today for two rare Arizona cacti along with 102,906 acres (161 square miles) of proposed critical habitat to conserve the species. The proposal to protect the Acuña cactus and Fickeisen plains cactus results from a 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity requiring the agency to speed protection decisions for 757 species across the country. The Center petitioned for protection for the two cacti in 2004.

“These incredibly rare cacti face serious, ongoing threats, and the Endangered Species Act is the one thing that can save them being erased forever,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center.

The plants are found in southern and northern Arizona. The agency is proposing 53,720 acres of critical habitat for Acuña cacti in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, and 49,186 acres of habitat for Fickeisen plains cacti in Coconino and Mohave counties.

The rare cacti have been waiting on a so-called “candidate” list for federal protection for many years — in the case of the Fickeisen plains cactus, 32 years. The plants face severe threats including drought, climate change, border-enforcement activities, off-road vehicle use and livestock grazing.

“It’s a big challenge to save these plants. But the Endangered Species Act has prevented extinction for 99 percent of the plants and animals under its care. The Act’s our very best tool for saving nature for future generations,” said Curry.

The Acuña cactus lives in Sonoran desert-scrub habitat in western Pima, Maricopa and Pinal counties, including Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It grows to 16 inches tall and has rose, pink or lavender flowers. It is threatened by drought, climate change, and off-road driving for border law-enforcement activities. During the recent drought period, mammals seeking water have uprooted many of the cacti, killing large numbers of this rare plant. The Acuña cactus was identified as being in need of federal protection in 1990; the Center petitioned to list it in 2002 and again in 2004.

The tiny Fickeisen plains cactus features a gorgeous, yellow-and-white flower and grows to a height of less than 3 inches. It has been on a waiting list for federal protection since 1980. Found only in northern Arizona in Coconino, Mohave and Navajo counties, it is threatened by drought, livestock grazing and exotic species. It grows only on exposed layers of Kaibab limestone on the Colorado Plateau and nowhere else on Earth.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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