For Immediate Release, September 8, 2016
Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017, firstname.lastname@example.org
High Mountain Bunchgrass in Texas Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection
Livestock Grazing, Climate Change Threaten Extremely Rare Guadalupe Fescue
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Texas— In accordance with a landmark agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make protection decisions for 757 species, the agency today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the Guadalupe fescue. The agency also proposed protection of 7,815 acres of critical habitat for the fescue in Big Bend National Park.
The fescue is a 3-foot-tall species of bunchgrass that once flourished on mountains in southern Texas and Coahuila, Mexico, but is now only known to exist in a single location in the Chisos Mountains within the national park and at a few sites in Coahuila, Mexico.
“The Guadalupe fescue was like green gold to cattle ranchers,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act will give this graceful grass a chance to return to some of the other sky island woodlands where it formerly thrived.”
Guadalupe fescue is found in oak woodlands at altitudes above 6,000 feet across a few high mountains, known as sky islands, that tower over the Chihuahuan Desert. In the United States the grass was found in the Guadalupe and Chisos Mountains, but is believed extirpated in the former. In Mexico the grass is known from only three sites. The fescue has disappeared from a number of formerly known sites because of livestock grazing, competition with invasive species and possibly loss of fire. Climate change now poses an additional threat.
Endangered Species Act protection for the fescue will free additional resources to conduct botanical surveys to locate any other surviving populations of the Guadalupe fescue and research its habitat needs, including, in particular, whether the grass needs low-intensity wildfires to survive. Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service will write a recovery plan to guide reintroduction of additional populations and conservation of remnant genetic diversity in the fescue.
Once finalized the critical habitat designation will ensure that federal actions such as trail maintenance are conducted in a way that does not harm the fescue’s currently occupied habitat. A hiking trail bisects the 5-acre patch, where fewer than 50 of the grasses survive.
Under the Center’s 757 species agreement with the Service, 147 species have gained protection to date, and 36 species have been proposed for protection, including the fescue.
The Guadalupe fescue once formed part of the vegetative understory in woodlands of pine, oak and juniper above 6,000 feet in “sky island” mountain ranges rising above the Chihuahuan Desert. It produces two or three small, relatively inconspicuous flowers following summer rains, and can reach 40 inches in height.
The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged in 1975 that the Guadalupe fescue likely needed the protection of the Endangered Species Act but failed to provide protection over the subsequent 40 years. In 2004 the Center for Biological Diversity, along with leading scientists, filed a petition to protect it as “endangered.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.