Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 14, 2018

Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Tiny Texas Cactus Recovered, No Longer Endangered

Tobusch Fishhook Cactus Remains Threatened Due to Urban Sprawl, Climate Change, Livestock Grazing

AUSTIN, Texas— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today changed the designation of the central Texas Tobusch fishhook cactus from “endangered” to the less-dire “threatened.” The change reflects the cactus’ progress toward recovery under the Endangered Species Act.

The downlisting of the cactus follows last week’s downlisting of a different cactus species in New Mexico as scientists address the factors that originally drove down the numbers of these different desert-adapted succulent plants.

“I’m thankful this unique little cactus is showing progress toward recovery,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act is saving cacti in southwestern deserts and arid woodlands just as it’s saved unique plants and animals from extinction elsewhere.”

The Tobusch fishhook cactus is found in specialized micro-habitats in oak woodland savannahs of the Edwards Plateau in central Texas. When the species was first protected in 1979, only roughly 200 individuals were known from just four sites. Endangered Species Act protection led to surveys and sensitive management to protect and monitor what are today 12 populations, totaling more than 4,500 cacti within eight counties. Other populations are believed to exist elsewhere on unsurveyed private lands. 

Listing a plant or animal as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act leads to science-based measures tailored to prevent its extinction. To date the Act has been successful in saving more than 99 percent of species placed under its care, despite significant underfunding of the law’s vital measures and political attacks on the Act itself. The number of species proposed for downlisting and full delisting as a result of recovery is also increasing.

The Tobusch fishhook cactus still faces threats from urban sprawl, livestock grazing, the changing frequency of fires, insect parasites and global warming. That means ongoing research and management of the cactus as a threatened species are required.

“Even as Lone Star State politicians demonize the Endangered Species Act and seek its repeal, more of their constituents enjoy brighter weekend walks because the yellow flowers of the Tobusch fishhook cactus were not permanently extinguished,” Robinson said. “What’s more, they can be serenaded by songbirds that were also saved from extinction thanks to this vital law.”

The Tobusch fishhook cactus lives in gravelly soils on sparsely vegetated limestone outcrops on the Edwards Plateau. As its name suggests, it’s armed with curved “fishhook” spines. At maturity this globular cactus reaches about 2 inches in height and diameter. It sports yellow flowers that attract pollinators, but takes nine years of growing before it is reproductively mature.

Last week the Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the Kuenzler hedgehog cactus, which lives in 11 locations in southeastern New Mexico. It was known from just two populations when first protected under the Act, also in 1979. That downlisting followed years of comprehensive surveys to find surviving populations, as well as interagency efforts to minimize disturbances where that cactus grows.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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