CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
| NEWS RELEASE – for immediate release May 16, 2005
CONSERVATIONISTS WIN CRITICAL HABITAT AGREEMENT FOR MOJAVE RARE PLANTS NEAR ST. GEORGE, UTAH
Proposed highway project and sprawl development remain major threats to desert web-of-life in Washington County.
Contact: Tony Frates, Rare Plant Coordinator, UNPS 801.277.9240
WASHINGTON DC – The US Interior Dept., Center for Biological Diversity (Center), and Utah Native Plant Society (UNPS) have agreed to settle a lawsuit filed Sept. 27 against the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) seeking critical habitat for two endangered Mojave Desert plants found only near St. George UT, the Holmgren milkvetch and the Shivwits milkvetch, as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Habitat destruction is the primary threat to both of these endemic species. “These species are truly in peril”, said Dr. Renee Van Buren, a Botanist with Utah Valley State College who specializes in endangered species. “Critical habitat protection is essential to prevent their extinction, and promote recovery.”
A primary purpose of the ESA is to provide a mechanism so that “…the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved…” These species are severely restricted geographically, just as if they were living on islands. Typically rare plant species have adapted to specific soil types and microenvironments outside of which they cannot survive. This includes a complex association with other species, including ground nesting, solitary native bees (rare plants usually do not self-pollinate). Therefore, it is essential to protect the habitat in which these plants thrive in order to ensure the continued existence of these species.
Peer-reviewed and published studies by the Center using FWS’ own data proves that endangered plants & animals with critical habitat are less likely to be declining, and twice as likely to be recovering, than those without. Yet, FWS has designated critical habitat for only 37% of endangered wildlife in Utah.
While not the case for most of Utah’s 24 federally listed plant species, FWS found that designating critical habitat for the Holmgren milkvetch and the Shivwits milkvetch would be prudent and beneficial to the species. Yet 3 years after listing, FWS still has not designated critical habitat or finished recovery plans for the two species as required by U.S. law. Private landowners are not affected by the federal listing of plant species, nor the designation of critical habitat.
Utah has over 2700 species of native plants and it is estimated that over 10% of these are globally rare and potentially vulnerable. The extent to which a species is considered rare involves a variety of factors including the number of populations and remaining individual plants, and the area over which it occurs.
Plaintiffs were represented by attorney Robin Cooley of the Center’s Environmental Law Clinical Partnership at the University of Denver College of Law. Contact Daniel Patterson for a copy of the critical habitat agreement.
More on the conservation and recovery benefits of critical habitat: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/policy/ch/sub1.html
Native Plant Conservation Campaign: http://www.plantsocieties.org/
Holmgren milkvetch, a Mojave Desert member of the Pea Family, has attractive white-tipped purple flowers.
Holmgren milkvetch plants only live for 2-3 years and need specialized habitat.
Shivwits milkvetch, also a member of the Pea Family, has nice yellow flowers.
Shivwits milkvetch has a longer lifespan, but can only live on the purple clay soils of the Chinle formation.
Photos by Tony Frates, UNPS