LOS ANGELES - June 18 - In the wake of a legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today agreed to reconsider critical habitat designations for two rare southern California plants threatened with extinction. The current designations would have protected only a small fraction of each plant’s scant remaining habitat.
Said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity: “These critical habitat designations were blueprints for extinction rather than recovery —another example of the Bush administration’s attempts to undermine legal protections for imperiled species. They should never have seen the light of day. The Fish and Wildlife Service knew the designations wouldn’t hold up in court, but they’re doing the right thing by revisiting the designation.”
The spreading navarretia (Navarretia fossalis) and the thread-leaved brodiaea (Brodiaea filifolia), both on the brink of extinction, are found only in southern California, where much of their range has already been destroyed.
On October 18, 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued final critical habitat for the spreading navarretia, designating only 652 acres for the diminutive plant while excluding 18,747 acres that the plant also occupies. The spreading navarretia is a tiny annual plant that grows in vernal pools – seasonal ponds that host rare plants, insects, and fairy shrimp. The navarretia is only known from Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego counties in California in areas where these rare vernal pools occur. Much of its habitat has been destroyed by urban development, off-road vehicles, water diversions, grazing, and plowing for fire clearance and agricultural conversion. Only 30 small populations are left on the planet.
On December 13, 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued final critical habitat for the thread-leaved brodiaea, designating only 597 acres for the clay-loving lily while excluding 4,093 acres that the lily also occupies. The thread-leaved brodiaea, a lily, thrives in heavy clay soils and is only known from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Much of its habitat has been destroyed by urban development, off-road vehicles, grazing, and plowing for fire clearance and agricultural conversion. The number of remaining populations is tough to evaluate, because the brodiaea only puts its leaves above ground in prime growing years, but estimates range from 25 to about 80 populations on the planet.
The designations for both plants followed the Bush administration’s pattern of devaluing protection, resulting in scientifically indefensible designations favoring development at the cost of recovery.
Today’s court-approved settlement agreement reopens the public process of critical habitat designation. By 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service will propose new critical habitat designations for the two plants; it will finalize the designations by 2010.
“The public will once again have the opportunity to submit hard science to the feds and this time, hopefully, science rather than politics will drive the designation of habitat that is critical for these species survival,” said Anderson.
For more information on the species please visit http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/plants/spreading_navarretia/index.html and http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/plants/thread-leaved_brodiaea/index.html.