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Two Colorado Plants Put Back in Federal Waiting Line
Two Colorado Plants Put Back in Federal Waiting Line
Species First Recognized To Be In Trouble 35 Years Ago
Contact: Nicole Rosmarino 303-573-4898 x1163
Washington, DC-Dec 15. U.S. Secretary of InteriorKen Salazar decided today that two Colorado plants, skiff milkvetch andSchmoll’s milkvetch, warrant protection (listing) under the Endangered SpeciesAct, but he declined actual protection, citing higher priorities. The decisioncomes in response to a July 2007 petition filed by WildEarth Guardians and a1975 petition by the Smithsonian. Unfortunately, the plants will receive nofederal safeguards until they are actually listed as endangered or threatened.
There are now 255 species of plants and wildlifethat are formal “candidates” awaiting federal listing. Many of thesespecies have been on the waiting list for protection for a decade or more,including the two Colorado plants. Outside of Hawaii, Salazar has listed only 4new U.S. species under the Act since taking office. At the current pace,it would take a century to get through the backlog of candidate species in thecontinental U.S.
The path to federal protection for the two plantshas been long and winding. They were originally made candidates for ESA listingin 1975; were proposed for listing in 1976; their proposal was withdrawn in1979, at which time they were reinstated to the candidate list; and both wereremoved from the candidate list by 1996, when over 2,000 species were droppedfrom that list.
“These two plants have been waiting for legalprotection for 35 years. Their future is closing in, as they could go extinctif they languish without federal shields for much longer,” stated NicoleRosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.
The skiff milkvetch and Schmoll’s milkvetch werefirst recognized as in need of federal safeguards in a bygone era of Americanhistory: in 1975, the U.S. was wracked by Watergate, embroiled in Vietnam, andgoverned by President Gerald Ford; Bill Gates founded Microsoft; the LouisianaSuperdome opened; the Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in theatres; andsoccer player David Beckham and actress Angelina Jolie were born.
The skiff milkvetch (Astragalus microcymbus) is a perennial wildflower in the sagebrushsteppe ecosystem that grows to a foot tall and has white flowers tinged withpurple. The microcymbus portion of its name means “small boat,” hence thecommon name, “skiff,” referring to its boat-shaped fruits. It flowers inmid-May through July. It is considered by scientists to be “criticallyimperiled” in Colorado, the only state in which it occurs. Its total occupiedarea is just 83 acres, down from 324 acres previously. It occurs only inGunnison and Saguache counties on Bureau of Land Management and private lands.
Denver Botanic Gardens’ (DBG) monitoring indicatedeclines in the species’ populations from 1995-2009. DBG predicted that allpopulations of the species will fall below 20 individuals and be effectivelyextinct by 2030. Particularly sharp declines from 1995-2002 may be due todrought, to which the skiff milkvetch is susceptible. Climate change willlikely worsen droughts and other perils to the skiff milkvetch. Additionalthreats recognized in today’s decision include roads and trails; cheatgrass andother non-native plants; development; grazing by livestock and native species;and a lack of legal protections. Development around Gunnison and threats fromclimate change and cheatgrass are currently considered the gravest concerns forthis plant.
Schmoll’s milkvetch (Astragalus schmolliae) is a perennial wildflower that grows to 1-2feet tall, with creamy white flowers and short hairs covering its leaves andstems. It usually flowers in late April or early May, through mid-June. Itrequires pollination by insects, including bumblebees and beeflies. It isconsidered by scientists to be “critically imperiled” in Colorado, the onlystate in which it occurs. The plant has a total of 4 populations, found on mesatops in Mesa Verde National Park and the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. Threatsare cheatgrass proliferation; altered fire regimes; drought and climate change;and a lack of legal protections.
“Native wildflowers are part of Colorado’s natural heritage andbeauty, part of what makes our state special. It would take so little toprotect these imperiled wildflowers, since they don’t occupy large areas,”stated Josh Pollock, Conservation Director for Center for Native Ecosystems.“Why keep them on a long waiting list for more years instead of just protectingthem now?”
In his finding, Secretary Salazar determined thatthe skiff milkvetch may be threatened by four of the five factors used to decidewhether a species qualifies for Endangered Species Act protection, although itonly needs to qualify under one. The five factors are: A) habitat loss and destruction;B) overutilization; C) disease or predation; D) inadequate legal protections;and E) other factors. Skiff milkvetch qualifies for federal listing under everyfactor except factor A. Schmoll’s milkvetch qualifies under factors A and D.
For background information, including the 2007petition which prompted today’s finding, contact Nicole Rosmarino at firstname.lastname@example.org 505-699-7404.