Tiny Kentucky Flower Is Threatened Agency Says


     WASHINGTON (CN) - Citing the encroachment of commercial and residential development, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Kentucky glade cress as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has also designated 2,053 acres of critical habitat for the little wildflower.
     The listing and habitat designation are the result of a 2011 settlement agreement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an environment group that spearheaded an effort to compel the agency to speed listing decisions for 757 at risk species across the country. "So far 116 of those species have been fully protected, including this flower, and another 26 have been proposed for protection," the CBD said in its press release response to the listing. The settlement agreement resulted in a five-year work plan for the agency to address the backlog of listings. "The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce a litigation-driven workload," the USFWS noted in its press release.
     The Kentucky glade cress is a member of the mustard family. It grows close to the ground and it has tiny white to lilac flowers. In the entire world, it is found in only two counties in Kentucky and it grows almost exclusively in areas with thin soil, such as cedar or limestone glades, eroded areas with exposed bedrock and areas where the soil has been scraped off the underlying bedrock, the regulation stated.
     At the time of the May 2013 proposed listing regulation, there were only 61 known surviving populations. There were no substantial changes from the proposed rule, the agency noted in the final regulation. More than half the remaining populations have fewer than 100 individual plants, as of the most recent survey. The resulting "presumed low genetic diversity" could increase the danger of extinction, the final action said.
     The destruction of habitat due to development, roads, utilities, horseback riding, off-road vehicle use, grazing and conversion to lawns has resulted in fewer populations and has reduced their viability. Of the 61 known populations, 43 are of poor quality, with half of those poor-quality populations occurring on residential lawns, which may not be sustainable due to competition from lawn grasses and lawn maintenance activities, the proposed regulation said.
     Noting that the populations are separated to an extent that makes it unlikely they would all be wiped out at the same time, the agency determined that the appropriate listing designation is threatened, not endangered, according to the final action.
     In its press release, the agency noted that the "few remaining natural glade populations are privately owned, unprotected, and severely threatened by the same development pressures that degraded or destroyed other habitats for Kentucky glade cress. The exceptions are Apple Valley Glade and Pine Creek Barrens, which are in conservation ownership by the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission and The Nature Conservancy, respectively."
     Some of the areas designated as critical habitat are inhabited, and some areas are on private land. The agency maintains that landowner activities will not be affected unless the activities are authorized, funded or carried out by one or more federal agencies, according to the agency's statement. The agency "offers willing landowners a number of voluntary and non-regulatory conservation programs to help the glade cress survive as they live and work on their lands," the agency said.
     The final rule and critical habitat designation are effective June 5.