Three Southeast Flowers Protected in Five States


     WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed three southeast plants as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, after a 15-year wait on the candidate list. The agency found that a threatened status for the plants, found only in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Indiana, was not appropriate due to the plants' reduced and restricted ranges, and because the threats are rangewide, ongoing and expected to continue into the future.
     The listing was prompted by a settlement between the agency and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and other environmental groups that resulted in a five-year work plan to speed listing decisions for hundreds of species across the country.
     The Short's bladderpod and the fleshy-fruit gladecress are members of the mustard family. The bladderpod is threatened by construction, road maintenance, flooding, soil erosion, forest succession and competition from invasive and nonnative plants. Small populations contribute to inbreeding and loss of genetic variation. The bladderpod is found in only 26 sites in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. "Existing threats may be exacerbated by the effects of ongoing and future climate change, especially projected increases in temperature and increased frequency and severity of droughts in the Southeast and projected increases in flooding in the Midwest," the action noted.
     The gladecress is threatened by development, conversion of agricultural sites to other uses, mowing, herbicides, off-road vehicles and dumping. The gladecress is found in only seven sites in Alabama. Last year's listing proposal noted only six populations, but another population was discovered due to additional information from the Tennessee Valley Authority. "The existence of this additional occurrence, which is located in a TVA transmission line right-of-way and is potentially threatened by maintenance activities, does not change the determination reached in the proposed listing rule that fleshy-fruit gladecress should be listed as endangered," the agency noted in the final action.
     The six-foot tall whorled sunflower faces similar threats from forestry, road maintenance, agriculture, succession, limited distribution and small population sizes. There are only four known populations of the whorled sunflower in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. "The species' dependence on remnant prairie habitats, which are isolated on the landscape, limits the potential for recolonization in the event that localized extinction events occur," the agency said.
     All three of the plants were listed as candidates for Endangered Species Act protection in 1999. The CBD petitioned the USFWS to list the plants in 2004, according to the group's response to the listing. "The Endangered Species Act has been 99 percent successful at preventing the extinction of the plants and animals under its care, and I'm so pleased that these beautiful southeastern flowers have finally gained the protection that will make sure they're around for generations to come," Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the CBD, was quoted as saying in the group's statement.
     The critical habitat in the listing proposal was not designated with the final listing rule. Critical habitat refers to geographic areas considered to be essential to the conservation of the threatened or endangered species. The agency plans to finalize critical habitat designations for the Short's bladderpod, whorled sunflower, and fleshy-fruit gladecress in the near future, according to the action.
     The final listing is effective Sept. 2, 2014.