Three Southwest Species Recovering, Feds Say

WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service credits collaborative efforts for the recovery or partial recovery of three imperiled species – a bat, a buckwheat and a cactus. Of the three southwest species, the lesser long-nosed bat and the gypsum wild buckwheat have fully recovered, and the Kuenzler hedgehog cactus has partially recovered, the agency said.

The improvement in the fate of the three species adds to the growing list of Endangered Species Act successes. Last year saw more species recovered or partially recovered than any previous year since the ESA’s inception in 1973, according the Center for Biological Diversity conservation group, one of the agency’s most frequent petitioners and complainants on behalf of at-risk species.

“The recovery of this amazing flying mammal and these two tenacious plants, along with many other species that recovered over the past eight years, shows the Endangered Species Act is working,” CBD’s conservation advocate Michael Robinson, said. “Claims by politicians like Rep. Rob Bishop and my own congressman, Steve Pearce of New Mexico, that the Act is failing just don’t pass the laugh test. The Act has saved more than 99 percent of the creatures and plants placed under its care from extinction. And it’s put hundreds more, including the three graduating today, on the road to recovery.”

The agency proposes to delist, or remove from the federal list of endangered or threatened species, the bat and buckwheat, and downlist the cactus, by changing its status from endangered to threatened, indicating significant recovery.

The lesser long-nosed bat, which ranges from southern Arizona and New Mexico to southern Mexico, was listed as an endangered species under the ESA in 1988, when the species numbered fewer than 1000 individuals. The increase to around 200,000 bats is credited to an international effort encompassing citizen-scientists in Arizona who monitored the bats’ night-time use of nectar feeders, tequila producers in Mexico who altered their agave harvesting and cultivation methods to benefit the bats, the Army’s Fort Huachuca’s management of the bats’ forage plants, and the efforts of an array of biologists in the U.S. and Mexico working in federal, state and non-governmental agencies to help the bat in others ways, such as preventing disturbance to roost site caves.

The agency considers that the species has fully recovered and no longer needs ESA protection, although, as with other delisted species, it will have a post-delisting monitoring plan in place. The lesser long-nosed bat’s recovery is even more remarkable in light of the plight of so many other bat species, which have been decimated by white-nose syndrome.

“These collaborative efforts have succeeded in recovering this important pollinator and seed disperser, contributing to healthy soils and habitats, and providing sustainable economic benefits for communities” USFWS Arizona Field Supervisor Steve Spangle said.

The plant proposed for delisting, the gypsum wild-buckwheat, was listed as a threatened species in 1981 when only one population was known to exist. Since that time, two other populations have been discovered, and through special management of mineral and oil development, grazing, and off-road vehicle threats on federal lands by the Bureau of Land Management, the species has expanded and is considered to be fully recovered, the agency said.

The Kuenzler hedgehog cactus, proposed for downlisting to threatened status, was originally placed under ESA protection as an endangered species in 1979, when only one population of 200 plants was known. Now there are 11 populations numbering 3,300 in total.

Of the identified threats at the time of listing, legal propagation of the cactus by specially licensed nurseries has reduced the threat from collection, and the BLM and the U.S. Forestry Service have fenced out livestock to prevent trampling on public lands. However, drought and climate change remain significant threats, so the new recovery plan for the species as a threatened, rather than endangered, plant will take these “21st Century threats” into account, the agency said.

“The advancing conservation of these two New Mexico plants demonstrates that when we work collaboratively, the Endangered Species Act is a very effective tool for rescuing species from the brink and recovering them,” Wally Murphy, the Service’s New Mexico Field Supervisor, said. “Under the Act, these two plants were identified as imperiled, prompting additional research and discovery of additional populations, and collaboration with public and private conservation partners to secure plant populations.”

All of these species have been under the ESA’s protection for decades. “Their respective trajectories toward recovery, decades after their listings, are consistent with research showing that long timelines in species recovery plans are realistic and ultimately lead to positive population trends and outcomes,” the CBD said in response to the proposed delistings and downlisting.

“The Endangered Species Act helps keep the wonders of nature alive,” CBD’s Robinson said. “Few among us will admire the gypsum wild buckwheat in bloom or prick careless fingers on the spines of the Kuenzler hedgehog cactus, but anyone visiting our local deserts might see a plant that was pollinated by the lesser long-nosed bat – showing that Nixon’s farsighted law still conserves entire ecosystems, as he and members of Congress from both political parties intended in the early 1970s.”

Comments on the two delisting and one downlisting proposals are due by March 7. Requests for public hearings are due Feb. 21.

Photo: Nectar-feeding lesser long-nosed bats are attracted to a hummingbird feeder during a citizen science bat migration monitoring project in southern Arizona (2013) (Credit Courtesy of Richard Spitzer.)

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