After a 29-Year Wait, Flowers Get Protection

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated two struggling Florida plants as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Both the Florida brickell-bush and the Carter’s small-flowered flax have been on the endangered species candidate list and waiting for federal protection since 1985. Last year’s listing proposal also included 2707 acres of proposed critical habitat for the plants, which the agency plans to finalize “in the near future,” according to Thursday’s listing action.
     The listing is part of a 2011 settlement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which resulted in a court-approved five-year workplan to expedite listing decisions for hundreds of species across the country.
     “These flowers represent the natural beauty that’s capable of surviving in Florida’s extreme conditions, and today’s listing will help ensure they’re around for generations to come,” Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney with the CBD was quoted as saying in the group’s response to the listing. “And they’re a stark reminder that Florida stands at the precipice of an important decision: Wake up and address climate change and population growth, or lose Florida as we know it forever.”
     The plants face serious threats from development, wild fires, aggressive non-native species and, increasingly, sea level rise. These threats are intensified by climate change, and extreme weather events like hurricanes and prolonged frost.
     The flowers’ quickly disappearing pine rockland habitat has historically had an open low understory that helped to moderate wildfires. The open spaces with sparser vegetation set the stage for patchy and cooler burning fires. The invasion of aggressive non-native plants not only creates competition for space, light, and nutrients, but also creates dense growth that changes wildfire patterns, and can result in raging intensely hot fires. “As a result of human activities, at least 277 taxa of nonnative plants have invaded pine rocklands throughout south Florida,” the agency noted in the action.
     Last year’s listing proposal described severe population declines both in number of sites and in numbers of individuals per site. The small and scattered populations add to their vulnerability. “Only small and fragmented occurrences of these two plants remain. The current ranges of Brickellia mosieri and Linum carteri var. carteri span such a small geographic area-a narrow band no more than 4.0 km (2.5 mi) in width, and approximately 30.1 km (18.7 mi) and 26.9 km (16.7 mi) in length, respectively, along the Miami Rock Ridge-that all populations could be affected by a single event (e.g., hurricane),” the action said.
     The brickell-bush, in the aster family, has 17 existing or presumed to be existing sites, while the Carter’s flax has only seven known locations.
     Because the plants mainly occur on state, county or private land, existing regulations are inadequate to protect them. “If these plants were not listed, they would have no Federal regulatory protection in their known occupied and suitable habitat,” the agency said.
     The final listing is effective Oct. 6, 2014.

%d bloggers like this: