Agency: Gypsum Mining Endangers Rare Mallow

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A rare mallow found only on gypsum outcrops in Arizona and Utah has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, according to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife action.
     The Gierisch mallow, a tall orange-flowered perennial, was named a distinct, unique species in 2002. The plant was included in a 2007 petition by the WildEarth Guardians to list 475 species in the southwestern United States.
     The USFWS added it as a candidate species in 2008 with a listing priority number of 2, indicating a species with imminent high magnitude threats. The plant remained a candidate species through 2011, when it was included as one of the species named in a settlement agreement between Fish and Wildlife and conservation groups that resulted in a five year work plan to speed listing decisions for hundreds of species across the nation.
     Although much is not known about the Gierisch mallow’s life history or historical range due to its recent identification, it is known that the plant is found in a very small region comprising about 460 acres. Only 18 populations are known to exist on the gypsum outcrops of the Kaibab Formation in the northern part of Mohave County, Ariz., and Washington County, Utah. Seventeen of the populations are on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, with only one population on Arizona State Land Department (ASLD) land.
     Two populations contain nearly half of the existing plants, and these are in areas subject to gypsum mining. The remaining populations support far fewer plants so the loss of the two critical populations would compromise the long-term viability of the species “due to reduced reproductive potential and fragmentation,” the agency said.
     The plants also contend with livestock grazing, non-native species, recreational vehicles, wildfires and climate change, in addition to the mining activities. “The species is highly imperiled as most of its range is being actively mined for gypsum. Gypsum is used to manufacture sheetrock, which is used in home construction. As the housing market improves, gypsum mining will likely increase,” WildEarth said in its press release.
     Some plants have been found in reclaimed soils, but the populations on reclaimed land appear to be declining. “We do not know the long-term viability of these plants due to the disruption of the original soil composition,” the agency noted.
     The USFWS noted that listing the plant as threatened was not appropriate because the ongoing threats “are severe enough to increase the immediate risk of extinction.”
     The agency also has designated 12,822 acres as critical habitat for the plant in a separate action.
     Both the listing and critical habitat actions are effective Sept. 12.

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