Agency Protects Two Texas Plants

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Texas golden gladecress as endangered and the Neches River rose-mallow as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and designated more than 1500 acres of critical habitat for them.
     The listing was prompted by a 2011 court settlement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) that resulted in a court-approved five-year workplan requiring the agency to speed protection decisions for hundreds of species across the country, according to a CBD press release.
     Both plants were identified as listing candidates in 1997, but further action was stalled by “higher listing priorities,” according to the 2012 proposed action.
     Though the plants share some similar threats, they are very different from each other. The four-inch tall mustard family gladecress is an annual that grows in shallow calcium-rich soil. These plants tolerate extremely wet winters as a tiny rosette of leaves close to the ground, which sends up leafless stalks in the spring bearing the four-petaled yellow flowers. During the summer, the ground is baked by high heat and the plant dies.
     The gladecress faces threats from quarrying, gas and oil development, nonnative species, pine tree plantings near occupied glades, herbicides, and the installation of utility lines. These threats are worsened by climate change and low population numbers, the listing stated.
     “In recent decades the gladecress has lost much of its habitat to quarries and other developments. In 2011 the largest population at the time, consisting of 721 individual plants (two-thirds of the known plants then), was completely obliterated through construction of a pipeline,” the CBD noted.
     The rose mallow, a Hibiscus family perennial, grows to 7.5 feet tall, has large white flowers and grows in water-saturated soils. Each plant can have hundreds of flowers in the summer.
     The agency determined that the mallow’s habitat is lost or degraded due nonnative species, herbicide use, livestock trampling, road construction and seasonal flooding due to the alteration of natural water flows. Climate change and inadequate regulatory mechanisms add to the threat level, the agenccy said.
     The mallow is not in danger of imminent extinction throughout its range but is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, according to the determination.
     The agency also designated over 1500 acres of combined critical habitat, 1,353 acres for the gladecress and just over 166 acres for the mallow in a separate action. The mallow lost about 20 acres from what the USFWS proposed in 2012.
     All but 21 acres of the gladecress critical habitat is on private land, whereas the mallow’s habitat spans a mix of ownership.
     The mallow “was granted 166.5 acres of critical habitat in 11 locales, including 18 acres of state land along road rights-of-way, 47 acres on the Davy Crockett National Forest, and 95 acres owned by Stephen F. Austin State University, whose Mast Arboretum planted 96 Neches River rose mallows at Mill Creek Gardens in 1995 to help perpetuate the declining species,” the CBD noted.
     Both the listing regulation and the critical habitat regulation are effective Oct. 11.

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