Arizona Cacti May Get Protection, Fleabane Out

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed two Arizona cacti for endangered status, while bumping the daisy-like Lemmon fleabane from consideration, after a 12-month review.
     Both the 16″ tall Acuña cactus in southern Arizona and the 3″ tall Fickeisen plains cactus in northern Arizona have suffered serious population declines, the regulation noted.
     The recent action is in response to a 2011 settlement between the wildlife agency and environmental groups intended to speed listing for 757 species, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said in a press release.
     Nearly 80 percent of the Acuña cactus occurs in the border region between Arizona and Mexico, and it faces habitat destruction from illegal border crossings and enforcement efforts to stop illegal entry, the action noted. Other threats include drought and climate change that weaken the plants, leaving them susceptible to insect predation.
     The Fickeisen plains cactus, near the northern Arizona border with Utah, suffers habitat destruction from off-road vehicles, livestock grazing and invasive plants. These threats are compounded by drought and climate change as well, the agency said. Because both cacti face “significant and immediate risk of extinction,” the proposed endangered listings are appropriate, the agency noted.
     The USFWS also proposed to designate 161 square miles of combined critical habitat for the cacti, according to the CBD’s statement, “53,720 acres of critical habitat for Acuña cacti in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, and 49,186 acres of habitat for Fickeisen plains cacti in Coconino and Mohave counties.”
     The USFWS also reported its finding on a 12-month status review for another Arizona plant.
     Once believed to be highly threatened by the possibility of a catastrophic fire in the only canyon where it lives, the USFWS determined that Lemmon fleabane is not at significant risk of extinction from fire now or in the foreseeable future, and found that listing is not warranted.
     The aster-family plant grows in cracks and crevices throughout Scheelite Canyon on Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and the threat of fire wiping out the entire population, estimated at 954 individuals, is low due to the orientation of the canyon relative to prevailing winds, the humid, shady and cool nature of the canyon, and the presence of rock outcroppings throughout the area that create a “discontinuous fuel load,” according the regulation. The agency also noted that several conservation measures have recently occurred, or are being planned, to reduce fire potential throughout the district, and to collect and preserve Lemmon fleabane seeds for long-term storage.
     The fleabane was first reviewed in 1975 and several more times in intervening years, but its listing ranking did not merit further action. The agency has now withdrawn the plant from candidate status.
     The agency requests scientific and commercial information to assist in the formulation of final rules.

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