Calif. Flower Endangered by Invasive Species

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Vandenberg monkeyflower is endangered under the Endangered Species Act Tuesday.
     The small annual flower, which is “found only within sandy openings of Burton Mesa in Santa Barbara County, Calif.,” faces threats from rapidly growing invasive species that compete for space, light, water and nutrients, the agency said.
     The listing stems from a 2011 settlement between the agency and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The settlement’s five-year workplan is designed to speed listing decisions for hundreds of species across the country, according to the group’s statement in response to the listing determination.
     The flower faces continuing pressure from veldt grass and other invasive plants, as well as habitat destruction from development, recreational activities, utility and pipeline maintenance and impacts from fires and climate change.
     The monkeyflower has lost 53 percent of its available habitat and survives in only nine locations.
     “The service has determined Vandenberg monkeyflower not only has a restricted range, but also faces ongoing and future threats that indicate the plant is in danger of extinction,” Steve Henry, Field Supervisor for the USFWS’ Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, was quoted as saying in the agency’s statement.
     The monkeyflower grows in sandy open spaces between chaparral plants. Invasive species compete for these spaces, and also create a dense thatch that creates more flammable biomass to fuel wild fires.
     Five populations of the flower are on state lands in the Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve and the La Purisima Mission State Historical Park, which accounts for 84 percent of the area originally slated for critical habitat in the proposed listing action. The final determination for critical habitat has not yet been made, but the agency promises it will be determined “in the near future,” according to the action.
     The other four of the surviving nine populations are on Vandenberg Air Force Base. “On Vandenberg AFB, veldt grass, iceplant, and pampas grass when first introduced were only minor components of the vegetation; today, these nonnatives are dominant components of the vegetation at the locations where they were introduced, and they have expanded to new areas,” the action noted.
     “Protection for the monkeyflower is great news because the Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its care, so it will ensure this little yellow flower is safeguarded from the big threats it’s facing,” Jeff Miller of the CBD was quoted as saying in the group’s statement.
     The final listing determination is effective Sept. 25, 2014.

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