Caribbean Species May Be Listed With Habitat


     WASHINGTON (CN) – First placed on the candidate species list in 1980, three flowering plants in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico may finally have a shot at listing protection, according to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposal.
     From 2003 to 2005, one of the plants, Agave eggersiana, actually appeared to have become extinct in the wild, but a 2010 survey found several surviving populations near St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is now proposed for endangered status under the Endangered Species Act.
     The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) sued the federal agency twice on behalf of the agave, and then petitioned for Puerto Rico’s Gonocalyx concolor and Varronia rupicola in 2004. A 2011 settlement resulted in a court-approved five-year workplan to fast track listing decisions for 757 species, including the three Caribbean plants.
     The agency’s listing proposal stated that none of the species have common names, but the CBD’s press release refers to them as Egger’s agave, Island brittleleaf (G. concolor), and Puerto Rico manjack.
     The plants are threatened by hurricanes, development, fires, competition from non-native plants, insect damage, poor enforcement of existing laws, and small fragmented populations, according to the USFWS’ press release.
     “Historic land-use practices drove these species to the brink of extinction, and federal foot-dragging has allowed them to be nearly wiped off the planet. The quicker the service finalizes Endangered Species Act protection, the sooner we can start pulling these remarkable plants away from the abyss and back toward recovery,” the CBD’s Jaclyn Lopez was quoted as saying in the group’s response to the proposal.
     The agave has golden flowers, and like other agaves, dies after producing its flower spike, which takes 10 to 15 years to develop.
     The historic sugar cane plantations dominated St. Croix for 200 years and nearly eliminated the agave in the wild.
     The agave now exists in seven small populations along the north and south coasts of St. Croix, with an estimated 316 plants remaining.
     The Island brittleleaf has vivid red tubular flowers on a small evergreen shrub. Only three populations are known to exist, all in the Carite Commonwealth Forest, in central Puerto Rico.
     Unlike the agave, which prefers dry rocky coastal areas, the brittleleaf lives in wet low mountainous regions. Its three populations occupy less than an acre, and are estimated to contain only 27 plants. The brittleleaf is also proposed for endangered status.
     The white-flowered manjack (V. rupicola), is a large shrub found in seven populations in Puerto Rico and several populations on the west end of the island of Anegada in British Virgin Islands. It is found in dry forest areas, and there is evidence that there may be other populations on private property. This species is proposed for threatened status.
     The USFWS noted that providing listing status to the plants would allow the agency to “intensify its partnerships” with organizations working to implement conservation measures. “For example, the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens developed a germination and cultivation protocol for Varronia rupicola, and the National Park Service planted more than 100 juvenile Agave eggersiana plants on its lands in St. Croix,” the agency noted in its press release.
     In addition to the listing proposal, the agency plans to designate 50.6 acres of critical habitat for A. eggersiana in St. Croix, 198 acres for G. concolor in Puerto Rico and 6,547 acres for V. rupicola in southern Puerto Rico and Vieques Island in a separate action.
     Comments on both proposals are due Dec. 23, 2013.

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