WASHINGTON (CN) - The wind-swept sand dunes of the Coachella Valley in Southern California are the only home to a tenacious purple-flowered milk-vetch. In response to a lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 9603 acres of critical habitat for the endangered pea-family plant, according to the agency's final rule.
In 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) challenged the agency's 2005 Bush-era designation of zero acres of critical habitat for the Coachella Valley milk-vetch, and the resulting settlement agreement led to the 2011 proposed designation of 25,704 acres, the CBD noted in its statement.
The final rule is significantly reduced from the proposed designation because "[m]ore than 15,000 acres of conservation lands addressed by the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan are excluded from the designation as are about 890 acres of tribal lands of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians," according to the agency's press release.
First listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1998, the vetch is threatened by urban and recreational development, nonnative plant species, off-highway vehicle impacts, groundwater pumping, and alteration of stream flow.
The plant depends on the natural water and wind transport of flowing sand for its reproduction and seed dispersal. However, non-native plants such as Saharan mustard, Mediterranean grass and Russian thistle can stabilize the changeable dune habitat, making it unsuitable for the vetch. Similarly, salt cedar can create wind breaks that interfere with the dispersal of the mature fruits of the vetch, the action noted.
The agency noted that the majority of the land included in the habitat designation is managed by the federal government. "Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, preserve, or other conservation area. In general, a critical habitat designation for a plant species has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or federal permits," according to the agency's statement.
The final rule is effective March 15.
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