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Conservationists lobby feds to protect endangered desert wildflower

Urban sprawl could spell doom for the white-margined penstemon.

LAS VEGAS (CN) — An imperiled desert flower with a 50% chance of extinction may get a lifeline after the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday for Endangered Species Act protections.

The white-margined penstemon grows in four distinct population centers: Clark and Nye counties in Nevada; Arizona’s Mohave County; and San Bernardino County in California.

“The white-margined penstemon is a beautiful emblem of the Mojave Desert’s biodiversity, but we’re at risk of losing it forever if action isn’t taken,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the center. “Habitat loss and catastrophic drought have pushed these delicate wildflowers to the brink, and only the Endangered Species Act can save them now.”

Donnelly said sprawl bears much of the blame, noting pristine land is at risk outside Las Vegas. Recently proposed legislation by U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada, would be extremely detrimental to the wildflower. While the bill would save 2 million acres for conservation, it allows 40,000 acres of public land where the white-margined penstemon grows to be sold for subdivisions and warehouses, according to Donnelly.

A proposed second Las Vegas airport would be an adverse project for the at-risk wildflower because it would destroy even more of the habitat, he said.

“Las Vegas sprawl has already consumed a quarter-million acres of prime Mojave Desert habitat, and now greedy developers are eyeing one of the last strongholds of the white-margined penstemon,” said Donnelly. “This rare wildflower needs the Endangered Species Act so it doesn’t end up under the blade of a bulldozer authorized by Senator Cortez Masto’s sprawl bill.”

And it’s not just around Las Vegas. St. George, Utah, and Victorville and Joshua Tree in California are all places where sprawl is hurting the desert environment, according to Donnelly.

In addition to the proposed land development and airport, the white-margined penstemon faces threats from NV Energy’s Greenlink West transmission line and associated energy build-out, which would cut through penstemon populations in Nye County.

A 2021 Fish and Wildlife Service-commissioned study gave the white-margined penstemon a 50% chance of going extinct within 50 years. This study did not factor in habitat loss due to the Clark County lands bill or Greenlink West, which compound the threats.

“The white-margined penstemon is facing death by a thousand cuts,” said Donnelly. “The global extinction crisis is hitting home right here in the Mojave Desert, and we’re fighting back to save this special little flower.”

After receiving the petition, Fish and Wildlife has 90 days to determine if the petition has merit, followed by a 12-month finding. The problem, according to Donnelly, comes when the agency takes two years on the 90-day finding and eight or nine years on the 12-month finding.

“Much of our endangered species litigation is about that very thing. They’re blowing the statutory deadline,” said Donnelly, who added that the center can begin court proceedings after one year.

“The reality is almost no species get listed without us having to sue to accelerate the timeline,” he said.

Cortez Masto’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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