Endangered Death Valley Plants Are Recovering

CARLSBAD, Calif. (CN) — An endangered plant in Death Valley has recovered and will be taken off the endangered species list, and a second plant there will be downlisted from endangered to threatened, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.

The Eureka Dunes evening primrose will be removed from the list and the Eureka dune grass downlisted to threatened, Fish and Wildlife’s Southwest Region director Paul Souza said. Both plants are found only in two areas known as Eureka Dunes, in Death Valley National Park. Souza thanked Death Valley National Park for helping both species recover.

Both plants were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. Both had been destroyed and disturbed by off-road vehicles and camping. Plants in dune ecosystems can be killed by sand compaction, which damages roots and hurts the plants’ ability to get water in the sand.

Both plants were proposed for removal from protection in 2014 due to recovery. But the dune grass has not sufficiently recovered, so the final rule only downlists it from endangered to threatened status.

When asked why there was a 3-year delay between the 2014 delisting proposal and the final rule to be published Tuesday, Fish and Wildlife official Jane Hendron in Carlsbad said: “There was some delay between the proposed and final rules because the Fish and Wildlife Service was working to address numerous other settlement-related actions, some related to the multidistrict litigation settlement as well as other settlement agreements.”

The multidistrict litigation settlement is a court-mandated six-year plan for Fish and Wildlife to address a backlog of hundreds of species that had been waiting for listing action, some for decades. That suit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups that frequently petition the agency on behalf of imperiled species, and sue when the agency falls behind the mandated listing timelines specified in the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s great news that the Eureka Valley evening primrose has recovered, but Eureka dune grass still needs protections to truly thrive,” said Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act has helped bring both of these important plants back from the brink of extinction.”

This delisting/downlisting was spurred by settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation in 2013, challenging Fish and Wildlife’s failure to issue the required 12-month finding of the foundation’s petition to delist the plants. The foundation says on its website that it protects property rights and fights “burdensome laws.”

The recovery of the plants is due in large part to the Bureau of Land Management’s closing the Eureka Dunes to off-road vehicles. The area was transferred to the management of the National Park Service in 1994 as part of Death Valley National Park, and the area where the plants live has been designated a wilderness area.

“These plants only live on two dune fields in northern Death Valley National Park,” Death Valley National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds said. “It’s an exciting success story that both species are in less danger of extinction than they were a few decades ago. This is due to things like wilderness protection, moving designated campsites away from the plants’ habitat, and adding signs to explain how to recreate at Eureka Dunes without harming the unique plants.”

The Wilderness Area was designated in 1994, and there have been no proposals to change that designation, Hendron said.

“There is also a post-delisting monitoring plan,” she added. “For any species we delist, there is some period of time they continue to be monitored to ensure they remain self-sustaining populations. The Service will continue working with the National Park Service to implement the post-delisting monitoring of Eureka Valley evening-primrose.”

Funding remains an issue for species recovery, and implementation of the Endangered Species Act. Dozens of proposals challenging the Endangered Species Act have been proposed in Congress during the first year of the Trump administration. Finding sufficient funding for the act to be implemented as intended has been historically challenging through many administrations.

“Anti-science, anti-wildlife Republicans in Congress are blue in the face from arguing that the Endangered Species Act doesn’t work, but the primrose is the 38th species to be recovered, making their arguments more hollow than ever,” Curry said. “With adequate funding, even more species could reach recovery.”

The delisting of the Eureka evening primrose and downlisting of the Eureka dune grass will be effective 30 days after the expected publication date of Feb. 27.

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