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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Environmentalists Fight Feds to Save Rare Cacti

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Federal grazing permits jeopardize threatened and endangered cactus that live only in three Utah counties, environmentalists claim in court.

The Western Watersheds Project claims the Bureau of Land Management violates the Endangered Species Act by refusing to protect the Winkler cactus, the Wright fishhook cactus, and Last Chance Townsendia on public land near Capitol Reef National Park.

Along with co-plaintiff the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, the environmental groups challenge five BLM grazing permits on public land near the National Park.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in opinions in 2009 and 2010, concluded that BLM-authorized livestock grazing on the public land "would not jeopardize the continued existence" of three species - a conclusion the plaintiffs reject.

They claim that Fish and Wildlife based its "no jeopardy" biological opinions on the BLM's inadequate, nondiscretionary monitoring of the species.

For instance:

- Fish and Wildlife's "biological opinions" required the BLM to complete a monitoring plan for each species within a year, but 5 years later, the BLM has not completed its monitoring plan for the Last Chance Townsendia.

- The BLM failed to visit 50 percent of known sites for the Winkler and Wright fishhook cacti in 2011, as required by the monitoring plans.

- Wright Fishhook cactus mortality exceeded 5 percent at a monitored site, but the BLM did not reinitiate Endangered Species Act consultation with Fish and Wildlife, as required by the monitoring plan.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent the BLM several letters in 2011 and 2012 reminding the agency that it needed to reinitiate Endangered Species Act consultation because of the changed conditions," the environmentalists say in their Feb. 9 federal lawsuit.

"The BLM has still not reinitiated consultation with the Service on any of the allotments and is therefore in violation of the Endangered Species Act."

Wright fishhook - a small, white-flowered barrel cactus found only in three Utah counties - was listed as endangered in 1979. The plant's population is estimated at 1,000 to 2,500.

The Winkler pincushion, a small, globular cactus, was listed as threatened in 1998. Its population has been estimated at 2,000 to 10,000. It is known to occur in just two Utah counties.

Last Chance Townsendia, a member of the sunflower family, grows close to the ground in a dense mat. It is found in only three Utah counties, and was listed as threatened in 1985. An estimated 2,000 Townsendia remain worldwide.

"Livestock grazing on the lands in question is causing irreparable harm to rare plants," the lawsuit states. "This grazing negatively impacts plaintiffs' ability to view the plants and to enjoy the lands in question in a natural and undisturbed setting."

Capitol Reef, in the heart of Utah's red rock country, was established as a National Park in 1971. It is named for its white domes and cliffs of Navajo sandstone, which are said to mirror the nation's Capitol building.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction requiring the agencies to reinitiate consultation of the imperiled plants.

They are represented by Cottonwood Environmental Law Center house attorney John Meyer, of Bozeman, Mont., and Joel Ban, of Salt Lake City.

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