Feds Protect Four Florida Plants After 40 Year Wait


     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed three Florida plants as endangered species and one Florida plant as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The four plants exist only in small isolated populations in two Florida counties due to extensive development, and now face threats from climate change and sea level rise.
     The Service has listed Big Pine partridge pea, wedge spurge and sand flax as endangered and Blodgett’s silverbush as threatened under the ESA. The four plants were included in the original list of more than 3,000 imperiled species compiled by the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in a report to Congress in January of 1975. In July of that year, the USFWS accepted the list as a petition to list the species under the Act. In 1980, the agency placed the four plants on the candidate list, but their listing has been stalled for decades due to lack of information and higher listing priorities, according to the agency.
     The Center for Biological Diversity and its allies sued the agency and secured a settlement agreement in 2011 that resulted in a six-year workplan for the agency to speed listing decisions for hundreds of backlogged species. That workplan winds down at the end of September.
     “Numerous threats to these four plants currently exist and are likely to continue in the foreseeable future across their entire range,” FWS Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner said. “Many populations of these four plants have vanished from their historical ranges across South Florida.”
     The remaining populations are small and isolated due to urban and agricultural development of the surrounding areas. While the populations are on both public and private land in Miami Dade and Monroe Counties, most are on public lands. The National Key Deer Refuge, jointly owned by the Service and the state of Florida, is one such area that is providing protection for the pea and the spurge.
     “It’s sad to see that so much of South Florida’s rare and unique landscapes have been gobbled up by poorly planned development,” CBD’s Florida director Jaclyn Lopez said. “But it’s reassuring to know that with Endangered Species Act protections, these plants have a much better chance of surviving and recovering.”
     Development, such as the proposed construction of the Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wild, is a major threat to the four plants. “It is not prohibited by the ESA to destroy, damage or move protected plants unless such activities involve an endangered or threatened species on federal land, are federally funded, require a federal permit, or occur in violation of state laws. If a person wishes to develop private land, with no federal jurisdiction involved, in accordance with state law, then the potential destruction, damage, or movement of endangered or threatened plants does not violate the ESA,” the agency said. “The Service hopes that landowners would be good stewards of any federally-listed plants on their property, and the Service has a program, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife, which provides landowners with technical and financial assistance to manage their property.” All four plants are also listed as endangered species on Florida’s Regulated Plant Index, the agency said.
     The other threat of major concern is sea level rise. Scientific projections conservatively estimate a global sea level rise of 3.3 to 6.6 feet by 2100, with a 38 percent loss of the Florida Keys upland area, while some estimates predict up to a 55 foot rise and a 92 percent loss of habitat, according to the proposed rule published last year. The increase in soil salinity caused by sea level rise in Florida also threatens many coastal plant communities. Sea level rise in that area has already risen more than 9 inches over the past 100 years, the agency said.
     Sea level rise is not the only climate change threat to the small and isolated populations of the four plants. Increases in storm and hurricane frequency and severity could wipe out entire populations of the native plants, leaving open spaces for aggressive invasion by non-native species.
     The listings are effective Oct. 31.

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