Florida Flowers Finally May Get Protection

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Both the Florida brickell-bush and the Carter’s small-flowered flax were first placed on the endangered species candidate list in 1985. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now the two rare Florida plants for Endangered Species Act protection, and also proposed critical habitat for them in a separate action.
     The listing proposal was spurred by a 2011 settlement between the federal agency and the Center for Biological Diversity, one of its most frequent litigants. The settlement resulted in a court-approved five-year workplan to expedite listing decisions for 757 plants and animals across the country.
     The brickell-bush is a perennial in the aster family that has white flowers and grows to about three and a half feet tall. It is currently found in central and southern Miami-Dade County, which represents a 13 percent decline from its known historical range. At least nine populations on private lands have been wiped out by development, leaving 17 existing or presumed to be existing sites, with another 5 possible sites where the plants might still exist though none has been sighted in recent years.
     “Based on the 17 populations considered to be extant, the current total population estimate is between 515 and 4,935 plants, although the actual number of individuals is probably closer to between 2,150 and 3,700. Based on current estimates, the total population of B. mosieri has apparently declined by approximately 50 percent since 1999,” the action noted.
     The Carter’s flax is a yellow-petaled annual or short-lived perennial herb that grows just over a foot tall. Like the brickell-bush, it grows on the Miami Rock Ridge in Miami-Dade County. Compared to historic records, the flax has lost up to 30 percent of its range, with at least five populations known to have been destroyed by development. Recent surveys have only found seven locations, and the agency estimates the population at 337-3,310 plants, but noted that 2012 observations indicate the total is closer to 1,300 individual plants.
     Both plants face threats from urban and agricultural development, wild fires, invasive non-native species and sea level rise. Other effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events like hurricanes and prolonged frost may be catastrophic for the plants, according to the action.
     Because the plants have narrow ranges and small, fragmented populations, the USFWS has proposed both species for endangered listing status.
     The agency has also proposed to designate a combined total of approximately 2,707 acres for the two plants, which is located entirely in Miami-Dade County, Fla. The land ownership within the combined proposed critical habitat is approximately 12 percent federal, 20 percent state, 46 percent county/local, with the remaining 22 percent consisting of private individuals, companies, associations and organizations, including nonprofit organizations, the action said.
     “Part of what makes Florida so amazing is all the unique plants and animals that live in our state, and Endangered Species Act protection for these two lovely flowers will make sure their last remaining wild habitat remains safe for future generations,” Jaclyn Lopez, CBD’s Florida attorney was quoted as saying in the group’s press release.
     Comments for both actions are due Dec. 2.

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