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Four species win deeper look into Endangered Species Act protections

For the Inyo rock daisy, which grows only in particular substrate found in only one part of Inyo County, coexistence with mining interests is unlikely.

(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will look into whether four disparate species, ranging from a humble daisy to the mighty hippo, should be protected under the Endangered Species Act thanks to petitions filed by conservationists.

Two California natives, the Morro Bay polyphyllin scarab beetle and the Inyo rock daisy, find themselves under threat by sprawl and mining, respectively. The third, the roughhead shiner — a small olive-colored minnow — inhabits the upper James River drainage region in western Virginia. And in Africa, the common hippopotamus faces threats despite its range over 38 countries as it finds itself competing for resources and space in nations working to industrialize or which are caught up in war.

Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity filed the petitions for the Inyo rock daisy and the roughhead shiner, and the center joined with the Humane Society of the United States on the petition for the hippos. A private individual, Michal Walgren of San Luis Obispo County filed the petition for the beetle, which makes its home on California's Central Coast.

The petitions cleared a 90-day assessment in which Fish and Wildlife found “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the petitioned actions may be warranted.” The agency will now undertake year-long status reviews during which more information will be gathered to determine whether protection under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.

While all four species face dangers, the Inyo rock daisy has some immediate concerns. Found only in the lower Inyo Mountains of Inyo County in California, the plant blooms during the hot days of summer while other plants have gone dormant. Consequently, the rock daisy attracts pollinators at a time when there are few other flowers available. The nearest town, a spot on Highway 136 called Keeler boasts about 70 people but, despite the isolation, the region is a target for mining interests.

“Because most all of the Inyo rock daisies on the planet are found on lands that are overlain by mining claims on BLM public lands west of Death Valley and there is ongoing mining gold exploration in the area, the threat is very real to the daisy,” said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The daisy’s habitat has had mining exploration by various companies for decades. As the price of gold fluctuates, it has yet to become economically feasible.”

K2 Gold Corporation, a mineral exploration company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has taken an interest in the Inyo rock daisy's land. According to its website, the company has conducted the most extensive and comprehensive exploration in the area since 1997, although other companies have explored the area searching for gold deposits since Mobil first found gold there in 1984.

Much of the Inyo rock daisy’s range lies in the National Conservation Lands system but that doesn’t necessarily protect the species from the dangers of mining thanks to a law first enacted in 1871.

“Comprehensive surveys/studies over the last five years or so on the daisy documented how limited its habitat actually is,” said Anderson. “So those data increased our concerns about species extinction if a full-blown, heap-leach mine was ever permitted in the area. The daisy is very substrate specific, and it can’t grow just anywhere.”

That substrate occurs in a complex formation called Conglomerate Mesa, loaded with uplifts and convoluted geology which exposes unique soil layers at the surface, Anderson said. Some of those layers also contain microscopic gold. The chances of a mining operation and the rock daisy being able to co-exist are nil but so is replanting the flowering plant somewhere else.

“Rare plant transplantation is typically an abysmal failure,” Anderson said.

Environmentalists expressed hope, however.

“More native plant species are at risk of extinction in California than any other state in the U.S.,” said Nick Jensen, program director for the California Native Plant Society. “With the Inyo rock daisy, we have a case where we can see the potential extinction coming but actually have a chance to stop it.”

Categories:Environment, National, Science

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