Rare Caribbean Plants Have Federal Protection


     WASHINGTON (CN) – Three extremely rare Caribbean plants now have federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also designated critical habitat for the plants, in actions filed Tuesday.
     The plants have been on the candidate list for 34 years. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), one of the agency’s most frequent litigants, sued the USFWS twice on behalf of Agave eggersiana, found in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and then petitioned for Puerto Rico’s Gonocalyx concolor and Varronia rupicola in 2004. A 2011 settlement led to a court-approved five-year workplan to speed listing decisions for hundreds of species, including the three Caribbean plants.
     The agency’s final listing maintains that none of the species have common names, but the CBD’s press release in response to the listing refers to them as Egger’s agave, Island brittleleaf (G. concolor), and Puerto Rico manjack.
     The tall cliff-dwelling agave has deep yellow flowers and is vulnerable to collection. It is found only on the island of St. Croix in the USVI. The USFWS listed the plant as endangered and designated 51 acres of critical habitat for it.
     The Gonocalyx, or brittleleaf, is a small shrub that uses other plants for support. It has vivid red bell-like flowers and it grows in wet high-elevation areas in Puerto Rico’s Carite Commonwealth Forest. It is also listed as endangered and 198 acres have been designated as critical habitat for this plant.
     The Varronia, or manjack, is a tall shrub with small white flowers. It grows in the coastal shrub forests in Puerto Rico and Vieques Island. It is listed as threatened and 6,547 acres has been designated as critical habitat for the plant.
     Last year’s listing proposal noted that the agave exists in seven small populations in St. Croix, with an estimated 316 plants in total, and the brittleleaf has only three populations that occupy less than an acre, with an estimated 27 plants. The manjack is found in seven populations in Puerto Rico and several populations on nearby islands. There were no substantive changes in the final listing from the proposed rule, according to the action.
     “These remarkable plants have been pushed to the brink of extinction by land-use practices, but the Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its care and will make sure they’re around for generations to come,” Jaclyn Lopez, a CBD attorney, was quoted as saying in the group’s statement.
     The plants face threats from hurricanes, development, fires, competition from non-native plants, insect damage, poor enforcement of existing laws, and small fragmented populations, according to the listing.
     The USFWS noted that many organizations and private individuals are working for the conservation of these plants, including the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, the St. Croix Environmental Association and the Vieques and Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuges.
     “The benefit of designating critical habitat for a listed plant or animal is that it informs government agencies, landowners, and the public of the specific areas that are important to the conservation of the species. Identifying this habitat also helps focus the conservation efforts of other conservation partners, such as state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals,” the USFWS said in its press release.
     Both the final listing and the critical habitat designation are effective Oct. 9.

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