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Thursday, April 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Rare Violet Clings to Cliffs – and Existence

PECOS, Texas (CN) - The Guadalupe Mountains Violet is so rare that only 35 plants are known to remain, in a single group that clings to heavily shaded limestone cliffs in southern New Mexico - but the Secretary of the Interior refuses to call it endangered, or protect it.

WildEarth Guardians sued Secretary Ken Salazar on behalf of the violet, in Federal Court. The environmental group recently signed an agreement with the federal government to protect 251 species that have been on a threatened or endangered species waiting list, some of them for decades.

The group says the Guadalupe Mountains Violet, Viola Guadalupensis, is the only yellow-flowered violet in the Guadalupe Mountains, on the southern edge of New Mexico, along the border with Texas.

Forest Guardians, which was one of three groups that merged in 2008 to form WildEarth Guardians, filed a petition in 2007 to list the violet, along with 474 other critically endangered species, mostly plants and invertebrates, as threatened or endangered species.

In its listing petition, the group used information on species from the NatureServe online database, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also uses to rank endangerment of species. Nevertheless, the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the petition in 2009, saying it did not adequately address population size or abundance.

WildEarth says its petition stated that only one population, of 35 plants, was known in 2002. It says that the government's denial of listing a species because it has only a single known population is inconsistent with its own policies. It points to a recent positive finding on the Tehachapi slender salamander, which has only two known populations.

The Guadalupe Mountains violet was discovered in 1990. It became an endangered species candidate in 1993, but was from the list in 1996.

The yellow violet, which has delicate brown veins, lives in fragments of woodlands that are relics from millions of years ago, when evergreen forests covered the continent.

The WildEarth settlement agreement this month established a timetable for decisions on 251 threatened and endangered candidate species. WildEarth agreed to dismiss pending listing lawsuits, and to not file any new suits over the 251 species until March 2017. It also agreed to file a maximum of 10 listing petitions per year until the 2016 deadline.

WildEarth apparently filed 700 of all 1,230 species listing petitions in the past four years. It is represented in this case by Adam Abrams with the Texas Environmental Law Center of Austin and its house counsel James Tutchton of Centennial, Colo.

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