Three Southeast Plants|Get ESA Listing Nod

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed three southeast plants for endangered listing status under the Endangered Species Act as part of a court-approved work plan agreed to in a settlement between the agency and environmental groups. The agency also proposed 2,488 acres of critical habitat for the three plants in a separate action.
     Short’s bladderpod, a yellow-flowered member of the mustard family, is threatened by ongoing construction and maintenance of transportation rights-of-way, prolonged flooding and soil erosion due to water level manipulation, shading due to forest succession and competition from invasive and nonnative plants. The bladderpod’s small population sizes add to the risk of inbreeding and loss of genetic variation. The plant is found at only 26 sites in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.
     The fleshy-fruit gladecress, another mustard-family member with orange, yellow or white flowers, faces habitat loss from residential and industrial development, conversion of agricultural sites to pasture, mowing, herbicides, off-road vehicles and dumping. The gladecress is found in only six sites in central Alabama.
     The six-foot tall whorled sunflower faces threats from industrial forestry, right-of-way maintenance, agriculture, vegetation succession, limited distribution and small population sizes. There are only four known populations of the whorled sunflower in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
     The five-year work plan the USFWS agreed to “is to significantly reduce litigation-driven workloads and allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of the ESA’s protections,” the agency noted in its press release.
     The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) spearheaded the lawsuit that led to the 2011 settlement.
     “These three beautiful flowers have been sitting on a waiting list for protection since 1999. Endangered Species Act protection will make sure they aren’t erased forever,” Tierra Curry, a CBD biologist, was quoted as saying in the group’s press release. The CBD petitioned the USFWS for federal protection for the plants in 2004.
     Critical habitat, as defined by the Endangered Species Act, refers to geographic areas considered to be essential to the conservation of the threatened or endangered species. The proposed critical habitat includes federal and private land, but activities within the designated critical habitat will only be affected if they are “authorized, funded or carried out by a federal agency,” the USFWS said.
     “The designation of critical habitat will help ensure that federal agencies and the public are aware of the needs of these plants and proper consultation is conducted by federal agencies when required by law,” the agency wrote.
     Comments on the proposed listing and the proposed critical habitat designation are due by Oct. 1, with public hearing requests due to Sept. 16.

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