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A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate critical habitat for the Lane Mountain Milkvetch and seven other rare plants following a suit brought by the California Native Plant Society and the Center for Biological Diversity. Most of the known Lane Mountain Milkvetch plants share their habitat with the desert tortoises in the proposed Fort Irwin expansion area. The California Native Plant Society and the Center for Biological Diversity press release is below.

NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release Monday, July 8, 2002



SAN DIEGO - A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate critical habitat for eight imperiled plant species in San Diego, Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo and Mono counties of southern and eastern California listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and the Center for Biological Diversity (Center) sued FWS November 15, 2001 asking that the agency designate critical habitat.

This legal victory is part of an ongoing campaign of CNPS and the Center to work with agencies and scientists to improve state and federal management, conservation and recovery of imperiled plants.

Critical habitat designation identifies the habitat that is essential to the survival and recovery of listed species and provides mechanisms for protecting that habitat from destruction or degradation. The Endangered Species Act mandates that critical habitat by designated for all federally listed species, allowing only limited exceptions. Despite its conservation value, and despite legal requirements, recent administrations have avoided critical habitat designation. Only 11% of federally listed species in the U.S. have designated critical habitat.

The problem is most severe for plants. In California critical habitat has been designated for less than 5% of federally listed plants as compared with fully 28% of California's federally listed animals.

"Critical habitat is essential to species survival and recovery," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center. "Habitat protection is a must for conservation of unique places like the Algodones Sand Dunes, where the Peirson's milkvetch is endangered by BLM's plan to re-open 50,000 acres to off-road vehicles."

Neglect of plants in land management makes no sense, say scientists, because plants are the foundations of all ecosystems. Any program to conserve animals such as the golden eagle, desert tortoise, California gnatcatcher, or California condor must be based on conservation of the native plants these animals depend on for survival. Furthermore, healthy native plant communities provide critical ecosystem services we all need to survive. "Plants generate the oxygen we breathe, clean the water we drink, create the food we eat, as well as provide food and habitat for our native wildlife," said Jim Andre, a Botanist and Director of the University of California-Riverside's Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center. "We simply cannot successfully maintain a healthy environment without protecting native plants."

The eight plants live on federal public land or in areas under federal jurisdiction, such as wetlands. "The law makes no provision for critical habitat to affect management of private lands in the absence of federal involvement" said Dr. Emily Roberson of CNPS, "Critical habitat designations improve land management by federal agencies, particularly in our rivers and wetlands and on the millions of acres of publicly owned National Forests, BLM public lands and wildlife refuges in California. Critical habitat designation is also one of the best ways we have to improve our understanding and management of rare species."

The court order comes amid a torrent of new studies showing declines in the diversity and health of native plants. Recent reports by the World Conservation Union and the Nature Conservancy found that at least 30% of native flowering plants in the U.S. are currently at risk of extinction.

CNPS recently released its sixth edition of the Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California, which shows 1438 of California's native plant species (nearly 25%) are at risk.

"Scientists all over the world are raising the alarm about the current rate of extinction," said Illeene Anderson, CNPS Southern California Botanist. "It is imperative that scientists and conservation advocates work with governments to conserve our remaining species and their habitats. That is what this victory is about."

The eight imperiled plants for which critical habitat will be designated in California:

Lane Mountain milk-vetch – Astragalus jaegerianus (Endangered) Location: Only known to occur at four western Mojave Desert sites north to northeast of Barstow CA, near the Army's Ft. Irwin tank base, in San Bernardino County. The plants at each site are widely scattered. 
Threats: Proposed U.S. Army Ft. Irwin expansion and related tank training, military vehicle trespass on to off-limits BLM lands, dry wash recreational gold mining, off-road vehicle use, increasing fire frequency and associated fire suppression activities.

Coachella valley milk-vetch – Astragalus lentiginosus var. coachellae (Endangered) Location: Loose wind-blown or alluvial sands on dunes or flats in the Coachella Valley area of the Sonoran Desert, near Palm Springs CA, Riverside County. 
Threats: Urban sprawl in the Coachella Valley which directly destroys lands on which they occur or reduces the source and transport of blow sands that maintain its habitats. Roads and off-road vehicle use.

Peirson's milk-vetch – Astragalus magdalenae var. peirsonii (Threatened) Location: Algodones Sand Dunes, Sonoran Desert of eastern Imperial County CA. 
Threats: Intensive off-road vehicle use. Pipelines and water projects.

Fish slough milk-vetch – Astragalus lentiginosus var. piscinensis (Threatened) Location: Great Basin Desert northwest of Bishop CA, Inyo and Mono Counties.
Threats: Trampling and grazing by cattle, roads and off-road vehicle use, modification of wetlands, alteration of slough hydrology, the Red Willow Dam and related expansion of Fish Slough Lake.

For more detailed information see the FWS 10/6/98 final listing rule covering these four desert species:

Munz's onion – Allium munzii (Endangered) Location: 13 populations in Western Riverside County CA, including the Gavilan Hills, Harford Springs County Park, Paloma Valley, Skunk Hollow, Domenigoni Hills, Bachelor Mountain and the Elsinore Mountains.

San Jacinto Valley crownscale – Atriplex coronata var. notatior (Endangered) Location: In 1998, 11 population centers were known, primarily associated with the San Jacinto River and Old Salt Creek tributary drainages in the San Jacinto, Perris, Menifee and Elsinore Valleys of western Riverside County CA.

Thread-leaved brodiaea – Brodiaea filifolia (Threatened) Location: In 1998, 37 populations were known in southern California. 15 populations in the cities of Vista, San Marcos and Carlsbad in northern San Diego County. The remaining 22 populations are scattered within Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties.
Threats (includes the 3 inland species above): One or more of the following: habitat destruction and fragmentation from agricultural and urban development, pipeline construction, alteration of wetland hydrology by draining or excessive flooding, channelization, off-road vehicle use, livestock grazing, weed abatement, fire suppression practices (including disking or plowing) and competition from invasive weeds.

Spreading navarretia – Navarretia fossalis (Threatened) Location: In 1998, fewer than 30 populations existed in the U.S., primarily in vernal pool ecosystems. Nearly 60% are concentrated in three locations: Otay Mesa in southern San Diego County, along the San Jacinto River in western Riverside County, and near Hemet in Riverside County.
Threats: On-going degradation of vernal pools and their destruction due to urbanization, agricultural practices, off-road vehicles, flood control and widespread habitat loss.

For more detailed information see the FWS 10/13/98 final listing rule covering these four inland species:

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