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Feds Increase Proposed Habitat for Rare Eastern Sierra Flower

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Webber Ivesia, with camera lens cap for scale | Photo: USFWS/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reopened public comment on the amount of habitat to protect for a small yellow flower that grows in just a few places in the astern Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe.

The Webber Ivesia, Ivesia webberi, a low-growing plant in the rose family with bright yellow flowers, is under consideration by the agency for listing as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The plant, restricted to less than 200 acres of habitat in California and Nevada, is under threat from grazing, development, off-road vehicle use, invasive plants, and wildfire.

As part of the process of listing, USFWS is evaluating which parts of the Sierra Nevada should be designated as critical habitat for the plant. A previous comment period expired last year, but USFWS is proposing to add 159 acres to the flower's critical habitat, and has reopened comment on the proposal.

During much of last year, USFWS was going through the listing and habitat proposal process for Webber Ivesia as a sort of package deal with the Soldier Meadows cinquefoil, Potentilla basaltica, but the agency dropped the cinquefoil from consideration for listing over the objections of environmentalists.

The extra land was added to the proposal based on better information on the actual size of the populations and their surroundings that USFWS obtained from the U.S. Forest Service. The designated habitat doesn't necessarily hold populations of the plant, but may also include similar habitat deemed crucial to the species' recovery.

Webber Ivesia grows in sagebrush stands on the Sierra Nevada's eastern slope and requires a specific kind of rocky clay soil that swells when wet, and habitat where that wet period comes in the spring. That soil type can take 1,000 years to develop after disturbance, making the Ivesia especially vulnerable to soil disturbance froom grazing and off-road vehicles.

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map of proposed critical habitat for the Webber Ivesia. | Map: USFWS

The vast majority of the proposed critical habitat for the plant is on public lands. Of the 2,170 acres proposed for designation, 1,513 are on federal lands, and 214 on state or local government lands. USFWS has determined that designation won't adversely affect the local economy in the area: since restrictions on use of critical habitat only affect projects with federal involvement, designation won't keep people from developing their private property unless they try to get federal funding for their projects.

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Typical Webber Ivesia habitat | Photo: DeanWmTaylor/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Public comment on the proposed revisions to the plant's critical habitat designation are now being accepted until March 16.

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