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No Protection for 2 Rare NorCal Plants

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Red Mountain stonecrop | Photo: Carex Working Group/CalFlora/Creative Commons License

Two rare plants from Northern California that have been waiting for Endangered Species Act protection for more than 30 years won't be getting that protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will announce Thursday.

The Red Mountain buckwheat (Eriogonum kelloggii) and Red Mountain stonecrop (Sedum eastwoodiae) are being denied listing because USFWS has determined that populations of the two species are stable, despite each having an extremely limited range in Mendocino County. Both are restricted to a few square miles of serpentine soils on and near Red Mountain, just east of the city of Ukiah.

The buckwheat has been a candidate for listing under ESA since 1975, and the stonecrop joined the ranks of candidate species in 1980.

Thursday's decision not to list the two plants comes as part of a 2011 settlement of a lawsuit against USFWS by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. In that settlement, USFWS agreed to plow through the agency's backlog and decide whether to list 251 candidate species. Some of those species, like the buckwheat and stonecrop, have been waiting for such a decision for decades.

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Both the Red Mountain buckwheat and the red Mountain stonecrop are serpentine endemics; that is, they're restricted to soils derived from the serpentine bedrock that outcrops in patches throughout the California coastal ranges. Serpentine soils are low in plant nutrients and high in toxic chromium and nickel, and they're thus unfavorable for most plants, But some plants like the Red Mountain stonecrop and buckwheat, have evolved ways to grow in spite of those less-than-ideal conditions. Many such plants actually have trouble thriving in better soils, due to competition from other plant species.

Contributing to USFWS' decision not to list the two plants: most of their habitat is under some form of protection by the federal government, either as part of the South Fork Eel River Wilderness Area or the Red Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern, both managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Some of the remainder of the two plants' ranges is protected as a state ecological reserve.

Both species face threats from mining, illegal marijuana grows and off-road vehicle use, that last factor mainly associated with pot growers getting to their illegal sites.

At least one of the plants does have some state-level protection. Red Mountain buckwheat was listed as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act in 1982.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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