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Rare Eastern Sierra Flower Gets Threatened Species Protection

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Webber ivesia | Photo: USFWS/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed as Threatened a low-growing wildflower known from just 16 scattered populations on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, and has designated about 3.3 square miles of critical habitat for the species.

We reported in March that the Webber ivesia, Ivesia webberi, a mat-forming perennial herb with small but showy yellow flowers, was being considered for listing as Threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. That listing becomes a done deal on Tuesday, June 3, as does designation of 2,170 acres of critical habitat for the plant, in 16 distinct parcels of land in California and Nevada.

Of that 2,170 acres of critical habitat, only about 160 acres is actually occupied by the plant, which is declining due to competition from invasive plants, and the increased wildfires those plants support. Off-road vehicle use, livestock grazing, and climate change also threaten the plants.

Webber ivesia is limited in its choice of places to live, surviving only in more or less level terraces of sparsely vegetated clay soils that are wet in spring, at elevations between 4,500 and 6,300 above sea level. The designated critical habitat, all but 444 acres of which is on public land, was mapped out to include bands of that kind of habitat at suitable elevations. Even if the plants don't currently occupy all the suitable spots within that critical habitat, USFWS has deemed protection of that habitat as essential to the species' survival.

That protection doesn't mean that landowners whose property is included in the designated critical habitat will have their styles cramped all that much. Nor does the listing as Threatened. USFWS puts it best in the listing rule, in reply to a public commenter:

The Act does not prohibit the destruction, damage, or movement of endangered or threatened plants unless such activities occur on lands that are under Federal jurisdiction, or if the action occurs in conjunction with the violation of State laws. Therefore, if a person wishes to develop private land, with no Federal jurisdiction involved and in accordance with State law, then the potential destruction, damage, or movement of endangered or threatened plants does not violate the Act.

In other words, as long as the landowner doesn't ask for Federal funding or violate state laws, the critical habitat designation will make no difference in their lives.

That's not an academic issue: according to USFWS, all of the populations on private lands in Nevada are on sites slated for ether residential or commercial development.

The listing takes effect when it's published in the Federal Register on Tuesday.

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