Press Release from Center for Biological Diversity
98 Acres of Habitat Protected for Endangered Southern California Plant
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Decision Falls Short of Needed Protection
LOS ANGELES— In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 98.4 acres of “critical habitat” for an endangered plant called Munz’s onion but failed to protect any habitat for a second endangered plant, the San Jacinto Valley crownscale. Both plants are found only in western Riverside County, where they’re severely threatened by habitat loss.
“Protecting 100 acres is a good first step, but both these rare California plants desperately need much greater permanent habitat protection throughout their ranges,” said Ileene Anderson, a Center biologist. “Because of their tiny ranges and development pressure there, these rare plants could be lost to extinction if they don’t have more critical habitat than this.”
Scientific studies have shown that species with protected critical habitat are more likely to recover than species without it. The 98-acre area designated today for Munz’s onion slashes by more than half the critical habitat that was designated in 2005. The Service excluded habitat from today’s designation because some acres are included in a “multispecies habitat conservation plan.”
“A habitat conservation plan isn’t enough to safeguard these plants because it will allow some plants to be destroyed, and it will expire whether or not the plants are recovering. These unique California species deserve permanent safeguards,” said Anderson.
In 2011, 89 acres of known occupied crownscale habitat was bulldozed to create duck ponds. The destruction occurred despite the fact the area was within the boundaries of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area and a conservation easement was in place through the Western Riverside Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
No critical habitat has ever been designated for the San Jacinto Valley crownscale, though the Service has identified more than 15,000 acres that would qualify as such habitat.
Munz’s onion is a perennial bulb with bright white flowers that fade to pink. It requires heavy clay soils that retain water. San Jacinto Valley crownscale is a small scrubby plant with grayish leaves that sequesters soil salts into its surface glands, giving the plant a shiny glow in sunlight. It is relegated to highly alkaline silty and clay soils, often near vernal pools and in floodplains, where its habitat may be flooded for a portion of the year. Both plants are threatened by development, agricultural activities, off-road vehicle use, livestock grazing and nonnative species. The crownscale’s habitat is also threatened by alteration of hydrology and deliberate manure and sludge dumping, and the onion is threatened by clay mining. The Service has failed to prepare “recovery plans” that would outline the steps necessary to ensure the plants’ survival.
“To turn around ongoing declines, these plants need more protected habitat, and they need federal recovery plans,” said Anderson. “California’s rare plants are an important part of our state’s natural heritage, and we owe it to future generations to protect them.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.