LOS ANGELES— In response to a science-based legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued a revised critical habitat designation for a federally threatened California plant called the spreading navarretia. Today’s decision protects 6,720 acres of its habitat. Although this is 10 times greater than what was designated by the Bush administration, it is only 35 percent of the 19,399 acres identified by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2005 as being “essential for the conservation” of the species. The navarretia is a diminutive plant found only in vernal pools and swales in Southern California, where much of its range has already been plowed under or paved over.
“With protection of a portion of its habitat, the spreading navarretia has a shot at survival, but this designation falls well short of what is needed for recovery,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s a new administration in the White House, but most of the same people are in charge at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This decision and others highlights the continued failure of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reform the agency.”
On October 18, 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued final critical habitat for the spreading navarretia, designating a paltry 652 acres for the showy little plant. In 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to revisit the designation. The new proposal of 6,872 acres issued in 2009 still fell far short of the actual amount of habitat necessary to keep this plant, which is found nowhere else on the planet, from ongoing declines. Despite public and peer-reviewed comments, the agency has further scaled back its final designation to a meager 6,720 acres and failed to include all areas where the plant currently lives.
“What sense does it make to exclude areas where this declining rare plant lives from critical habitat?” Anderson added. “I would think the agency would value where the plants are actually now growing.”
The spreading navarretia is a tiny annual plant that grows in the quintessentially California habitat known as vernal pools — seasonally inundated, flat ponding areas that in spring host the development of not only rare annual plants but also rare insects like fairy shrimp. The navarretia is only known from California’s Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties in areas where these rare vernal pools occur. Much of its habitat has been destroyed by urban development, off-road vehicles, water diversions, grazing and plowing for fire clearance and agricultural conversion. Only 30 small populations are left on Earth.
Critical habitat designations safeguard threatened or endangered species habitat and are key to recovering species to levels where they are no longer threatened with extinction.