Utah Native Plant Society

The posts contained herein may not always necessarily represent the official positions and views of the Utah Native Plant Society and are mine alone; nonetheless, this blog is intended to largely supplement the Utah Native Plant Society web site and has similar goals and objectives and when I think my slant about something is perhaps either controversial or straying from what might be generally supported by UNPS, I will try to so indicate since I am also the webmaster for the UNPS web site, a former UNPS board member, conservation co-chair, Utah rare plants guide coordinator, and remain actively involved with day-to-day issues involving the organization. Much of the information contained here will therefore no doubt therefore relate to issues of current concern to the UNPS board and/or its members, inquires made to unps@unps.org, postings made on the UNPS listserv, and the activities our various committees are involved with (conservation, restoration, rare plant issues, invasive species, horticulture and more) and our many and various botanical connections not the least of which are the herbariums based in Utah and elsewhere, and other conservation organizations that have goals that overlap those of UNPS.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Deseret milkvetch delisting deja vu

Utah's ESA listed Astragalus desereticus (Deseret milkvetch) is again in the news. 

Astragalus desereticus
(Ben Franklin, Utah Natural Heritage Program)

The Western Area Power Administration  (WAPA) petitioned to delist it in on October 6, 2015 claiming to provide "new" information.  (It unlikely that the information presented is particularly "new").   It is known that WAPA wants to put some kind of power line or transmission corridor through or near the mostly private/state owned property where this species grows.  Based on that petition, the FWS has decided to review it further.  See:

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Findings on 29 petitions
(81 FR 14058 14072 published March 16, 2016)

The species has been listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act since October 20, 1999.  Through early March of 2016, the rare plant committee of the Utah Native Plant Society continued to rank it as "High" conservation priority (there is only one higher priority ranking).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had already formally decided to recommend the species for delisting in 2011.  So why has it remained listed?  (A question for taxpayers to ask, now that FWS will be spending more time on an expensive re-review in light of the positive finding.)  In any event, the FWS has made a positive 90-day finding meaning that they will now review this again and come out with another finding one year from now.

In doing so, the FWS must assess current known residential construction as a result of suburban sprawl and road widening threats.   It is inevitable that these impacts will occur, and this severely edaphically restricted species has nowhere else to go.  Further there is essentially no federal lands ownership involving its habitat (perhaps a tiny amount on Forest Service lands reportedly recently found, but almost all private and state).

And extensive surveys should be conducted this year, since to my knowledge the species has not been surveyed in recent years.   What has the effect been in recent years involving record high average temperatures?  Are there other new threats or impacts?

The very delisting petition itself represents an imminent threat to the species.  Given that the petitioner presents a threat to the species, the delisting petition has to be in large part viewed in that light.  

Also given that no plant species are being listed in Utah in favor instead of "conservation agreements" even when the FWS itself proposes to list them, then no species should be delisted absent some sort of very significant, long-term conservation agreement as well.  (And long term does not mean 10 or 15 years.)   In this case, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is a significant owner of its habitat.  There have been past agreements, but as protector of our wildlife (which should, but rarely does, include plant species), they should be jumping at this opportunity to enter into an appropriate 25-year minimum conservation agreement, or better yet, providing a conservation easement that will permanently protect at least 80% of the existing known habitat without surface disturbances including power transmission corridors that end up being corridors which encourage invasive species and increase recreational impacts.  And cattle grazing is a continued threat as well.

Here's the text from the PDF relating to this latest FR notice published on 3/16/2016 (see link above):

"We received a petition dated October 6, 2015, from Western Area Power Administration requesting that Deseret milkvetch (currently listed as threatened), be delisted under the Act due to new information. The petition clearly identified itself as such and included the requisite identification information for the petitioner, required at 50 CFR 424.14(a). This finding addresses the petition. Finding Based on our review of the petition and sources cited in the petition, we find that the petition resents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action (delisting) may be warranted for the Deseret milkvetch
(Astragalus desereticus), based on a lack of threats under any of the five listing factors. However, during our status review, we will thoroughly evaluate all potential threats to the species, including the extent to which any protections or other conservation efforts have reduced those threats. Thus, for this species, the Service requests information relevant to whether the species falls within the definition of either an endangered species under section 3(6) of the Act or a threatened species under section 3(20), including
information on the five listing factors under section 4(a)(1) and any other factors identified in this finding . . . "

Even if the FWS decides ultimately to delist the species, they would still be required to monitor the species for an additional five years following the delisting date.  To what extent FWS would have the funding or personnel to conduct that required monitoring is unknown.

More information:

USFWS ECOS species profile for Deseret milkvetch

Astragalus desereticus on the Utah Rare Plant guide:


or access via:


Utah DNR UCDC Deseret Milkvetch page

Delisting a Species: Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act

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