Rare plants' habitat on the tip of Florida threatened by sea-level rise
Washington, DC—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today that four imperiled Florida plants are receiving the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Florida prairie-clover (Dalea carthagenensis var. floridana) is listed as “endangered” and the Everglades bully (Sideroxylon reclinatum ssp. austrofloridense), Florida pineland crabgrass (Digitaria pauciflora), and pineland sandmat (Chamaesyce deltoidea ssp. pinetorum) are listed as “threatened” under the Act.
“These four Florida plants are in immanent danger from extreme weather and rising seas,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Protecting these plants is an important step toward protecting the most vulnerable areas of the state of Florida and addressing the root causes of climate change.”
All four plants live on the tip of Florida, in areas that were likely impacted by Hurricane Irma. In particular, three of the four plants live in the Straits of Florida, which were directly in the path of the storm. Climate change, including sea-level rise, is a serious threat to the low-lying coastal areas in southern Florida where these rare plants are found.
The Service acknowledged that the plants warranted the protections of the ESA many years ago (1999 for the prairie-clover and sandmat, 1980 for the crabgrass, and 2004 for the Everglades bully), but declined to provide safeguards, instead placing the plants on the “candidate” list. In 2004, a star-studded list of conservationists, including Dr. E. O. Wilson, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Paul Erlich, Barbara Kingsolver, Martin Sheen, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Xerces Society, and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, among others, petitioned the species for protections. In response, the Service again found the plants warranted the protections of the ESA, but declined to actually list them, instead placing them back on the “candidate” list in 2005.
As part of two landmark settlements entered into with WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity in 2011, the Service made “yes” or “no” decisions on all 252 species on the candidate list by Sept. 2016, including the four Florida plants. Today’s decision finalizes the Oct. 2016 proposal to list the plants and puts the long-awaited protections in place.
Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals protected by the law exist today. The law is especially important as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006 if not for ESA protections.