U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposes protection for rare Crucian plant
Published: October 23, 2013
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After years of environmental activists filing lawsuits against the government, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing endangered species protection for a rare plant found on St. Croix.
Part of the federal protection includes saving 55 acres of critical habitat for the plant on the island.
The plant is Agave eggersiana - known as Egger's agave - an aloe-like plant native to St. Croix that has yellow flowers on tall stalks.
The listing on the federal registry was published Tuesday and proposes protection under the Endangered Species Act for three plants, one from the Virgin Islands and two from Puerto Rico.
According to the nonprofit environmental group, Center for Biological Diversity, Egger's agave, island brittleleaf and Puerto Rico manjack are imminently threatened by land development and have been on a waiting list for federal protection since 1980.
"Historic land-use practices drove these species to the brink of extinction, and federal foot-dragging has allowed them to be nearly wiped off the planet," Center for Biological Diversity attorney Jaclyn Lopez said in a prepared statement. "The quicker the service finalizes Endangered Species Act protection, the sooner we can start pulling these remarkable plants away from the abyss and back toward recovery."
The proposed rule would designate approximately 50.6 acres of critical habitat for Agave eggersiana on St. Croix, spread out over six areas of the island. The federal government is recommending the land be set aside for a conservation program to protect the plant and help the plant population grow.
Fish and Wildlife has identified seven populations of the plant on St. Croix: five to the south and two to the north. The southern locations are South Shore, Cane Garden and Vagthus Point. The plant is also found at Manchenil Bay, Great Pond, Protestant Cay and Gallows Bay, according to the listing.
While the plant is not currently found on the east end, the dry habitat is a perfect fit. The east end also is attractive because sections of the area already are protected by the V.I. government and the Nature Conservancy, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The first area, East End South, comprises 19 acres in Estate Jack's Bay and Estate Isaac's Bay, less than a mile southwest of Point Udall.
East End North consists of about 22 acres of government land in Estate Cotton Garden, a little more than half a mile northwest of Point Udall.
Cane Garden, East End South and Manchenil all are privately owned. The other pieces are owned by the government, although Protestant Cay is leased to a private business.
The plant needs coastal cliffs and dry coastal shrub lands that include bare rock, sparse vegetation, dry forest structure, other native plants in the area and well drained soils, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
A critical habitat cannot include man-made structures, such as bridges, roads or buildings.
The public has until Dec. 23 to submit comments, and requests for public hearings on the matter must be made in writing by Dec. 6.
To comment electronically, go to www.regulations.gov and enter FWS-R4-ES-2013-0103 in the search box. Click on the proposed rule and submit a comment by clicking the "comment now" link.
To comment by mail, send it to Public Comments Processing Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2013-0103, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, Va., 22203.
The fight to get federal protection for the island's native plant species has been decades in the making.
In 1996, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources' Division of Fish and Wildlife petitioned the federal government to protect the plant under the Endangered Species Act. Two years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service submitted an initial report, called a 90-day finding, that agreed with the local government's petition.
By law, after a 90-day finding is issued, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has one year to provide an in-depth review of the species and make a final finding. The final report was supposed to be submitted within nine months, but six years went by without any action by the federal government.
In 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity picked up the territory's cause and took the federal government to court. In a 2005 settlement agreement, the federal government agreed to submit its final finding by February 2006.
When the final finding was submitted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed its initial position and found that the petition to protect the plant was not warranted, saying that the plant failed to meet even one of the five criteria used to determine an endangered species.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed another lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Sept. 9, 2008, challenging that decision. That suit was settled, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to submit a new 12-month finding to the Federal Register for Agave eggersiana by September 2010.
In 2011, another settlement agreement was reached, which required the federal government to make initial or final decisions about whether to add hundreds of plants and animals to the federal endangered species list by 2018. Agave eggersiana was among the species to be considered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to finalize protection for the three plants within one year.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.