Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release:
August 16, 2004

For More Information: Peter Galvin (707) 986-7805


Urban Sprawl, other factors in San Diego, Monterey, Los Angeles and Riverside Counties threaten five species of plants with extinction

San Francisco–The Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society filed suit in Federal District Court on August 13 to compel Gale Norton, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to designate Critical Habitat under provisions of the Endangered Species Act for five extremely rare plant species. The species; the Mexican flannelbush, San Diego thornmint, Vail Lake ceanothus, Yadin’s rein orchid and Nevin’s barberry occur in San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, Monterey Counties and Baja, Mexico. The species are threatened with habitat destruction from urban sprawl, competition from nonnative species and other factors.

Critical Habitat under the Endangered Species Act is defined as areas essential for survival and recovery of a species. Critical Habitat adds an additional important layer of protection for endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are barred from granting permits, funding or authorizing activities that would destroy the habitat areas.

The Endangered Species Act states that the Secretary of Interior will designate Critical Habitat within one year of listing a species under the Act. The five plant species were all listed under the Act in 1998, however, the Secretary of Interior has failed to designate Critical Habitat for the species.

Peter Galvin, Conservation Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, stated, “California is regarded as one of the world’s hotspots for biological diversity, particularly plants.” Galvin added, “At the current rate of habitat destruction in California, numerous species will be driven to extinction unless protective actions are taken. Habitat protection is the key to survival for endangered species.”

"Critical habitat is the only section of the ESA that requires tangible actions be taken to recover listed species, not merely prevent their extinction." said Emily Roberson CNPS Senior Policy Analyst. "We cannot continue to allow species to dwindle to one or two isolated individuals, as has occurred with some endangered plants. We are committed to reducing the size of the endangered species list by repopulating and recovering species. Critical habitat designation is essential to this goal.”

The case was assigned to Judge James Larson of the U.S. Federal Court, Northern District of California and the case number is C 04-3240.

Background on the Five Species

Nevin's barberry (Berberis nevinii) was listed as an endangered species on October 13, 1998. (63 Fed. Reg. 54956.) This member of the barberry family (Berberidaceae) is a rhizomatous evergreen shrub 1-4 m (3-12 ft) tall. The pinnately compound leaves (featherlike arrangement of the leaflets) are gray-green with serrate, spine-tipped margins and the flowers have six yellow petals arranged in two series. Nevin's barberry is found in Two habitat types-gravelly wash margins in alluvial scrub and on coarse soils in chaparral.

This species typically is found between 300 and 650 m (900 and 2,000 ft) in elevation. The species' native range currently extends from the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County to near the foothills of the Peninsular Ranges of southwestern Riverside County. The total number of individuals may be fewer than 500. Historically, the range of this species probably consisted of fewer than 30 scattered occurrences. At least seven populations have been extirpated, probably due to factors associated with urbanization. 63 Fed. Reg. at 54958.

Mexican flannelbush (Fremontodendron mexicanum) was listed as an endangered species on October 13, 1998. (63 Fed. Reg. 54956.) This member of the cacao family (Sterculiaceae) species is a small tree or shrub 5-19 feet tall with evergreen, palmately lobed leaves 1-2 in wide. The large showy orange to dark yellow flowers are up to about 2.7 in wide. Native populations of this species occur primarily in closed-cone coniferous forest and southern mixed chaparral, often in association with metavolcanic soils at elevations between 300 and 1,000 m (900 to 3,000 ft). Reliable distribution records for the species indicate that it is currently only known from Cedar Canyon on Otay Mountain in southern San Diego County and at Arroyo Seco, north of San Quintin, Estado de Baja California, Mexico. The total number of remaining plants of Fremontodendron mexicanum in the United States is estimated to be fewer than 100 individuals. 63 Fed. Reg. at 54958.

Vail Lake ceanothus (Ceanothus ophiochilus) was listed as a threatened species on October 13, 1998. (63 Fed. Reg. 54956.) This species, a member of the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae), is a rounded, shrub, 4-5 feet tall, with narrow pale green leaves, blue flowers, and hornless fruits. Vail Lake ceanothus flowers from mid-February to March and the seed capsules mature from about May to mid-June. This species, which recovers after fire by means of seed germination, is restricted to dry habitats on ridgetops and north to northeast facing slopes in chamise chaparral. It occurs on nutrient poor, shallow soils that may be critical for the species to maintain reproductive isolation. Vail Lake ceanothus ophiochilus is found at three sites in southwestern Riverside County. These populations are scattered along borders of creeks and dry canyons. 63 Fed. Reg. at 54957.

San Diego thornmint (Acanthomintha ilicifolia) was listed as a threatened species on October 13, 1998. (63 Fed. Reg. 54938.) This species is an annual aromatic herb of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Members of this genus have paired leaves and several sharply spined bracts (modified leaves) below whorled flowers. Acanthomintha ilicifolia can be distinguished from other members of the genus by its flower, which has hairless anthers and style. The species usually occurs on heavy clay soils in openings within coastal sage scrub, chaparral and native grassland of coastal San Diego County and in isolated populations south to San Telmo in northern Baja California, Mexico. About 40 percent of 52 historic populations of Acanthomintha ilicifolia in the United States have been extirpated. Currently, there are about 32 populations in the United States, ranging from San Marcos east to Alpine and south to Otay Mesa in San Diego County, 11 of which are considered major populations (i.e., supporting over 3,000 individuals each). 63 Fed Reg. at 54938-54939,

Yadon's piperia (Piperia yadonii), or “Yadon’s rein orchid,” was listed as an endangered species on August 12, 1998. (63 Fed. Reg. 43100.) This species is a slender perennial herb in the orchid family (Orchidaceae), with two or three basal leaves that typically emerge sometime after fall or winter rains and wither by May or June, when the plant produces a single flowering stem up to 50 cm (20 in) tall with flowers arranged in a dense narrow-cylindrical spike. Only a small percentage of the P. yadonii plants in a population may flower in any year. Yadon's piperia is found within Monterey pine forest and maritime chaparral communities in northern coastal Monterey County.

This species once probably occurred throughout the Peninsula when Monterey pine forests were much more extensive. The current greatest threats to Yadon's piperia is continued fragmentation and destruction of habitat due to urban and golf course development. Other threats include exclusion by alien species, roadside mowing, and potentially an increase in deer grazing of flowering stems. See 63 Fed. Reg. at 43103.


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