Center for Biological Diversity

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

Center for Biological Diversity
California Native Plant Society


Emily Roberson, Center for Biological Diversity, 415-970-0394
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, 707-986-7805
Carol Witham, California Native Plant Society, 916-452-5440

Habitat Protection Proposed for Two Bay Salt Marsh Plants

San Francisco, Calif.—In response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and California Native Plant Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday issued a proposal to designate and protect critical habitat in San Pablo and Suisun Bays for two endangered plant species. Suisun Thistle (Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum) and Soft Bird's-beak (Cordylanthus mollis ssp. Mollis) were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1997.

"Yesterday's announcement is a victory for science, these plants, the Suisun Marsh and wetlands in general," said Carol Witham, former President of the California Native Plant Society. "This critical habitat designation will be a powerful addition to ongoing efforts to restore and conserve these special species and wetlands."

Both plants are extremely rare. Between 70 and 80 percent of the tidal marsh habitat that once supported the plants has been destroyed. Suisun Thistle was once believed to be extinct in Suisun Bay. It was rediscovered in 1989 and is currently restricted to a few scattered sites in less disturbed areas of Suisun Marsh. Soft Bird's-beak has been lost from large portions of its original range, including tidal marshes along the Petaluma River, Napa River and San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. Migratory birds, recreationists and communities depend on these marshes for habitat, enjoyment and water quality maintenance.

The Suisun Marsh Habitat Management, Preservation, and Restoration Plan is being developed to conserve and restore the area. The Plan has been in development since 2001, and a draft is currently expected to be released in fall 2006.

"These species and the Marsh will benefit tremendously from this critical habitat designation," said Emily Roberson, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Native Plant Conservation Campaign. "Although we look forward to the Marsh Plan, and we commend those who are working so hard to create it, we still have not even seen a formal draft. Such plans are often delayed by budget problems or political interference. There is no guarantee that the Plan will be completed expeditiously or funded adequately. Conversely, protection of designated critical habitat is mandatory under the Endangered Species Act. This is why critical habitat is one of our strongest tools to assure protection–and promote recovery–of plants, fish and wildlife."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data show that species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without habitat protection. Current legislative proposals would gut critical habitat provisions from the Endangered Species Act, and could undermine efforts to protect endangered species like the Soft Bird's-beak and Suisun Thistle if passed. The legislation, HR 3824, passed the House of Representatives in September 2005. Similar legislation is being considered in the Senate.

"This legislation would completely derail the endangered species listing program, remove protections for endangered species habitat and cut federal scientific oversight of projects that threaten endangered species," said Peter Galvin, Conservation Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "If this legislation becomes law, our ability to protect endangered species and our natural heritage will be largely lost."

The name and case number of this lawsuit is: Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. Gale Norton, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, et al., CV 03-5126-CW


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