Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 6, 2017

Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Texas Grass Is First Endangered Species Protected Under Trump

Protections Cover Habitat in Big Bend National Park

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Texas— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today added the Guadalupe fescue, a type of bunchgrass, to the federal list of endangered species and protected 7,815 acres of the fescue’s last U.S. location, in Big Bend National Park, Texas, as “critical habitat.”

The fescue is the first species officially protected under the Endangered Species Act by the Trump administration. Today’s decision is a result of legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity. The fescue was first identified as needing protection in 1975, more than 40 years ago.

“The Guadalupe fescue was like green gold to cattle ranchers, whose cows ate it up to the brink of extinction,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center. “The Endangered Species Act is now giving this graceful grass a chance to return to some of the Sky Island woodlands it used to thrive in. We’re glad this incredibly imperiled species is finally getting the protection it so badly needs.”

The Guadalupe fescue is a 3-foot-tall species of bunchgrass that once flourished on mountains in southern Texas and Coahuila, Mexico. But now it is only known to exist in a single location in the Chisos Mountains within Big Bend, as well as one site in Mexico.  The possible survival of three other isolated populations in Mexico has not been confirmed since the last botanical surveys of these locations in 1941, 1973 and 1977.

Guadalupe fescue is native to oak woodlands at altitudes above 6,000 feet across a few high mountains — known as “Sky Islands” because they are isolated from and far different than the lowland environments surrounding them — that tower over the Chihuahuan Desert. In the United States the grass was found in the Guadalupe and Chisos Mountains, but is believed to be extirpated in the former where it was last seen in 1952.

In Mexico the grass is known from only three sites. It has disappeared from a number of formerly known sites because of livestock grazing, competition with invasive plants and possibly also loss of fire. Climate change now poses an additional threat. 

“The Endangered Species Act is the best line of defense for disappearing wildlife and even obscure plants threatened by our growing numbers and appetites,” said Robinson.

Today’s action came in response to a 2011 settlement agreement with the Center under which the Fish and Wildlife Service made protection decisions for hundreds of vulnerable species over the past six years. The fescue is the 185th species to be protected as threatened or endangered under the agreement. Thirteen additional species have been proposed for protection and await decisions expected by the end of the year.

Endangered Species Act protection for the Guadalupe fescue will free additional resources to conduct botanical surveys to locate any other surviving populations and to research the fescue’s habitat requirements including, in particular, whether the grass needs low-intensity wildfires to survive. Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service will write a recovery plan to guide reintroduction of additional populations and conservation of remnant genetic diversity in the fescue.

The critical habitat designation ensures that federal actions such as trail maintenance are conducted in a way that do not harm the fescue’s currently occupied habitat in Big Bend National Park. A hiking trail traverses the area in which the grasses survive.

Just 56 individual Guadalupe fescues were counted last year in a monitored plot in Big Bend. The fescues within the plot are estimated to make up 25 percent to 50 percent of the entire population. The monitored portion of the population has declined by more than 50 percent from a high of 127 fescues counted in the same plot in 1994.

The Guadalupe fescue once formed part of the vegetative understory in woodlands of pine, oak and juniper above 6,000 feet in sky island mountain ranges rising above the Chihuahuan Desert. The fescue produces two or three small, relatively inconspicuous flowers following summer rains and can reach 40 inches in height. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged in 1975 that the Guadalupe fescue likely needed the protection of the Endangered Species Act but failed to provide protection over the subsequent decades. In 2004 the Center, along with leading scientists, filed a petition to protect it as endangered.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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