AUSTIN, Texas— Following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect the beautiful but disappearing bracted twistflower, in central Texas, under the Endangered Species Act. With 16 remaining naturally occurring populations, plus one struggling introduced population, the twistflower will gain threatened status, protection of 1,606 acres as critical habitat, and eventually a recovery plan.
The bracted twistflower has waited for federal protection — and been losing habitat in the interim — ever since the Smithsonian Institution identified it as imperiled in 1975.
“I’m so glad this pretty flower will finally be protected,” said the Center’s Michael Robinson. “But it shouldn’t take the Fish and Wildlife Service 46 years to protect any species. The Service’s program for protecting species has been broken for a long time, and it’s badly in need of reform.”
The bracted twistflower is imperiled due to land development, grazing by unnaturally abundant white-tailed deer and other herbivores, and increased shade from juniper trees due to fire suppression. Also, the isolation of the flower’s various populations cause low genetic diversity and resiliency.
“This lovely flower has graced the Edwards Plateau since time immemorial,” said Robinson. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will ensure that as the I-35 corridor fills with homes and businesses, some places will remain unpaved and unsullied, and the twistflower can thrive.”
The critical habitat amounts to 2.5 square miles in nine plots owned by the cities of Austin and San Antonio, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and private parties. Designation of critical habitat would require avoidance or mitigation when federal funds or permitting is required. Critical habitat also helps prioritize federally supported conservation actions in these areas.
The Service’s proposed rule, to be published tomorrow in the Federal Register, begins a 60-day public comment period. The Service must publish a final rule within a year.
A member of the mustard family, the bracted twistflower is a herbaceous plant with lavender petals. Its specific soil requirements are met only near the edge of Glen Rose and the Edwards formation, and in areas with grasses, junipers and oaks that provide a mix of sun and shade.
The Endangered Species Act has been successful in preventing the extinction of more than 99% of the animal and plant species placed under its protection. However, the risks to species increase markedly due to frequent delays — decades long, in the case of the bracted twistflower — in granting protection. Delays also constrain the possibilities for recovery once species are finally listed as endangered or threatened.