Pacific Southwest Region
California, Nevada and Klamath Basin

Service Designates Critical Habitat for La Graciosa Thistle in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties

Nov 02, 2009

Contact: Lois Grunwald, 805/644-1766, ext. 332

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced it has designated 24,103 acres of critical habitat for La Graciosa thistle (Cirsium loncholepis) in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. The federally-endangered native California plant grows in coastal dunes and wetland areas.

The final critical habitat is 14,344 acres smaller than the Service’s proposed critical habitat of 38,477 acres in 2008. Following review of public and peer reviewer comments, the Service excluded 13,705 acres at Vandenberg Air Force Base for reasons of national security. The Service also reevaluated the biological needs of La Graciosa thistle at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Area in San Luis Obispo County, reducing the acreage from 714 to 75 acres within the off-highway vehicle (OHV) area. Overall, about 70 percent of the final critical habitat is on private lands. The remaining acreage is on federal, state and county lands. 

The final critical habitat includes lands on Pismo State Beach and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in San Luis Obispo County. Areas of Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park and Ocean Beach County Park in Santa Barbara County are also included in the final designation. 

La Graciosa thistle was listed as endangered in March 2000. In March 2004, 41,089 acres of critical habitat were designated for the plant. In settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Homebuilders Association of America, the Service proposed a revised critical habitat in 2008 and agreed to submit the final critical habitat to the Federal Register on October 27, 2009.

A member of the sunflower family, La Graciosa thistle is a short-lived perennial that blooms once then dies. It is recognized by its mound of spiny leaves with white flowers. Each plant can reach 40 inches or more in height.

Historically, the plant was found along 32 miles of coastline between Arroyo Grande Creek in San Luis Obispo County and the Santa Ynez River in Santa Barbara County. Within this range, it grew up to 16 miles inland where it was documented in the Cañada de las Flores area on the south side of the Solomon Hills near the town of Los Alamos. 

La Graciosa thistle grows primarily in diverse coastal habitats, dune scrub, freshwater seeps and springs, coastal and valley freshwater marshes, mule fat scrub, willow scrub, riparian forest, chaparral, oak woodland, intermittent streams, and other wetlands. The plant’s populations are threatened with extinction due to their small numbers and the threats of habitat fragmentation, wetlands destruction, OHV use, cattle grazing, non-native species, water pumping, oil field activities, urban development, groundwater pumping, water quality issues, and flood control measures.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act that identifies geographic areas containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, some of which may require special management considerations or protection.

The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat. The designation does not affect purely private or state actions on private or state lands, nor require non-federal lands to be positively managed for conservation.

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