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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

March 17, 2003

Contact: Mary Jennings, 307-772-2374 x 32 (Available on 3/18)
              Sharon Rose, 303-236-7917 x415

                                  U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE PROPOSES CRITICAL
                                    HABITAT FOR A THREATENED WYOMING PLANT

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today that 360 acres of federally managed lands in the Beaver Rim area in Fremont County, Wyoming, be designated as habitat critical to the survival of the desert yellowhead, a perennial herb in the sunflower family.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to consider economic and other relevant impacts of designating a particular area as critical habitat. The Service will complete a draft economic analysis and an environmental assessment, both of which will be made available to the public for comment before a final determination of critical habitat is made.

According to surveys done in 2001, there are approximately 12,000 plants in the only known population of the desert yellowhead – which occupies less than 50 acres of Federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in central Wyoming. The area proposed as critical habitat for the desert yellowhead is within the historical range and contains the physical or biological features considered essential for the conservation of the species.

The desert yellowhead is threatened by human activities, including potential oil and gas field development on a 1,160-acre lease that includes the plant’s habitat. Another possible threat to the plant is the search for and extraction of uranium and zeolites – minerals with properties useful in water softening, pollution control and removal of radioactive products from radioactive waste. Other threats include recreational off-road vehicle use in the area, grazing, and non-native species. Because of the desert yellowhead’s small population and limited geographic range, even small-scale habitat degradation could make it vulnerable to extinction. However, during the six-year period when complete population counts were done, the population of the desert yellowhead has appeared stable. Current conditions appear favorable to the species and its habitat.

The desert yellowhead was proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1998. In November 2001, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Biodiversity Associates, Center for Native Ecosystems and Wyoming Outdoor Council filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Colorado alleging that the Service failed to make a timely final listing determination and critical habitat designation for the desert yellowhead. A court-approved settlement was reached that included a March 8, 2003, date for submission to the Federal Register of proposed critical habitat, with submission of a final determination of critical habitat by March 8, 2004.

The desert yellowhead has leafy stems of up to 12 inches high with alternate, lance-shaped leatherly leaves that are often folded along the midvein. Each flower head, of which there are 25 to 80 on each stem, contains 4 to 6 yellow disk flowers surrounded by five yellow, small leaves. The outer whorl of the flower consists of many white bristles.

In 1990, while conducting field work in the Beaver Rim area of central Wyoming, Wyoming botanist Robert Dorn discovered this species, which was previously unknown to science. He named it Yermo xanthocephalus or desert yellowhead. The Service listed the desert yellowhead as a threatened species in March 2002.

The Endangered Species Act directs Federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery of listed species, making it illegal to collect and remove listed plants from Federal lands. Native plants are important for their ecological, economic and aesthetic values. Plants play an important role in development of crops that resist disease, insects and drought. At least 25 percent of prescription drugs contain ingredients derived from plant compounds, including treatments for cancer, juvenile leukemia, heart disease, and malaria, as well as those used to assist in organ transplants. Plants also are used to develop natural pesticides.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

- FWS -

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