Alabama: Denise Rowell, USFWS
Georgia: Tom Mackenzie, USFWS
North Carolina: Gary Peeples, USFWS
828-258-3939, ext. 234
South Carolina: Jennifer Koches
843-727-4707, ext. 214
Asheville, N.C. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that Georgia aster does not require federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, a decision reflecting years of conservation work by myriad partners.
Georgia aster is a wide-ranging, but rare, purple-flowering plant found in the upper Piedmont and lower mountain regions of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The plant has been a candidate for the federal endangered species list since 1999.
“Today’s decision is a great step forward in our southeastern strategy to conserve as many at-risk plants and animals as possible, before they need federal protection,” said the Service’s Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner. “The Georgia aster is thriving thanks to the proactive conservation efforts of many partners.”
Led by the states, the at-risk species conservation strategy protects species, saves money, reduces future regulatory burden on landowners, and enables the Service to focus on plants and animals that need federal protection to survive. In addition, conserving one at-risk species often benefits others. Georgia aster, for example, needs the same type of habitat (open savanna or prairie) as some rapidly declining birds like the grasshopper sparrow, field sparrow, and eastern meadowlark.
The Service’s decision not to list the Georgia aster was based on a review of current information -- including the number, size, and health of populations -- as well as the imminence and severity of threats to the plant. This information shows significant gains made by the plant in recent years. Since 1999, more than 50 additional populations of Georgia aster have been discovered. There are currently 118 known populations, including 55 on conserved lands, where they are protected from development and actively managed.
This positive trend is expected to continue thanks to a diverse group of partners who recently formalized a commitment to work for the aster’s conservation. In May, nine partners that included federal, state and local agencies, a power company and a university, signed a Candidate Conservation Agreement in which they committed to proactive conservation actions to ensure the plant’s survival. Those actions include searching for new populations; monitoring known populations to estimate trends; and thinning forests with Georgia aster to provide ample sunlight.
Jon Ambrose, chief of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Nongame Conservation Section, said removing the Georgia aster as a candidate for federal listing is heartening to see, noting that while not every species will fit the same approach, “Georgia aster can serve as a good example of what can be done both on the research front -- identifying populations, finding out the habitat requirements, determining management needs-- and with partnerships to get an agreement in place that will conserve the species."
Georgia Power and the Georgia Department of Transportation, two partners to the agreement, committed to avoid mowing in rights-of-way from late spring to mid-fall, when the Georgia aster is at its tallest and reproducing. They also agreed to avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides near Georgia aster populations, and marking populations to avoid damaging the plants during right-of-way maintenance.
“Georgia Power has a long history of partnering with other organizations to promote the conservation of natural resources, and the natural habitat of many plants and animals across the state,” said Ron Shipman, vice president of Environmental Affairs. “This takes many forms, including sponsorship of conservation organizations, supporting reforestation, such as the longleaf pine restoration initiative, and protecting various plant and animal species on company land and rights-of-way across the state. In all, these efforts help make Georgia a better place to live, work and play.”
Many of the known Georgia aster populations are on national forest land.
“Conserving rare species such as the Georgia aster wildflower requires restoring healthy woodland habitat, and the Forest Service is appreciative and committed to this tremendous partnership,” U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Liz Agpaoa said.
The 12-month finding will publish in the Thursday, September 18, 2014 Federal Register. The public may view the finding at http://www.regulations.gov, using the docket number FWS–R4–ES–2014–0027. The finding takes its name from the fact that it’s typically made 12 months after the receipt of a petition to list a plant or animal. This 12-month finding is part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan under a Multi-District Litigation Agreement aimed at addressing a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s listing program under the Endangered Species Act. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce a litigation-driven workload. For more information, please see http://www.fws.gov/southeast/candidateconservation/.
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. Visit the Service websites at http://www.fws.gov and in the Southeast at http://www.fws.gov/southeast.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.
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