FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 16, 1997

Diana M. Hawkins or

Vicki M. Boatwright



U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE PROPOSES

RARE CARIBBEAN PLANT AS ENDANGERED

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed that a rare plant, found only in southwestern Puerto Rico and in U.S. Virgin Islands, be added to the Federal list of endangered species.

The plant, known only as catesbaea melanocarpa, is a small branching, spiny shrub that can grow as tall as 3 meters or 9.84 feet. A total of only 25 individual plants are known to exist on private land on the islands of Puerto Rico and St. Croix. It has also been reported to exist in Barbuda, Guadeloupe, and Antigua of the Lesser Antilles. However, little is known about the species on these islands, but it has been reported to be rare on Antigua.

The species may once have been more widespread, but its preferred habitat in the dry forest areas in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has been eliminated for agricultural and urban development. The species is further threatened by tourist development projects.

The Endangered Species Act defines an endangered species as one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. According to the Service's Southeast Regional Director, Sam Hamilton, no critical habitat is proposed for this species. The Act directs Federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery of listed species. Collection of listed plants on Federal lands is unlawful. In addition, proposed Federal projects and actions require review to ensure they will not jeopardize the survival of the species.

The Endangered Species Act does not prohibit "take" of listed plants on private land, but landowners must comply with Commonwealth, State or local laws protecting imperiled plants. Consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service come into play for private and other landowners only when Federal funding or permits are required for activities that may affect listed species.

Native plants are important for their ecological, economic and aesthetic values. Plants play an significant 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 medicine used to treat cancer, heart disease, juvenile leukemia, malaria as well as that used to assist organ transplant recipients. Plants are also used to develop natural pesticides.

The Service is seeking comments, suggestions, and any additional information on the biology, threats, distribution, population sizes, or current or planned activities and their possible impacts on these species. The Service will consider all comments and information submitted by February 16, 1998, before making a final decision on whether or not to list this plant. A copy of the proposal can be obtained by contacting the Boquerón, Puerto Rico, Field Office at (787/851-7297).

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Release #: R97-118


1997 News Releases

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