For Immediate Release
March 17, 1999

Contact: Tom MacKenzie
404/679-7291

RARE CARIBBEAN PLANT IS ADDED TO FEDERAL LIST OF ENDANGERED SPECIES

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added a rare plant found in southwestern Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the federal list of endangered species . 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.

The plant, known as catesbaea melanocarpa is a small branching, spiny shrub that can grow as tall as 3 meters or 9.8 feet. Approximately 25 individual plants are known to exist on private lands on the islands of Puerto Rico and St. Croix. The species has also been reported on Barbuda, Guadeloupe, and Antigua of the Lesser Antilles. Little is known, however, 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 much of its preferred dry forest habitat in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has been eliminated for agricultural and urban development. The species is further threatened by a number of tourist development projects. According to the Service=s Southeast Regional Director, Sam D. Hamilton, the Service plans to designate no critical habitat for the species.

The Endangered Species Act directs Federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery of listed species. The collection of listed plants on federal lands is prohibited, for instance. Proposed federal projects and actions, including activities on private or non-federal lands that involve federal funding or permitting require the Service's review to ensure they will not jeopardize the survival of any listed species, including plants.

The Endangered Species Act does not prohibit "take" of listed plants on private land, but landowners must comply with Commonwealth, Territorial, 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 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, and medicines to assist in organ transplants. Plants are also being used to develop natural pesticides.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprising more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 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 wildlife agencies.

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Release #R99-026


1999 News Releases

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