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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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


September 28, 2001

CONTACTS: Larry England 801-524-5001, x138
                       Sharon Rose 303-236-7917 ext 415


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today extended the protection of the Endangered Species Act to a pair of rare plants found only near the border between southern Utah and northern Arizona.  The Holmgren milk-vetch (Astragalus holmgreniorum) and the Shivwits milk-vetch (Astragalus ampullariodes) are being listed as endangered under Act, meaning they are at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.

Both of these perennials, belonging to the pea family, have small remaining populations. The Holmgren population varies from 5,000 to 10,000 plants depending upon rainfall and is native to Washington County, Utah and adjacent Mojave County, Arizona, near the city of St. George, Utah. The Shivwits, numbering less than 1,000 plants, grows only in southern Washington County.

Both species grow on state and private land, as well as land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The Shivwits is also found on the Shivwits Reservation of the Paiute Tribe.

The numbers of individuals of both plants are rapidly decreasing due primarily to rapid urban expansion and population growth in the St. George area, where much of the plants’ habitat has been destroyed or degraded by the construction of new roads, power lines, and other development. Off-road recreational vehicle use, the spread of noxious weeds, overgrazing, and mineral development also threaten the plants’ ultimate survival.

"These plants are a unique part of the natural heritage of the Southwest," said Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s Director for the Mountain-Prairie Region. "Listing them under the Act will provide not only for their protection, but also for their long-term recovery."

The Holmgren milk-vetch grows along the ground, spreading in a circle of compound leaves, each with tiny oval-shaped leaflets. Found in shallow, sparsely vegetated soil, the Holmgren produces small purple flowers in the spring and pods up to 2 inches long. The Shivwits milk-vetch, by contrast, usually grows 8 to 20 inches tall, with flowering stems that can be up to 40 inches. The upright Shivwits, found only in clay soils, sports large leaflets and numerous cream-colored flowers and is attractive to most wild and domestic grazing animals.

The Endangered Species Act does not prohibit "take" of listed plants on private lands, but landowners must comply with State laws protecting imperiled plants. Consultations with the Service are necessary 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 droughts. At least 25 percent of prescription drugs contain ingredients derived from plant compounds, including medicine used to treat cancer, juvenile leukemia, heart disease, and malaria, as well as that used to assist organ transplants. Plants also are used to develop natural pesticides.

The final listing of the species was delayed when the Service announced in November 2000 that it would be unable to list any new species in Fiscal Year 2001 because virtually its entire listing budget was being used to comply with court orders and settlement agreements, which primarily involved the designation of critical habitat for species already listed under the Act. Last month, the Service announced an agreement with a variety of plaintiffs that would free up funds to list the milk-vetches and other species.

The Service published the final rule to list the two plants as endangered in today’s Federal Register. Information concerning this action is available from the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lincoln Plaza, Suite 404, 145 East 1300 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115.

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 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices 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 fish and wildlife agencies.

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