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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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


 March 16, 2004  

Contacts:  Mary Jennings 307-772-2374 x 32
 Diane Katzenberger 303-236-4578 

Service Designates Critical Habitat for the Threatened Desert Yellowhead

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 360 acres of Federally-managed lands in the Beaver Rim area in Fremont County, Wyoming as critical habitat for the desert yellowhead, also known as Yermo xanthocephalus   a perennial plant in the sunflower family.

 The only known population of approximately 12,000 plants occupies less than 50 acres of Federal land, managed by the Bureau of Land Management in central Wyoming. The area designated as critical habitat for the desert yellowhead is part of the historical range of the plant, and it contains the physical or biological features that are considered essential for the conservation of the species.   

The Service listed the desert yellowhead as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act 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.  

 “Because the desert yellowhead is a listed species, Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on any action they take that might affect the plant,” explained Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. “Since the desert yellowhead is found only on Federal lands, the entire known population already receives this protection – so the effect of this critical habitat designation will be minimal.”

 This critical habitat designation was completed in response to a lawsuit filed by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Biodiversity Associates, Center for Native Ecosystems and Wyoming Outdoor Council, 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 designation of critical habitat by March 8, 2004. 

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act identifying geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands.

 In 30 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, the Service has found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits. 

In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the Endangered Species Act including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Service’s Private Stewardship Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for endangered species is provided on many national wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state wildlife management areas.

 The desert yellowhead has leafy stems of up to 12 inches high with alternate, lance-shaped leathery 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. 

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. 

This finding is published in today’s Federal Register.  For more information, visit the Service’s web site at: 

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 544 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. For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at

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