Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Furbish’s Lousewort, One of the First Federally Protected Plants, Now Faces a Lower Risk of Extinction
Decades of conservation efforts by partners -- including the forest products industry -- have contributed to the species’ recovery, leading to a proposed change from endangered to threatened

January 4, 2021

Contact(s):

Bridget Macdonald, USFWS

413-387-3183

bridget_macdonald@fws.gov



For a plant that occupies a small habitat, the Furbish’s lousewort has left a big mark on environmental history. In 1978, this herbaceous perennial species became one of the first plants to be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  

Now, the species has reached a new conservation milestone. Based on a review of the best available science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has determined that the Furbish’s lousewort faces a low risk of extinction in the near term and proposes to downlist this species from endangered to threatened under the ESA.  

At the time of listing, the species faced a heightened risk of extinction because of a controversial hydroelectric dam project that would have flooded 80,000 acres of Maine’s north woods, including most of the plant’s native habitat. In 1986, Congress deauthorized the proposed dam project for a number of reasons, eliminating the primary threat to the Furbish’s lousewort.  

Since the plant’s listing, the Maine Natural Areas Program, the Service, Environment Canada and members of the forest products industry have taken proactive conservation measures to protect it throughout its narrow range along the Saint John River in Maine and Canada. 

“Strong public-private conservation partnerships made it possible for the Furbish’s lousewort to regain ground,” said Aurelia Skipwith, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We commend private landowners for working with the state and the Service to conserve habitat for a unique plant that occupies a small but important place in our natural history.”  

This downlisting reflects the Trump Administration and Secretary Bernhardt’s commitment to recovering species. Since 2017, 15 species have fully recovered, meaning they are no longer listed under the Endangered Species Act, and another eight species have been downlisted from endangered to threatened.   

Reaching about 2 feet high when mature, the Furbish’s lousewort is distinguished by alternate fern-like leaves widely spaced along a stem topped by a tight cluster of small, tube-like yellow flowers.  

It is also distinguished by its specific habitat requirements: It depends upon periodic scouring of the riverbanks by ice to provide the right conditions for it to grow and to keep competitive plant species at bay.  

Today, 70 percent of the subpopulations of the Furbish’s lousewort still exist that have been documented since scientists began to survey for the species in 1980 with support from federal endangered species grants. There are currently 20 separate places where the Furbish’s lousewort grows along 140 river miles, although the plant has been extirpated from six of those locations.  

While the lousewort no longer meets the definition of endangered, it does meet the definition of threatened. Changing temperature and precipitation patterns as a result of climate change will affect the periodic ice scouring this plant depends upon and present a new challenge for conservation of this species into the future. 

The plant has an additional claim to fame. The Furbish’s lousewort is named for Kate Furbish, a pioneering botanist and botanical artist who discovered the plant in 1880 and submitted a specimen to the preeminent herbarium of her time for classification. In a letter to the curator of the herbarium, Furbish expressed ambivalence about having a plant named after her, but noted, “As a new species is rarely found in New England and few plants are named for women, it pleases me.” 

The effort to conserve at-risk wildlife and recover listed species is led by the Service and state wildlife agencies in partnership with other government agencies, private landowners, conservation groups, tribes, businesses, utilities and others. It has drawn support for its use of incentives and flexibilities within the ESA to protect rare wildlife, reduce regulations and keep working lands working. 

The proposal will publish in the Federal Register on January 15, 2021, but is available for public view today. Public comments will be accepted until March 16, 2021. A final decision to list or withdraw the proposal is typically made within a year after the proposal.  

No administration in history has recovered more imperiled species in their first term than the Trump Administration. Since 2017, 15 species have fully recovered, no longer being listed under the Endangered Species Act, and another eight species have been downlisted from endangered to threatened. To provide context for this in looking at other administrations in their first term, the Obama Administration recovered six species; the Bush Administration recovered eight species; the Clinton Administration recovered nine species.  

Fish and wildlife conservation depends on federal partnerships with states, landowners, and most importantly sportsmen who directly fund – to the tune of $1 billion last year alone and more than $23 billion since inception – conservation efforts by purchasing hunting and fishing licenses, fishing tackle, ammunition, boating fuel and other recreational items. 

To support stronger on-the-ground conservation efforts, encourage private actions to benefit our most imperiled species and provide greater legal certainty for ESA determinations, the Service updated its ESA regulations in 2019 to improve the implementation of the law. The regulations hadn’t been comprehensively updated since the ESA passed some 40 years ago. The Service’s guidepost for the multi-year, public process was President Trump’s overarching effort to reduce regulatory burden without sacrificing protections for the environment and wildlife. 


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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