Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Designates Critical Habitat for Plant in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties

May 20, 2004


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 420 acres of critical habitat for the endangered Ventura marsh milk-vetch in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

A final economic analysis has also been completed for this designation, which was issued in responseto a court order. The analysis indicates there will be no economic costs resulting from the designation.

Critical habitat is determined after taking into consideration the economic impact it could cause, the impact on national security, as well as any other relevant impacts.

The 420 acres of critical habitat for the milk vetch are located in three units on state and private lands. About 281 acres are state-owned, while the remaining acreage is on private land. There is only one wild population of the Ventura marsh milk vetch. It is found in the Mandalay unit. In the other two units, "research populations" have been established using transplanted seed. (See below for description of critical habitat locations.>)

The one wild population of the plant is located on less than one acre of privately owned coastal dune habitat in Ventura County that has historically been used for oil field waste disposal. The current owner is cleaning up the site and plans to develop most of it, leaving a 24-acre natural area around the milkvetch and fencing the land it actually occupies. When the species was rediscovered in 1997, 374 plants were counted at the site. The population declined to a low of 39 plants in 2000, but rebounded to 300 plants in 2001.

The California Department of Fish and Game, which listed the Ventura marsh milk-vetch (Astragalus pycnostachyus var. lanosissimus) as endangered in April 2000, worked with the Service to collect seed from plants to establish populations. The two research populations are underway in Santa Barbara County at Coal Oil Point Reserve and Carpenteria Marsh. The seed has also been collected by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens. It is not known how successful these research populations will be.

Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations. A designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where Federal funding or a Federal permit is involved. It has no specific regulatory impact on landowners who take actions on their land that do not involve Federal funding. However, Federal agencies must consult with the Service before taking actions that could harm or kill protected species or destroy their habitat.

The Endangered Species Act directs Federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery for Federally listed species. Consequently, Federal lands provide the greatest protection for endangered and threatened plants. Where listed plants occur on Federal lands, consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required when projects or activities may affect the species. Private or state landowners whose activities do not involve Federal funding or permitting will not be affected by critical habitat.

In 30 years of implementing the ESA, 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 Services Private Stewardship Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for endangered species is provided on many national wildlife refuges -- which are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- as well as on state wildlife management areas.

In the absence of a Federal nexus, the Endangered Species Act does not provide any greater protection to listed plants on private lands than they already receive under state law. The Endangered Species Act also does not prohibit "take" of listed plants on private lands, but landowners must still comply with state laws protecting imperiled plants. California landowners who may have these plants on their property are encouraged to contact the state Department of Fish and Game for further guidance.

Improved mapping technology enabled the Service to eliminate some areas from the final rule because they do not contain habitat essential to the conservation of the species. These areas include homes, roads, airport runways, and other man-made structures. Mapping is still not precise enough to exclude all such areas, and some of these locations may remain within the final designation. However, because these locations do not contain habitat essential to the conservation of the species, they are not considered critical habitat.

Once thought to be extinct, the milk-vetch was discovered in 1997. Until then, the species had not been seen since a single plant was collected in 1967. The milk-vetch, a perennial species in the pea family, was listed as an endangered species in February 2001. Potential threats to the milk-vetch are the clean-up of contaminated soil and a proposed residential development at the site. Because of its small population, the Ventura marsh milk-vetch is vulnerable to extirpation by natural events, competition from nonnative plant and animal species, and from disease or prolonged drought.

The Services final rule for the milk-vetch is consistent with the settlement terms of a lawsuit filed against the Service by the Center for Biological Diversity.

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 medicine to treat cancer, heart disease, juvenile leukemia, and malaria, and to assist in organ transplants. Plants are also used to develop natural pesticides.

The final rule was published in todays Federal Register. Copies of the rule are available from the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office at: 2493 Portola Road, Suite B; Ventura, CA., 93003, or by calling 805/644-1766. The rule is also posted at the Ventura office's web site at:

The final critical habitat units are:

Mandalay Unit: About 153 acres in Ventura County at the northeast corner of Fifth Street and Harbor Boulevard in the city of Oxnard. On the east side of Harbor Boulevard, the unit extends north from 5th Street to the Edison Canal and east from Harbor Boulevard to the Edison Canal. West of Harbor Boulevard, the unit north of 5th Street, west of Harbor Boulevard, east of an access road that bisects the park, and south of a point halfway between where Harbor Boulevard crosses the Edison Canal and 5th Street. This unit is where the wild population of Ventura marsh milk vetch is found.

McGrath Unit: About 62 acres within McGrath Beach State Park adjacent to McGrath Lake at the southern end of the lake between the lake and Harbor Boulevard in Ventura County. There is a research population within this unit.

Carpenteria Salt Marsh Unit: About 205 acres in Santa Barbara County that extends from the Southern Pacific Railraod tracks south and west to Sand Point Drive and Santa Monica Creek. It lies north and west of Sandyland Cove Road and north of Avenue del Mar. There is a research population within this unit.

Information contained in older news items may be outdated. These materials are made available as historical archival information only. Individual contacts have been replaced with general External Affairs office information. No other updates have been made to the information and we do not guarantee current accuracy or completeness.

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