Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Reproposes Critical Habitat for Central California Coastal Plant

August 6, 2008


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

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today announced it has proposed 38,447 acres of critical habitat for La Graciosa thistle in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. The federally-endangered native California plant grows in coastal dunes and wetland areas.

The proposal is 2,643 acres smaller than a 2004 critical habitat rule that later was sent back to the Service by a lawsuit. Todays announcement opens a 45-day public comment period on the new proposal, which is timed to meet a court deadline of July 27, 2009, for a final determination. About 48 percent of the proposed critical habitat occurs on private lands. The remaining acreage is on federal, state, and county lands.   

Included in the proposed critical habitat area in San Luis Obispo County are Pismo Dunes State Preserve; portions of Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. Areas of Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park and Ocean Beach County Park in Santa Barbara County are also part of the proposal, as are areas on Vandenberg Air Force Base.

A member of the sunflower family, La Graciosa thistle (Cirsium loncholepis) is a short-lived perennial that blooms once than dies. It is recognized by its mound of spiny leaves with lavender flowers. Each plant can reach 40 inches or more in height.

Historically, the plant was found along 32 miles of coastline between Arroyo Grande Creek in San Luis Obispo County and the Santa Ynez River in Santa Barbara County. In this range, it grew up to 16 miles inland where it was documented in the Cañada de las Flores area on the south side of the Solomon Hills near the city of Orcutt.

La Graciosa thistle, listed as endangered in March 2000, grows in diverse coastal habitats, dune scrub, freshwater seeps and springs, coastal and valley freshwater marshes,  mule fat scrub, willow scrub, riparian forest, chaparral, oak woodland, intermittent streams, and other wetlands. The plant's populations are threatened with extinction due to their small numbers and the threats of wetlands destruction, off-road vehicle use, water pumping, oil field activities, and urban development.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that identifies geographic areas containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, some of which may require  special management considerations or protection.

The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat. The designation does not affect purely private or state actions on private or state lands, nor require non-federal lands to be positively managed for conservation.

The Service welcomes comments on the proposed rule until October 6, 2008. Written comments and information on the proposed rule must be submitted to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2008-0078; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA, 22203 or at the Federal eRulemaking Portal by following instructions for submitting comments at

 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