Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Status of Two Protected Southern New Mexico Plants Improves
Service proposes to remove Gypsum wild-buckwheat from Endangered Species Act and reclassify Kuenzler hedgehog cactus as “threatened”

January 5, 2017

Contact:

Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220
Website: https://www.fws.gov/external-affairs/public-affairs/


Kuezler hedgehog cactus in bloom Credit: Frank Weaver, USFWS

There are more known populations of Gypsum wild-buckwheat and Kuenzler hedgehog cactus now than when first protected under the Endangered Species Act four decades ago.  When first listed, only one population of each plant was known.  The discovery of additional populations, together with efforts to conserve the plants and their habitat indicate significant strides have been made in their conservation. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the Gypsum wild-buckwheat is recovered and is proposing to remove it from the list of plants protected under the Act, and to reclassify the Kuenzler hedgehog cactus from “endangered” to “threatened.”

“The advancing conservation of these two New Mexico plants demonstrates that when we work collaboratively, the Endangered Species Act is a very effective tool for rescuing species from the brink and recovering them,” said Wally Murphy, the Service’s New Mexico Field Supervisor.  “Under the Act, these two plants were identified as imperiled, prompting additional research and discovery of additional populations, and collaboration with public and private conservation partners to secure plant populations.”

Gypsum wild-buckwheat

When initially protected as threatened under the Act in 1981, the Gypsum wild-buckwheat was known only to occur at one site – on a hill in Eddy County near the Lakewood, N.M. The Service feared that off-road vehicles (ORVs), grazing and the Brantley Dam project threatened the species’ survival.  At the time, losing any plants or habitat in the only known species population would have been considered a significant loss.  In 1985, two additional populations were discovered.  Each of the three known populations numbers between 11,000 and 20,000 plants.

The Bureau of Land Management, the agency that manages 75 percent of the known wild-buckwheat’s habitat, designated Special Management Areas for each of the three populations, thereby limiting ORV and livestock access to the plants. Monitoring of Brantley Reservoir water levels has demonstrated that flooding of wild-buckwheat habitat is unlikely and that the reservoir is not a significant threat to the plant.

As its name implies, Gypsum wild-buckwheat occurs on gypsum soils and outcrops.  These habitats are dry and nearly barren, except for a handful of other hardy, gypsum-adapted plants. The small, eight-inch perennial reproduces by seed and through root-sprouting clones.

Kuenzler hedgehog cactus

In 1979, only a single population of 200 Kuenzler hedgehog cacti was known – leading to its protection under the Endangered Species Act.  Today, there are 3,300 individual cacti in 11 known populations within the cactus’ southern New Mexico range.

When listed, primary threats to the Kuenzler hedgehog cactus were its small, single population, private and commercial collection, road and real estate development, and livestock grazing.  Under the Act, searches for additional cactus locales and population monitoring increased and land management improved. The illegal collection of the cactus is now less of a threat due to legal propagation and availability of the cactus in the commercial market.  Where road construction has occurred in occupied areas, individual cacti have been avoided or mitigation has been provided – this avoidance and mitigation should continue once the species is reclassified as threatened.  Residential development has not been a threat due to the preference of the plant to grow in dry, rugged locations not favored for development. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have fenced out livestock to effectively protect the cactus from livestock trampling in strategic locations. Thus development, livestock grazing, and collection are not considered significant threats to the cactus at this time.

Additional threats, including drought and climate change and changing fire regimes, have been identified. The Service has initiated a species status assessment for the Kuenzler hedgehog cactus.  Information garnered from the assessment will guide the final determination on the cactus’ down-listing and instruct an updated recovery plan that fully addresses 21st Century threats and provide a road map for the cactus’ complete recovery.

Kuenzler hedgehog cactus is a small cactus found on slopes of sandy gravel and amid rocky outcrops in southern New Mexico’s Great Plains grasslands and oak or pinon-juniper woodlands.  It has contorted, white, chalky-textured spines and large, magenta flowers that bloom only after the cactus reaches 4-5 years of age.

Commenting

The Service is requesting comments or information on both proposals.  Comments must be received on or before March 7, 2017 and can be submited by one of the following methods:

  1. Electronically:  Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal:  http://www.regulations.gov.  In the Search box, enter FWS–R2–ES–2016–0119 (for Gypsum wild-buckwheat) or FWS–R2–ES–2016–0137 (for Kuenzler hedgehog cactus), which are the docket numbers for the rulemakings.  Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document.  You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  2. By hard copy:  Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to:  Public Comments Processing, Attn:  FWS–R2–ES–2016–0119 (for the wild-buckwheat) or FWS–R2–ES–2016–0137 (for the cactus); U.S. Fish & Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803

More information on these plants at: https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/NewMexico/NR_GWBKHC.cfm

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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