Department of the Interior
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
2493 Portola Road, Suite B
Ventura, California 93003
Phone: 805/644-1766
Fax: 805/644-3958

SC,G 99-27
Refer: Diane Steeck or Jane Hendron, Ventura, California -805/644-1766
May 25, 1999


The Ventura marsh milk-vetch, a plant species thought to be extinct until its recent re-discovery in Ventura County, has been proposed for Federal listing as an endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.

In 1997, a Service biologist discovered a population of 374 plants on less than one acre of privately owned Ventura County beach dune that was used for disposal of oil field wastes in the past. The imminent threats to the plants are a proposed clean-up of the contaminated soil, and a proposed housing development on the site.

Due to its small population size, the Ventura marsh milk-vetch is also vulnerable to extinction as a result of disease or prolonged drought, which could destroy the last wild population.

The milk-vetch, a perennial member of the pea family with silvery-haired leaves and clusters of yellowish or cream-colored flowers, hadn't been seen since 1967, when a single plant was taken from the wild in Oxnard. It was presumed extinct until its discovery at the Ventura County dune in 1997. A 1998 count showed the plants numbered fewer than 200 individuals.

Its historic range included coastal Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange counties, but places it was previously found, such as the Ballona wetlands and Santa Monica, have been radically altered and the plant has not been seen in these areas for nearly a century.

The California Department of Fish and Game currently is working with the Service collecting seed from the remaining plants in order to establish new populations. In February, California officials accepted a petition to list the Ventura marsh milk-vetch as endangered, making it a candidate for listing under state law.

"Native plants are important for their ecological, economic, and aesthetic values," said Anne Badgley, Regional Director of the Service's Pacific Region. "Plants play an important role in the development of crops that resist disease, insects, and drought and in the development of prescription drugs."

At least 25 percent of prescription drugs contain ingredients derived from plant compounds, including medicine used to treat cancer, heart disease, juvenile leukemia, and malaria, as well as that used to assist organ transplant recipients. Plants are also used to develop natural pesticides.

The Endangered Species Act does not prohibit destroying listed plants on private land, but landowners must comply with state laws protecting imperiled plants. Consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service come into play for private and other landowners when Federal funding or permits are required for activities that may affect listed species.

The Service invites the public to comment on this proposal until July 26, 1999. All comments should be sent to the Field Supervisor, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, California 93003.

A complete description of the Service's proposal to list this species as endangered was published in the Federal Register on May 25, 1999.

# # #

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprising more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 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 wildlife agencies.