U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE LISTS
VENTURA COUNTY PLANT AS ENDANGERED
The Ventura marsh milk-vetch, a plant once thought to be extinct,
is being listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act,
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. Until its
rediscovery by a Service biologist in 1997, the species had
not been seen since a single plant was collected in 1967.
The Ventura milk-vetch (Astragalus pycnostachyus var.lanosissimus)
is a perennial member of the pea family with silvery-haired
leaves and clusters of yellowish or cream-colored flowers. The
only known population of the plant is located on less than one
acre of privately owned beach dune in Ventura County that has
historically been used for oil field waste disposal. When the
species was rediscovered in 1997, 374 plants were counted at
the site. In 1998, the population declined to fewer than 200
plants and has continued downward since.
"It was very exciting to find this population of a plant
that was thought to be extinct," said Michael J. Spear,
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's California/Nevada Operations
manager. "But it is clear that the situation is precarious.
We believe it clearly warrants protection under the Endangered
Species Act." Imminent threats to the plants 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 also vulnerable to extinction by natural events,
competition from nonnative plant and animal species, and from
disease or prolonged drought.
The milk-vetch's historic range included coastal Ventura, Los
Angeles, and possibly Orange counties. It was once found in
the Ballona wetlands and in Santa Monica, but it has not been
found at these locations for nearly a century.
The California Department of Fish and Game -- which listed the
Ventura marsh milk-vetch as endangered in April 2000 -- is working
with the Service to collect seed from the remaining plants to
establish new populations. This method of conserving native
plants is experimental and it is not known how successful it
will be at establishing a new population.
The Service proposed to list the Ventura marsh milk-vetch as
an endangered species on May 25, 1999. A complete description
of the Service's final rule to list this species as endangered
will be published in the Federal Register.
The Service made this final listing decision consistent with
the terms of the settlement of a lawsuit filed against the Service
by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Endangered Species Act does not prohibit "take"
of listed plants on private lands, but landowners must comply
with state laws protecting imperiled plants. Consultations with
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are necessary for private
and other landowners only when federal funding or permits are
required for activities that may affect listed species.
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, as well that used to
assist organ transplants. Plants are also used to develop natural
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal
agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing
fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing
benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre
National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than
535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and
other special management areas. It also operates 70 national
fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices 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 fish and wildlife agencies.