The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate critical habitat, essential for the survival of four imperiled plants that only grow in the Florida Keys in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties.
Big Pine partridge pea, wedge spurge, sand flax and Blodgett’s silverbush are disappearing from their historical locations. Ongoing habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation stemming from increased human populations are eliminating the natural communities that sustain these plants: pine rocklands, rockland hammocks, and coastal berm habitats. On Big Pine Key, pine rockland habitat is reduced by 44 percent from the historical distribution. In Miami-Dade County, development and agriculture have reduced pine rockland habitat by 90 percent.
“Critical habitat helps focus conservation where it is needed most. The proposal would extend Endangered Species Act protection to the habitats that are essential for the survival and recovery of these four Florida Keys plants,” said the Service’s Southeast Regional Director, Leopoldo Miranda-Castro.
Establishing critical habitat will raise awareness of the needs of these plants and focus the efforts of our conservation partners. It also alerts federal agencies that they are required to make special conservation efforts when they work, fund, or permit activities in those areas. The designation will have no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits.
The Service partners with the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Florida to offer programs to protect and expand the population of native plants in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties, the two counties where most of the remaining pine rockland is located. Their Connect to Protect Network is a citizen science program that enlists South Florida residents to plant native plants in order to connect the few remaining isolated fragments of pine rockland, helping pollinators to move between habitat fragments and helping native plants reproduce. To learn more about plants native to other parts of Florida and the U.S., contact other local chapters of the Native Plant Society.
The final listing rule for the Florida Keys plants was published in the Federal Register on September 29, 2016. Big Pine partridge pea, wedge spurge, and sand flax are listed as endangered, and Blodgett’s silverbush is listed as threatened. Designating critical habitat was considered prudent at the time of listing but not determinable because mapping and economic information was insufficient to perform the required analysis of the impacts of the designation. The Service is now moving forward to designate critical habitat as required by the Endangered Species Act. A draft economic analysis that estimates the cost of designating critical habitat for the 4 Florida Keys plants is also being made available with this proposed critical habitat designation. The areas proposed overlap in large part with finalized critical habitat for Key Largo woodrat, American crocodile, Small’s milkpea, Carter’s small-flowered flax, Florida Brickell-bush, and the Florida leafwing and Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterflies.
For more information on the proposed critical habitat for these plants, please visit our FAQs.
The proposed rule will publish in the Federal Register on October 14, 2022. We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other governmental agencies, Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. The Service will accept comments regarding the proposed critical habitat or draft economic analysis that are received or postmarked on or before December 13, 2022. The agency must receive requests for public hearings, in writing by November 28, 2022.
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. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.