Service proposes to list rare Virgin Islands plant, designate critical habitat
The marron bacora (Solanum conocarpum), a rare, tropical plant native to the Virgin Islands, is in decline. There are only seven remaining populations on the island of St. John in the United States Virgin Islands, with limited numbers of individuals in each. Of these seven populations, all but one occurs within the boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park. A population discovered by staff from the Royal Botanic Gardens (KEW) in 2018 on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, extended the species’ range.
After a review of the best available scientific and commercial information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) finds that Solanum conocarpum is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range. Therefore, the Service finds that listing the plant as an endangered species is warranted and proposes to grant protections to the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service is also proposing to designate approximately 2,550 acres as critical habitat for Solanum conocarpum on the island of St. John.
“Species like Solanum conocarpum, that are found only in limited parts of one or two Caribbean islands deserve special conservation attention,” said the Service’s Regional Director, Leopold Miranda. “Fortunately, we have many wonderful partnerships throughout the Caribbean, working hard to preserve and protect their natural heritage like Solanum conocarpum.”
Historic habitat destruction and modification have fragmented the distribution of populations, possibly contributing to a lack of genetic exchange between them. Of the seven remaining populations on St. John, three are in the northern part of the island (at Base Hill, Brown Bay Trail and Brown Bay Ridge) and four are in the southern part of the island (at Nanny Point, Friis Bay, John’s Folly and Reef Bay Trail). Another potential threat to all the occurrences of Solanum conocarpum is the lack of natural recruitment, most likely due to consumption of *Solanum conocarpum*’s fruits by non-native feral animals such as white-tailed deer, goats, pigs and donkeys.
In proposing critical habitat, the Service carefully evaluated the life-history processes of Solanum conocarpum and ensured that areas proposed for critical habitat contain the physical or biological features to support *Solanum conocarpum*’s biological needs. Approximately 2,550 acres are being proposed as critical habitat for the species on the island of St. John, all of which are currently occupied by the plant. This consists of 2,479 acres in Virgin Islands National Park (VINP) and 71 acres of land in private ownership adjacent to VINP.
Establishing critical habitat will raise awareness of the needs of Solanum conocarpum and other imperiled species, 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 is working with other federal, territory, academic and non-profit organizations throughout the species range in order to conserve and recover Solanum conocarpum. There is an intra-governmental agreement between the Service and the National Park Service to propagate and augment the population of Solanum conocarpum in the Brown Bay area within the VINP. In addition, there are agreements with Island Conservation and the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, two non-governmental organizations, for propagation of Solanum conocarpum and establishment of self sustaining populations of the species within the protected lands of the Virgin Islands National Park. The Service is also working with KEW to extend conservation efforts to Tortola and to conduct research on the species’ genetics.
Comments on the proposed rule must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, October 26, 2020.
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Jennifer Koches, public affairs specialist
firstname.lastname@example.org, (843) 300-0424
- Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office
- Critical Habitat
- Endangered Species Act
- Marron Bacora
- US Virgin Islands
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