Center for Biological Diversity | www.biologicaldiversity.org
On Monday, September 30th the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted Endangered Species Act protection to two highly imperiled cactuses found in northern and southern Arizona. Protection for the Acuña cactus and Fickeisen plains cactus results from a 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity requiring the agency to speed protection decisions for 757 species across the country. The Center had originally petitioned for protection for the two cactuses in 2004.
“These small Arizona cactuses face really big threats, but the powerful protection of the Endangered Species Act is the best safety net to ensure their survival,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center.
The Acuña cactus is found in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, while the Fickeisen plains cactus is found in Coconino, Mohave and Navajo counties. The rare cactuses have been on a waiting list for federal protection for many years — 32, in the case of the Fickeisen plains cactus. The plants face severe threats, including drought, climate change, border-enforcement activities, off-road vehicle use and livestock grazing.
The Acuña cactus lives in Sonoran desert-scrub habitat including at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It grows to 16 inches tall and has rose, pink or lavender flowers. It is threatened by drought, climate change, off-road driving for border law-enforcement activities, and competition from nonnative plants. During the recent drought period, mammals seeking water have uprooted and killed large numbers of this rare plant. The Acuña cactus was identified as being in need of federal protection in 1990.
The tiny Fickeisen plains cactus features a gorgeous, yellow-and-white flower and grows to a height of less than 3 inches. It has been on a waiting list for federal protection since 1980. It is threatened by drought, livestock grazing and exotic species. It grows only on exposed layers of Kaibab limestone on the Colorado Plateau.
Last fall the agency proposed more than 100,000 acres (161 square miles) of critical habitat for the plants, and the final rule protecting the habitat is expected to be published later this year.
In 2011 the Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service reached a settlement to speed protections for all the species on the candidate waiting list as of 2010 and for a host of other species that had been petitioned for protection. To date a total of 113 species have been protected under the agreement, including the two cactuses, and another 62 have been proposed for protection.
Curry stated, “When even cactuses are struggling to survive in the Arizona desert, it’s a wakeup call that the United States must take immediate action to address the very real threat climate change poses across our country”.