Rare Texas Plant Proposed for Addition to Endangered Species List

Prostate milkweed
Photo of Rare Prostate Milkweed Plant. | Image by wildflower.org

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have proposed adding a rare South Texas plant, called prostrate milkweed, to the endangered species list and designating nearly seven hundred acres of land in Texas as critical habitat.

“Prostrate milkweed’s flowers attract and support native pollinators, especially large bees and wasps, and it is a host plant for monarch butterflies,” said Chris Best, a Texas state botanist for the Service, in a press release.

“Unfortunately, this species is negatively impacted by competition from introduced buffelgrass and increased development in its native Tamaulipan shrubland habitat,” Best explained. “Fortunately, prostrate milkweed appears to be very compatible with livestock grazing on rangeland.”

The proposals were made according to available science, which included a species status assessment complete with input from state and academic agencies. The protections included under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would allow the Service to raise awareness about prostrate milkweed and its critical habitat.

The prostrate milkweed is a flowering plant native to northeast Mexico and south Texas.

The land in Starr and Zapata counties that would be protected if classified as critical habitat was chosen based on features essential to preserving milkweed, CBS News reported. Only twenty-four total populations of prostrate milkweed are currently found in both counties and a part of Mexico combined, and nineteen are in low condition.

The first move to protect milkweed under the ESA began in 2007 with a petition created by environmentalists.

One organization that has pushed for the endangered listing is the Center for Biological Diversity, whose lawsuit prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal. The lawsuit was part of an effort to get the Service to make timely decisions regarding hundreds of plant and animal species. Prostrate milkweed was one of thirty-five Texas plants listed in the suit.

“I’m hopeful that Endangered Species Act protection will keep the prostrate milkweed flowering in South Texas for generations to come,” said Center representative Michael Robinson in a press release. “This fascinating plant long ago secured a sunny niche in tough landscapes, but it’s being driven to the edge of extinction by human development. Federal action is crucial.”

The Center pointed to road construction and maintenance and the oil and gas industry as causes of milkweed depletion. Future border wall construction in the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge is another potential threat to the plant. Under ESA protections, critical habitats would be protected from federal action that could prove harmful to the species.

“The prostrate milkweed keeps a low profile and isn’t showy, but it’s been part of the South Texas grasslands and shrublands since time immemorial,” Robinson said. “I’m glad it’ll soon get help to survive and continue supporting pollinating bees and wasps, whose numbers are also declining.”

The rule has been published in the Federal Register, and public comments regarding the matter will be accepted until April 18.

“We encourage the public, academia, federal and state agencies, industry and other stakeholders to review the proposal and provide comments,” the Service’s release expressed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must make a final decision on listing the species and designating its critical habitat within a year.

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