Rare Plant Living In Southern Oregon Sand Dunes May Soon Be Protected Under Endangered Species Act

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A rare plant that grows in the coastal dunes of southern Oregon may soon be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

This week, the US Fish and Wildlife Service made an official proposal to protect the sand dune phacelia, which is now only found in Coos and Curry counties as well as Del Norte County in Northern California. The agency is also seeking to designate 252 acres in these areas as critical habitat for the species.

“This is encouraging progress for this beautiful plant,” Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “The sand dune phacelia simply cannot survive without the protections of the Endangered Species Act. This proposal is a hopeful and long-awaited step to ensure that this species does not go extinct.

Sand dune phacelia, a member of the forget-me-not family of flowering plants that grows to about 18 inches in height, is in decline for several reasons. The Center for Biological Diversity cites all-terrain vehicles, invasive species like European beach grass and gorse, climate change and rising sea levels. Its small population size makes it even more susceptible to these stressors.

The protection of the plant would have an additional advantage: the health of the bees. Scientists have found that the number and variety of bee species in dune vegetation is highest in places where phacelia grows.

With additional protections in place, the plant could begin to thrive as it is well adapted to the harsh coastal environment given its silvery hairs, which keep salt out of its leaves, decrease water loss and reflect excess from light.

The decision to place Phacelia under the Endangered Species Act came after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the US Department of the Interior and the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2020 .

The legal challenge said agencies, particularly the FWS, failed to list species at risk as endangered or threatened in a timely manner, leading to further species decline, increased risk of extinction and a more costly recovery process. At the time the lawsuit was filed, the FWS had a backlog of more than 500 species in limbo, all of which exceeded statutory Endangered Species Act deadlines. Registration decisions must be made within 12 months.

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