ST. GEORGE — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting five-year status reviews for 22 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including four native to Southern Utah and northern Arizona.
The species under review include the Siler pincushion cactus, Gierisch mallow, Sentry milk-vetch and Southwestern willow flycatcher, according to a notice published by the Federal Register. Fish and Wildlife is seeking additional information for each species.
Southwestern willow flycatcher
The birds are best known for their “fitz-bew call,” according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They primarily live in riparian habitats — vegetation-rich areas along the edges of water bodies, such as the Virgin River. They nest in areas dense with cottonwood and willow trees.
“The bird serves as an indicator of this unique landscape, where water is so crucial,” the conservation service stated. “It’s the lifeblood of the desert southwest with hundreds of species depending on it for survival. Lush vegetation surrounding rivers and streams in this region harbor hundreds of different wildlife species, rivaling the Amazon’s rainforests in biodiversity.”
The flycatcher was initially listed as endangered in 1995, primarily due to habitat loss and degradation. Its status was last reviewed in 2017, with Fish and Wildlife finding that the birds were still at risk of extinction due to invasive plant species, altered stream flows, tamarisk leaf beetles and wildfire — all of which could be exacerbated by the impact of climate change, according to the finding.
“We find that cumulative impacts of multiple stressors are a threat to the flycatcher, and that this threat is likely to continue at the same level or increase into the foreseeable future,” Fish and Wildlife wrote.
Flycatchers will nest in invasive trees and shrubs like tamarisks and Russian olives, the Natural Resources Conservation Service stated.
“Efforts to control non-native species can be detrimental to flycatchers, especially if those plants are removed in places lacking in suitable native riparian habitat,” according to the conservation service.
In 2008, Fish and Wildlife joined local partners to monitor the species and launch recovery efforts, St. George News reported. Between 2008 and 2014, the number of successful nesting territories in Washington County jumped from eight to 13.
In 2022 and 2023, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reported seven territories in Southern Utah, Southern Region outreach manager Adam Kavalunas told St. George News.
Siler pincushion cactus
These perennial cactuses can be found year-round in gypsum-rich and sandy soils in Southern Utah and northern Arizona, like those at the White Dome Nature Preserve in St. George. The globe-shaped cactuses can grow up to 10 inches and produce yellow flowers in March or April, St. George News reported.
Siler pincushion cactuses were first listed as endangered in 1979 and were later downlisted to threatened in 1993. The species was last reviewed in 2018, with Fish and Wildlife recommending no change. While the Bureau of Land Management made “significant efforts to conserve the cactus,” reducing or eliminating threats to the species, much of its range is located on private, state and tribal lands.
About 10% of the plants were in Utah, where the cactuses are at risk from urban development and natural events.
“We think the most significant remaining threats to the cactus throughout its range are drought and natural predation,” the finding stated. “The long-term status of this species could also be affected by regional climate change, especially if frequency and duration of dry periods increase.
“It is possible that increased drought throughout the range of the cactus could cause declines in populations; however, we cannot predict the severity of the droughts and whether or not they will actually affect these arid-environment plants.”
However, certain risks have been reduced or eliminated since the previous review, such as off-highway vehicle use and the Lake Powell pipeline, Fish and Wildlife biologist Brianna Fogelsaud told St. George News. Fogelsaud has been working with Bureau of Land Management staff to gather additional information regarding the outlook of the species.
“What I learned, from my chat with someone at BLM yesterday was that the species was quite stable compared to previous years,” she said.
This showy, orange flower is found only in one small area near the Utah-Arizona border in Mohave County, Arizona and Washington County.
It grows in the gypsum-rich rock of the Harrisburg member of the Kaibab Formation, St. George News reported. The species was listed in 2013 due to its limited range and the threat of nearby gypsum mining.
“If they’re confined to a small geographical area, then certain threats are more likely to be affecting the whole range or a large portion of the range,” Fish and Wildlife biologist Jessica Miller said, adding that species that are more widely distributed or have more populations or subpopulations tend to be more resilient comparatively.
Other risk factors include grazing, recreation and invasive grasses, like cheatgrass and redbrome.
Because Gierisch mallows are short-lived perennial plants, they’re responsive to seasonal or annual differences in conditions, such as the amount of rainfall, Miller told St. George News.
“On wet years, they’re going to do really well and dry years not as well, and they respond pretty quickly,” she said.
Fish and Wildlife has nearly completed a species status assessment that will help inform the five-year review. Miller said staff will also complete recovery and monitoring plans to better understand the species’ population trends.
Despite their rarity, Gierisch mallows look remarkably similar to other species in the same genus, like Rusby’s or scarlet globemallows. The flower wasn’t described as a distinct species until 2002.
Sentry milk-vetch is a member of the pea family. The small plant is found only in Grand Canyon National Park, as indicated by its scientific name, cremnophylax, which means “Watchman of the gorge.” It prefers shallow soils near the forest, along the canyon’s rim, on Kaibab limestone.
Because of its small population and limited range, it was deemed highly vulnerable to extinction and listed as endangered in 1990, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The plant received a five-year review in 2018. While Fish and Wildlife recommended it maintain its endangered classification, staff said that “significant progress had been made.”
“We anticipate that in the next 5-year review, if these efforts continue to be successful and research indicates that we have increased the number of sentry milk-vetch populations that we could make a recommendation to downlist or delist, as appropriate per the criteria in the recovery plan,” Fish and Wildlife stated.
Miller concurred that downlisting is possible if the review finds the data supports it.
“Grand Canyon National Park continues to put a lot of effort into the conservation and studying the plant with their monitoring,” she said. “And they found new populations or subpopulations in the last few years, which is saying good things about the future of the plant.”
Fish and Wildlife is collaborating with the park and the University of Nevada in Las Vegas to analyze population data. Miller said the agency also plans to “tweak” its recovery plan and draft a monitoring plan.
How five-year status reviews work
Fish and Wildlife reviews species to ensure they “continue to have the appropriate level of protection.”
“A five-year review utilizes the best available scientific and commercial data on a species to determine whether its status has changed since the time of its listing or its last status consideration,” according to the agency.
Outcomes of these reviews include reclassifying listed species to endangered or threatened, delisting them or maintaining their current classification, Fish and Wildlife stated.
However, a separate rule-making process, including a public comment period, would be required before any changes are made.
Fish and Wildlife is currently requesting additional information. This could include data regarding biology, population trends, disturbances, habitat conditions and conservation measures undertaken to benefit the species.
“Any new information will be considered during the 5-year status review and will also be useful in evaluating the ongoing recovery programs for the species,” Fish and Wildlife stated, adding that information should be submitted with documentation, such as maps, bibliographic references, methods used for data collection and analyses, and copies of publications, reports and other sources.
Southern Utahns can submit comments or questions until Feb. 26 by contacting U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Arizona Ecological Services Office at 602-242-0210, via email or by sending comments to 9828 North 31st Ave., No. C3, Phoenix, Arizona, 85051-2517.
“However, we will continue to accept new information about any listed species at any time,” the agency added.
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