2 Colorado wildflowers candidates for protection

The federal government has declared two western Colorado wildflowers to be candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

However, the agency determined the skiff milkvetch and Schmoll’s milkvetch warrant being candidates but can’t be listed for protection because of higher priorities.

Colorado is the only state where the white-flowered plants are found, the groups WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Native Ecosystems said in a news release.

The skiff milkvetch, which gets its name from its boat-shaped fruits, occupies just 83 acres in the sagebrush steppe ecosystem in Gunnison and Saguache counties. Schmoll’s milkvetch has a total of four populations and is found on mesa tops in Mesa Verde National Park and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding, recreation, roads and trails, lack of adequate protective regulations and habitat fragmentation and degradation are the biggest threats to the skiff milkvetch.

It cited as one concern the creation of the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area on some of the plant’s current habitat, which it said will “only serve to draw more users.”

The skiff milkvetch grows near the town of Gunnison, and the fact 25 percent of its entire range is on private lands “makes future development a real threat,” Fish and Wildlife said.

Wildfire-related habitat damage and post-fire cheatgrass infestation that fuels further fires represent the biggest threats to the Schmoll’s milkvetch, the agency said.

Both plants originally were made candidates for listing in 1975 but later were dropped. Conservation groups cite Denver Botanical Gardens monitoring that indicates all populations of the skiff milkvetch may fall below 20 individuals by 2030, making it effectively extinct.

“These two plants have been waiting for legal protection for 35 years. Their future is closing in, as they could go extinct if they languish without federal shields for much longer,” Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians said in a news release.

This week’s Fish and Wildlife action was prompted by a 2007 WildEarth Guardians petition and a 1975 petition by the Smithsonian Institution.


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