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Meetings will outline rare-plant impacts

Jackson and Josephine County residents are about to be given a tutorial on the potential impacts of creating critical habitat in the area for two rare plants.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold an informational meeting in Cave Junction and another in Medford next week to brief residents on possible critical habitat proposals for the large-flowered woolly meadowfoam and Cook's desert parsley, both federally listed as endangered.

The sessions will include information on how critical habitat may affect landowners, said Phil Carroll, the department spokesman in Portland.

As the result of a lawsuit filed in 2007 by an Arizona-based endangered species watchdog group, the agency has agreed to designate critical habitat for the meadowfoam found in the Agate Desert and the parsley, also known as Cook's lomatium, which grows in the Agate Desert and the Illinois Valley. Neither plant is found anywhere else in the world.

Under the settlement, the agency has until summer 2010 to complete critical habitat designations.

"We want to meet with some of the local landowners and people who use the areas where these plants are found," Carroll said, noting the sessions will include briefings on the plants and the lawsuit.

"Critical habitat is a designation that is aimed at federal agencies," he added. "It really only affects actions authorized or carried out by a federal agency, or anything that happens on federal land. If it is on private land, there would have to be federal access or connection with a federal action, such as a permit or grant."

Under such a designation, private landowners would have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service only when they needed federal funding or permits for activities that might affect the listed species, officials said.

The first meeting will be held June 24 at the Junction Inn, 406 S. Redwood Highway, Cave Junction. The second session is set for June 25 in the federal agency office at 3040 Biddle Road, Medford. Both meetings will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The formal complaint was lodged in 2007 by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. The group charged the agency with failure to establish critical habitat designation for the plants as required under the Endangered Species Act after the plants were listed as endangered in 2002.

The act specifically requires that critical habitat be designated for all federally listed species, said a spokesman for the center. An analysis by the center has determined that setting aside critical habitat, followed by a recovery plan, triples a species' ability to survive, he said.

The plants are threatened by urban growth, off-road vehicle abuse, non-native species and destruction of wetlands. The historic range of the plants — 32,000 acres for the lomatium and 20,000 acres for the meadowfoam — has dramatically shrunk over the years, he said.

The settlement calls for the agency to propose critical habitat for the lomatium and meadowfoam by July 15 of this year, then finalize the habitat designation by the following July.

The meadowfoam's habitat is largely the same as the seasonal wetlands known as "vernal pools" inhabited by the rare fairy shrimp already federally listed as threatened. Most of the meadowfoam grows on land owned by The Nature Conservancy, which manages its land to benefit native species. The parsley can be found in the vernal pools as well as wetlands on private land and U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in the Illinois Valley, officials said.

Any proposal the agency comes up with will incorporate all laws pertaining to wetlands, they noted. The agency also will review any management plans for public lands where the plants are found.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in May 2000 had recommended the two rare plants be protected. The state of Oregon already listed both plants as endangered, but state law only protects plants on publicly owned lands.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Cook's desert parsley Photo from Oregon Department of Agriculture