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Proposal designates habitat for two species

More than 11,000 acres in Jackson and Josephine counties, nearly three-fourths in private hands, have been proposed as critical habitat to protect rare plants by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The proposal announced Tuesday would designate 11,038 acres of land as critical habitat for large-flowered woolly meadowfoam (Limnanthes floccosa ssp. grandiflora) and Cook's lomatium, also known as Cook's desert parsley (Lomatium cookii).

Federally listed as endangered plants, the plants are found nowhere else in the world. The woolly meadowfoam grows in the Agate Desert area while the desert parsley occurs both on the Agate Desert and the French Flat area of the Illinois Valley.

Roughly half of the proposed acreage is already protected from development as critical habitat for fairy shrimp, another protected species. A 60-day public comment period on the proposal ends Sept. 28.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing only those areas considered to contribute to the conservation and recovery of these endangered native plants," said Paul Henson, the agency's state supervisor, in a prepared statement.

The proposal to designate the critical habitat is the result of a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. The group alleged that the agency had failed 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 agency in May 2000 had recommended the two rare plants be protected.

The state of Oregon already listed both plants as endangered, but state law protects plants only on publicly owned lands.

Under the settlement, the agency has until mid-summer of 2010 to complete critical-habitat designations, said Phil Carroll, the agency spokesman in Portland.

When private land is listed as critical habitat, 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, he said.

"Areas can be excluded if the economic impact is too great," Carroll said of the economic consequences outweighing the benefits of creating the critical habitat. "We will be preparing an economic analysis of creating the critical habitat designation."

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