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Habitat plan for rare plant in Riverside County called inadequate

April 25, 2013|By Louis Sahagun
  • The endangered Munz's onion is a perennial bulb with bright white flowers. An environmental group says a designated habitat near Lake Elsinore is too small.
The endangered Munz's onion is a perennial bulb with bright white… (Sally Brown/U.S. Fish and…)

An environmental group has warned that a federal agency’s plan to designate 98.4 acres as critical habitat for an endangered plant in western Riverside County is inadequate and could result in the extinction of the species.

In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this month designated the small area just west of Lake Elsinore as critical habitat for Munz’s onion.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also rejected the center’s request for it to protect habitat for the endangered San Jacinto Valley crownscale, which inhabits portions of the San Jacinto River floodplain near Hemet.

Both plants are threatened by habitat loss due to development, agricultural activities, off-road vehicle use, livestock grazing and clay mining, said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the biological diversity group.

“Because of their tiny ranges and the development pressure there,” Anderson said, “these rare plants could be lost to extinction if they don’t have more critical habitat than this.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that additional critical habitat was not needed because much of the plants’ historic range is within the boundaries of areas already proposed for protection under Western Riverside County’s multiple-species habitat conservation plan.

Anderson, however, pointed out that in 2011, 89 acres of crownscale habitat was bulldozed to create artificial duck ponds within the boundaries of a conservation easement established under the multiple-species habitat conservation plan.

Munz’s onion is a perennial bulb with bright white flowers. It requires heavy clay soils that retain water.

San Jacinto Valley crownscale is a small scrubby plant with shiny grayish leaves. It is relegated to highly alkaline clay soils in floodplains.

“Western Riverside County is the only place on the planet where these plants are found and they are part of our natural heritage,” Anderson said. “Their plight embodies the problems with the ecological health of the region.”

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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