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U.S. proposes protections for rare thistle in New Mexico

SILVER CITY, N.M. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list a rare plant that was once found in the American Southwest and Mexico as a threatened species.

The agency outlined its intentions in Tuesday’s Federal Register. Aside from adding the Wright’s marsh thistle to the list of imperiled species, 159 acres spanning five southern New Mexico counties would be set aside as critical habitat. The land is a mix of federal, state, municipal, tribal and private ownership.

The thistle used to be found in southern Arizona and parts of Mexico. It’s now in just eight separate locations in southern New Mexico.

The listing proposal comes after the Center for Biological Diversity notified the agency of its intent to sue in 2019 over delayed protection for the plant and hundreds of other species.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity said the thistle loves boggy soil but the seeps and springs it depends on are drying up because of climate change. Other threats include grazing, the encroachment of non-native plants and water pumping by municipal and agricultural users.

“With protection, the Wright’s marsh thistle will benefit from a science-based recovery plan, and its remaining habitat on public lands will be off limits to commercial exploitation,” he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also has prepared a draft economic analysis of the proposed designation of critical habitat for the marsh thistle. The public will have 60 days to comment about the proposal and the analysis.