New Protection Sought For Rare Alaska Flower

Alaska Beacon
An environmental group is seeking Endangered Species Act protections for a rare flower found only in a mountainous area of Alaska’s Bering Strait region where expanded mining is being planned.
The Center for Biological Diversity on Thursday filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking an endangered or threatened listing for the Alaskan glacier buttercup. The flower is found only in the Kigluaik Mountains of Western Alaska’s Seward Peninsula, and there are fewer than 20 known occurrences of the plant on seven scree slopes in those mountains, the petition said.

An Alaskan glacier buttercup. (Photo by Rob Lipkin)

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must take immediate action to ensure the survival of this unique and special Arctic plant for its contribution to global biodiversity and for future generations,” the petition said.
The Alaskan glacier buttercup faces an “existential” threat from climate change, which is disrupting the habitat through warming temperatures, increased precipitation and more extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, the petition said.
More immediately, the Alaskan glacier buttercup is threatened by the proposed Graphite One mine and its planned access road, the petition said.
The Biden administration has supported the Graphite One project through a $37.5 million grant from the Department of Defense. The mine, if developed, would provide a domestic supply of graphite, a critical mineral that is mostly produced in China.
That and other possible mine development is troubling, said Cooper Freeman, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Alaska representative. “This small but rugged plant is an example of what we stand to lose if we allow the Arctic to be torn up and bisected by huge mines and haul roads,” he said in a statement.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to decide whether there is enough information to justify a listing evaluation, according to the Endangered Species Act. If there is a positive finding at that point, the service is to decide within 12 months of receiving the petition whether a listing is warranted, according to the law.
The Alaskan glacial buttercup population is considered by experts to be a distinct subspecies. Different populations of glacier buttercups are found in a few other high-latitude or high-altitude sites in the world. Those include Finland’s Lapland region, where the plant has been designated as endangered and granted special protections because of Arctic climate change, and Greenland.
There is currently only one Alaska plant that is designated as an endangered species: the Aleutian shield fern, which grows in rocky terrain on Adak Island. That fern was listed because of its rarity and because of risks that the few existing plants may be wiped out by unexpected events like rockslides or trampled by the island’s non-native population of caribou.
A previous petition to list Southeast Alaska’s yellow-cedar population as endangered or threatened was denied by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2019. That petition was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups. The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that yellow-cedars, though experiencing a die-off related to climate change and facing other stresses, were not in danger of being wiped out.

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