Including Agave Eggersiana on the federal Endangered Species list got a little closer last week when a federal judge approved a legal agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The legal agreement between federal Fish and Wildlife and the Center was forged in July. It requires Fish and Wildlife to make a decision on whether to include or not to include the species on the endangered list by 2018.
“Now it becomes court enforceable,” said Noah Greenwald, the center’s endangered species director, speaking Monday from the organization’s Phoenix office.
Federal Fish and Wildlife spokesman Lillibeth Serrano could not be reached for comment.
Fish and Wildlife had agreed in September 2010 that Agave eggersiana needed protection, but the agency lacked the resources needed to consider it, Serrano said at the time.
Native to St. Croix, Agave eggersiana is a robust, perennial herb that can grow from 16 to 23 feet tall. Its flowers are large and funnel- or tubular-shaped. The plant is found only on St. Croix, and the Federal Register indicates St. Croix has 450 of the plants growing at various locations around the island. The Center for Biological Diversity notes that about 97 percent of them are on private land and threatened by development.
Agave Eggersiana was included in a list of 757 species that the Center wants protected.
According to a press release from the Center, it wrote listing petitions and/or filed lawsuits to protect the 757 species as part of its decade-long campaign to safeguard 1,000 of America’s most imperiled, least protected species. Spanning every taxonomic group, the species protected by the agreement include 26 birds, 31 mammals, 67 fish, 22 reptiles, 33 amphibians, 197 plants, and 381 invertebrates.
“With approval of the agreement, species from across the nation will be protected,” Greenwald said. “Habitat destruction, climate change, invasive species and other factors are pushing species toward extinction, and this agreement will help turn the tide.”
It’s taken 15 years to get to this point for Agave eggersiana. The local Fish and Wildlife Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department first filed for inclusion of the Agave eggersiana and a plant that grows only on St. John, Solanum conocarpum, on the Endangered Species List in 1996. In 1998, two years after the petition was filed, the federal Fish and Wildlife decided that science supported protection for the plants and promised to make a decision within nine months.
With no decision forthcoming by 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity sued. In 2006, federal Fish and Wildlife decided that neither species should be listed as endangered. The Center for Biological Diversity again filed suit in 2008 challenging federal Fish and Wildlife’s finding. The Solanum conocarpum case was separated from the Agave eggersiana case several years ago.