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A Utah perennial plant is listed as endangered

Published August 13, 2013 6:08 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Another native Utah plant, a perennial herb with orange flowers clinging to survival in Washington County, has been listed as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined Gierisch mallow, or Sphaeralcea gierischii, faces enough threats from gypsum mining and motorized recreation to warrant protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to a rule posted Tuesday on the Federal Register.

This rare mallow is found only on gypsum outcrops associated with the upper limestone layer of the Kaibab Formation in Washington County and the adjacent Mohave County in Arizona. Gierisch mallow was named a distinct species of Sphaeralcea in 2002 when scientists distinguished it from Rusby's globemallow because of its larger flowers and smooth leaves.

Fish and Wildlife also designated 12,822 acres of critical habitat straddling the state line where Interstate 15 crosses it. These lands, which are mostly federally owned, are home to 18 known populations, only one of which is north of the border.

The Utah portion is 2,149 acres, sandwiched between the freeway and the Virgin River a few miles to the west. Scientists estimate the Utah population size between 5,000 and 8,000 plants.

Other factors in the mallow's decline are grazing and the spread of invasive non-native plants.

The critical habitat designation will not shut down mining on these lands, but will require the Bureau of Land Management to consult with Fish and Wildlife to develop conservation measures before authorizing new development.

An economic-impact analysis concluded that such consultations would not reduce gypsum mining in the area, although they will likely lead to stronger reclamation requirements.

bmaffly@sltrib.com