When Mike Oetker, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Deputy Regional Director, hiked with biologists from three agencies in the Daniel Boone National Forest, it only took a few minutes to understand why the white-haired goldenrod could be removed from the list of federally protected plants. Where the once-rare Kentucky plant had disappeared just a few years previous, it was now found blooming in abundance. Oetker’s observations have been validated scientifically by Service biologists, demonstrating recovery has been achieved.
The white-haired goldenrod is only found in and under sandstone rock shelters or sandstone cliffs with overhanging ledges in the Red River Gorge region of eastern Kentucky. When it was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1988, primary threats included loss of habitat due to recreational activities, a proposed reservoir project, and vegetation changes in surrounding forests. There are also no state laws protecting rare plants in Kentucky.
Following the ESA listing, the Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission and the Service went to work researching its needs, reducing or eliminating primary threats, protecting and maintaining habitat, and regularly monitoring populations.
“Inspired by the ESA listing of the goldenrod, it was clear from the start that biologists and leaders from the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, the U.S. Forest Service and the Service were completely committed solving this challenge,” said Oetker. “This is just the latest example among many of how the ESA supports partnerships that benefit not only America’s natural heritage but healthy environments that local communities need.”
“Restoring populations of threatened and endangered species, especially those with an extremely limited range, takes serious commitment and dedication from everyone involved,” said Tony Tooke, Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region. “We’re pleased this partnership has allowed the white-haired goldenrod to not only bounce back but also thrive.”
The 1993 Recovery Plan for the goldenrod detailed that delisting would be considered when 40 geographically distinct, self-sustaining occurrences are adequately protected and have been maintained for 10 years. There are now a total of 46 such occurrences in the Daniel Boone National Forest, exceeding recovery goals.
The Service’s final decision to delist the white-haired goldenrod follows a comprehensive science-based review conducted by Service biologists using the best available scientific and commercial information about its status as required by the ESA.
The white-haired goldenrod is the 20th species to be removed from the ESA in the past eight years due to recovery, more than all other administrations combined.
On August 29, 2016, the Service finalized a cooperative management agreement with the Daniel Boone National Forest and Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission that provides additional long-term protection for the goldenrod. The management agreement outlines conservation actions that will benefit the plant and will remain in place after it is delisted. Additionally, the Service is publishing a post-delisting monitoring plan in conjunction with the final rule to safeguard its recovery for the future. The Daniel Boone National Forest and Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission will be the primary entities conducting the monitoring.
The ESA not only works to protected species threatened with extinction, it inspires countless conservation efforts on behalf of imperiled wildlife and landscapes before federal protections are required.
“We’ve worked closely with states, private landowners, conservation groups and businesses in the Southeast to proactively conserve imperiled wildlife so ESA protections are not needed, and to be in a position to effectively restore and delist them when they are,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “As a result of these efforts, more than 75 imperiled species were proactively conserved so they didn’t require the ESA.”