On December 28, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposed rule to reclassify the Tobusch fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus brevihamatus ssp. tobuschii), downlisting the species from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service concluded that, while the Cactus is not in danger of extinction, it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. This proposed rule and the accompanying 12-month finding were precipitated by the same ESA petition, citizen suit, and settlement agreement that compelled the Service’s recent 12-month finding and proposed rule delisting the black-capped vireo.
The cactus is a diminutive plant endemic to the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas. When listed as endangered in 1979, only four sites were known (two of which had been destroyed by floods) and fewer than 200 individuals were observed. Since then, the Service has learned that the riparian sites originally identified were atypical, and a great number of populations have been documented in upland sites. Populations of the species have been confirmed in 105 areas and include over 3,000 individuals. Based on modeling, the Service estimates a total population of about 480,000 individuals. Other reasons underlying the species’ original listing (habitat destruction, altered stream flows, and illegal collection) are now considered to have minimal impact on the species. Yet—due to continued threats from the demographic and genetic consequences of small population sizes and geographic isolation, insect parasitism, feral hog depredation, changes in wildfire cycles and vegetation, and unknown long-term effects of land use changes and climate change—the Service concluded that the species warrants continued listing under the ESA as threatened. The comment period for the proposed rule downlisting the cactus runs through February 27, 2017.
On January 6, 2017, the Service reached 12-month findings and issued proposed rules for three additional species—lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae yerbabuenae) (proposed delisting), Kuenzler hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus fendleri var. kuenzleri) (proposed downlisting), and gypsum wild-buckwheat (Eriogonum gypsophilum) (proposed delisting). Each of these species was included in the same 2016 settlement agreement that drove the Service’s 12-month findings and proposed rules for the Tobusch fishhook cactus and the black-capped vireo.