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It might not make hearts skip a beat like the sight of a Monarch butterfly or gray wolf, but biologists say a rare flowering New Mexico plant nonetheless deserves endangered species protection.
Inclusion of the swale paintbrush is under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the plant historically grew at several Southwestern sites but climate change and excessive grazing have taken their toll.
"We're talking about an extraordinarily arid area in the Bootheel of New Mexico -- it's Chihuahuan Desert -- it's got its own stark beauty," Robinson observed. "But when you see a relatively tall, graceful plant it provides a whole new perspective on the landscape."
He noted the swale paintbrush is one of the rarest plant species in North America. After accepting public comments over the summer about adding the plant to the endangered list, it is now under consideration for inclusion. Should it move forward, the Fish and Wildlife Service will have to develop a recovery plan.
Robinson pointed out the swale paintbrush, also known as the glowing Indian paintbrush, has bright yellowish flowers which produce nectar and support pollinators. Its rarity means not much is known about habitat requirements, but it's generally found in seasonally wet grasslands.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service has had its eye for decades on the need to protect the swale paintbrush, but just always found some reason not to do it," Robinson stressed. "Which is the sad reality for so many imperiled plants and animals that need protection sooner rather than later."
A 2022 study found protections offered by the Endangered Species Act often kick in too late to fully recover declining species. Published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers found over the past three decades, species remained on waiting lists for protection far longer than the Endangered Species Act intends.