Gierisch mallow: Preservation of a rare flower, should the public care?

The Gierisch mallow | Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

ST. GEORGE – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month that the Geirisch Mallow, a rare desert flower found only in parts of the Arizona Strip, Ariz., and Washington County, Utah, was being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. If approved, an endangered species declaration will likely impact gypsum mining and grazing areas.

The question St. George News asked is: Do those advocating preservation of the flower genuinely care about the flower or are they, rather, opponents of the mines using the flower as a tool?

Interface between plant, gypsum mining and grazing

Recently, the Washington County Commission granted a one-year conditional use permit to Good Earth Minerals for a gypsum mine west of SunRiver St. George. While the mine is not located in an area marked by the FWS as “critical habitat” for the Gierisch Mallow, County Commissioner Alan Gardner said an endangered species ruling may negatively affect the mine in the future.

Gardner said the Good Earth Minerals mine was “OK so far, unless (the government) expands the habitat.”

Described as a tall, wispy, perennial plant with orange flowers, the Gierisch Mallow exists in only 18 known locations in the region – 16 in Arizona and two in Utah – all of which are connected to Gypsum outcrops.

Gypsum mining is a threat to (the Gierisch Mallow) and its habitat,” officials stated in the endangered species proposal.

The largest population of the plant is located in an area of proposed expansion for the Black Rock Gypsum Mine on the Arizona Strip. Though the mine may not expand for another 3-10 years, officials still mark it as a potential danger to the plant.

Another area, where the plant is present, is currently leased for mining by Georgia-Pacific. No active mining is taking place at the moment, but the lease is valid for another 14 years. Georgia-Pacific could prepare for mining operations at any time.

Details on the general location of of Gierisch Mallow populations and where proposed areas of critical habitat will be designated | Graphic courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Grazing is also a concern as the cattle could trample everything underfoot. The proposal states that while the cattle may not typically feed on the plant, the possibility remains. Other factors potentially threatening the plant include illegal use of off-highway vehicles, target shooting, trash dumping and invasive species like cheat grass and red brome.

If the Gierisch Mallow is classified as an endangered species, 12,822 acres in Washington County and Mohave County, Ariz., will be designated as critical habitat for the plant. Both the Black Rock expansion and Georgia-Pacific gypsum mine are located in the proposed areas. If additional populations of the Gierisch Mallow are discovered, the land surrounding them could also be designated as critical habitat in the future.

“It’s a big concern to us,” Gardner said; whether or not the endangered species proposal goes through “depends on the outcome of the (presidential) election.”

He said he didn’t see the government paying much attention to any public input against the proposal. Gardner cited the 20-year moratorium placed on uranium mining in the Arizona Strip earlier this year as an example of the government appeasing environmental activists over listening to the public.

The Gierisch Mallow is one of 251 plants and animals being considered for threatened or endangered status, Gardner said, due to a court settlement between environmental groups and the FWS in 2011. Among the 251 candidate-species, 10 exist in Utah.

“They hijacked the Endangered Species Act,” Gardner said, and compared the proposal and others like it to a federal land-grab prompted by environmentalists-backed litigation. The public was never involved, he said.

Wild Earth Guardians, the group that settled a series of lawsuits with the FWS in 2011, doesn’t see it that way.

From the other side of the fence, species preservation

“We aren’t hijacking the Endangered Species Act,” said Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate with Wild Earth Guardians. “We asked the federal government to follow their own laws.”

The FWS is supposed to look at endangered species petitions within a certain amount of time, Jones said, but the agency was dragging its feet. “Some candidates have been on the list for 30 years,” she said.

The Guardians launched a series of lawsuits against the FWS, which were settled in 2011. The settlement declared that federal officials must review nearly 700 species petitions and make a final decision on 251 particular species by Sept. 30, 2016.  A reason given for the FWS “dragging its feet” was because of a backlog of petitions and not enough manpower to devote time to reviewing them all.

The Guardians alone had submitted over 700 petitions, as well as numerous court petitions. For its part, the group is not allowed to file any new lawsuits and is limited as an organization to 10 species-petitions per year until after 2016.

The Guaridans would not have filed so many petitions and lawsuits if “the federal government was doing its job,” Jones said.

The Gierisch Mallow, which was not recognized as a “unique and independent species” until 2002, was included in the settlement.

However, not everyone is a species advocate, or an environmentalist, so the question was asked – why should people care about the protecting of the desert plant?

“We have an ethical duty and responsibility to preserve species,” Jones said. “Humans are the cause of the vast majority of extinctions.”

As the Gierisch Mallow was only just discovered and grew in such a limited area, it warranted protection, Jones said. She wondered how many species had gone undiscovered, only to go extinct without notice.“We’re trying to save the remnants that are left,” she said.

Aside from the Gierisch Mallow, the Wild Earth Guardians are also involved in campaigns in Utah related to the Gila monster and prairie dog.

The public can still act

Whether members of the public are for or against the Gierisch Mallow being listed under the Endangered Species Act, their objections or suggestions can still be sent to the FWS for review and consideration.

Written comments and information concerning the proposal can be submitted by one of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS-R2-ES-2012-0049].
  • The public may also mail comments to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS-R2-ES-2012-0049]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
  • Comments must be received on or before Oct.16, 2012. The FWS will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The FWS does not accept email or faxes.
  • Requests for public hearings must be received within 45 days, in this case: on or before Oct. 1, 2012.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

11 Comments

  • Karen September 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    The next time you visit Snow Canyon State Park and have to look at the garish monster homes of the Ledges sitting at the edge of the otherwise beautiful vista, you can thank Alan Gardner of the Washington County Commission. You can also thank him and Utah Congressional delegation (except Jim Matheson) for making the trail above the Park impossible for families to enjoy.

    The land where the Ledges now sits used to belong to Snow Canyon State Park. Mr. Gardner got federal legislation passed to “trade” that prime land so the Ledges developer could sell nice views of the Park. In addition, that “trade” made what would have been a family-friendly and scenic trail above the Park turn into a goat path that dips and winds underneath the edge and it almost impossible to negotiate.

    Alan Gardner speaks for developers, not the people of Washington County.

  • Ron September 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Protecting the environment results in a long-term economic benefit for the area. The environment is what brings vacationers and retirees here. Gypsum mines benefit a few, mainly corporate interests from elsewhere who own the mines along with a handful of local employees. Protecting the environment benefits everyone and leads to the creation of more small businesses and more jobs. Alan Gardner is willing to destroy the area to benefit the few and reap a short-term financial gain. Sure, it’s easy to make fun of those who want to protect a single species like the Gierisch mallow, but that single species is just one in a long list of plants and animals that make up the environment most (I hope) residents of this beautiful area love and appreciate.

    • Dsull September 10, 2012 at 7:43 am

      “Gypsum mines benefit a few, mainly corporate interests from elsewhere who own the mines along with a handful of local employees.”

      First off, Building has relied on gypsum for over 100 years. If you live in a home you have benefited from gypsum. The relativity low cost is not a huge money maker, but with the push to end coal burning power plants, and the switching to other power sources has brought the benefit of mining back. Would you still be mad about the mine if it were locally owned? I am not saying that I particularly approve of the mine being opened south of my home, but to do so with your argument is very short sighted. I am not against anyone making money, as long as I don’t have to lower my quality of life. I’m more worried about sound and air pollution, which if are addressed, I could care less about their mining.

      I do feel that closing off area’s that I have hiked and traveled in, area’s that support our local agricultural economy because of some weed are about as dumb as it gets. The focus on saving species is in general a good one, but what is the benefit to humanity, what vital support does this plant give to the ecosystem. Does it have any value other than being rare? Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it’s worth saving.

  • drizzle September 8, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Its a weed

  • Tyler September 8, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Alan Gardner destroyed all the hillsides in the valley-the worst being the severely scarred, black hill along and above Bluff St. Another eyesore is the majestic red hills north of Snow Canyon Pkwy between Bluff and Dixie Downs Rd.. I feel that at the least, if those hills had to be urbanized, there should have been a building code enforced of salmon or red colored stucco and rooftops to somewhat blend in with the red cliffs. Instead, the large homes on that hillside are gray, white even olive green and some have black rooftops.
    Just a matter of time until Mr. Greedy Gardner sells more chunks of Snow Canyon to subdivisions and mormon churches!

  • Tyler September 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Every native plant species should be protected and respected in our unique area where the Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau and Great Basin all converge together. Not many places can you find such plant and scenery diversity due to elevation and climate contrast in such a small geographical area. What interests me is how plants are indicators of elevation…When you see Creosote bushes or mesquite trees (both native to the St. George Valley), you know you’re in low elevation (3000 ft, and below) and when you see sagebrush and juniper trees, you’re above 3000 ft. and can recieve significant snow fall. Every plant and animal species in the area are as unique as the geography here. Enjoy. Respect.

  • Livvy September 9, 2012 at 1:52 am

    Our desert environment is harsh enough that we are already living on the edge of habitability. We should be fighting to protect what nature has evolved to survive here. Allowing the Geirisch Mallow to be added to the accelerated list of extinct species brings us all just a little closer to hearing our own species’ death knell. I hope everyone who appreciates our natural desert beauty will vote to protect it in November.

  • Bebo September 9, 2012 at 5:09 am

    And yet, he keeps getting elected.

  • Presto September 9, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Bebo, what is Gardner’s history? I see he only cares about Governent Agencies considering public input when it supports his bias. He cared naught for public sentiment from SunRiver which generates tens of millions of dollars to the local economy. Does he take contributions from Good Earth Minerals?

  • Sean September 10, 2012 at 8:50 am

    It has always amazed me how the love of a plant can triumph over the love of ones fellow man. The usual reply after this is but! but! but!….
    I call these individuals enviro-motionalists instead of environmentalists because they base their arguments on their emotions instead of using logic and reason.
    In this case we should be looking to protect and “enhance” our environment. This would best be done by those who have worked the land and understand the best ways to better the land. This would be ranchers and farmers and miners. (I believe Mr. Gardener’s background is in ranching. He understands with a first hand knowledge what it takes to take care of the land.)
    We live in a desert. If it is left to its own devices it will become a wasteland. If we treat it well and cultivate it, it will flourish. The precious mallow that should be protected will not disappear if there is mining or grazing on the effected land. In fact, it probably was grazing that enhanced and grew the area available for the plant to grow. (By the way, there are collections of this plant at Dixie College that date back to 1978.)
    Most people believe that mining destroys the land. What they don’t know is that every mining plan comes with an extensive reclamation plan. This “enhances” the land from what it originally was. Even in the petition report it said that, after reclamation had occurred on the mining property, the mallow was already coming back. It had not wiped it out like all seem to think.
    If we are all so concerned about this plant, then why don’t we spend money collecting the seeds and replanting them instead of spending the money on biased reports and lawyers.
    Among all of the clamor from the Sun River community, I have yet to hear any outcries of destroying the environment when a new house is being built. No one seems to complain about the dust. No one is worried about the precious micro-biotic crust that is pushed aside.
    It must be because these people are content in their air conditioning, not concerned for those that sweat all day in the heat and dust, working the land for the betterment of their lives and community.
    I challenge any of these “enviromotionalists” to get off their sofas and go out and improve the land they say they love. Don’t just squawk about protecting it.

  • Murat September 10, 2012 at 11:42 am

    The technocrats have arrived at a point where every expression of DNA on the planet could be completely wiped out, and it could all be replaced with an unimaginably glorious biosphere. Many would call it Heaven. “God’s creation” would look like a cruel, demented joke in comparison. The enabling technologies are genetic engineering, DNA/XNA fabrication, tissue culture, genetic algorithms and supercomputing.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.