Rare white mountains plant recovers endangered species success story

provided by The US Fish and Wildlife Service

he US Fish and Wildlife Service has removed the Robbins' cinquefoil, a rare plant that was on the brink of extinction just a few years ago, from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. The plant's recovery was aided by the conservation efforts of a partnership among the Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the New England Wild Flower Society.

    A member of the rose family, Robbins' cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana), also called the dwarf cinquefoil, occurs only in the alpine zone of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Prior to receiving Endangered Species Act protection in 1980, the known main population of Robbins' cinquefoil numbered only 3,700 plants. Today the population totals more than 14,000 plants.

    “The successful, dramatic recovery of Robbins' cinquefoil is an example of the power of federal/private partnerships to benefit imperiled plants, fish and wildlife,” said Dr. Mamie A. Parker, regional director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Northeast. “The White Mountain National Forest is committed to protecting this small plant's habitat, the Appalachian Mountain Club is committed to managing habitat and monitoring the population, and the New England Wild Flower Society is committed to successfully propagating plants for reintroduction. All were vital to Robbins' cinquefoil recovery.”

    Robbins' cinquefoil is a small, almost stemless perennial that measures 2 to 4 centimeters in diameter and bears a yellow flower. Flowering generally begins in early June and lasts approximately three weeks.

    Robbins' cinquefoil was threatened by plant collectors and disturbance from hikers along the Appalachian Trail. In 1983, the White Mountain National Forest and the Appalachian Mountain Club rerouted the trail away from the species' critical habitat and built an enclosure to protect the primary population.

    To meet the objectives of the recovery plan for Robbins cinquefoil, the Appalachian Mountain Club undertook the tasks of trail relocation, public education, biological research, seed collection and overseeing the transplant efforts in the field. With plants provided by the New England Wild Flower Society, biologists from all the partner agencies and organizations successfully reintroduced two additional populations to suitable habitat in the National Forest.

    “It's not unusual for the Appalachian Mountain Club to participate in mountain rescues that involve lost or injured hikers. In this unusual case, AMC contributed 22 years of research and public education to help rescue this very rare alpine plant from human impacts – an effort that meshes perfectly with our mission of promoting the enjoyment, appreciation, and conservation of the mountain environment,” said Dr. Kenneth Kimball, director of research for the 93,000-member Appalachian Mountain Club.

    Rebecca Oreskes, the dispersed recreation program manager on the White Mountain National Forest, recognized that resource specialists coming together was key to achieving this success. “This project not only brought together numerous partners but also botanists, biologists and recreation specialists. By working together we were able to show that with care, recreation use and alpine plants can coexist.”

    “Although the New England Wild Flower Society has been propagating endangered plant species for decades, the collaboration between the organizations was the real key to the success of this project,” said Bill Brumback, director of conservation for the New England Wild Flower Society. “The techniques learned during the project will continue to be highly applicable for other alpine species.”

    “Thanks to our partnership with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Forest Service, and the New England Wild Flower Society, two new populations have successfully reproduced,” said Parker. “The species no longer is threatened with extinction.”

    Although Endangered Species Act protection has been removed, Robbins' cinquefoil will be protected in perpetuity thanks to an agreement between the Service and the White Mountain National Forest. The Service will also monitor the cinquefoil's status for at least five years to ensure that any unexpected population declines can be addressed.

    The final rule removing Endangered Species Act protection from Robbins' cinquefoil was published in the Federal Register.

    The US Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies