Eureka Valley Endemics

Dunegrass Shadows

Two desert endemic plant species’ protected status has just been downgraded:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that it is “delisting” the Eureka Valley evening primrose and upgrading the status of the Eureka dune grass from endangered to the less-imperiled threatened status.

Primrose Morning

On one level, this is good news. If you read the entire USFWS document, you’ll find that the rationale for the decision is the claim that current protections are basically working. National Park status, Wilderness designation, prohibition of sandboarding, designated campsites and visitor education have greatly reduced disturbances to these species since they were initially listed. I certainly hope that trend continues. One does wonder, however. The dune grass continues to decline, hence its continued “threatened” status. Death Valley National Park has seen surging visitation in recent years, and vehicle incursions into closed areas are increasingly a problem, including in Eureka Valley. Law enforcement (or any Park Service presence) in Eureka Valley is for all practical purposes nonexistent. Though the report dismisses it as a threat, tumbleweeds have been increasing on the dunes every year I’ve been visiting. I hope this delisting does not prove premature.

Dunegrass

Eureka dune grass is fascinating stuff. Hard, tough and pointy, it almost seems more like a thorn bush than a grass. It is likely a relict species, persisting in this one remaining valley long after it is gone everywhere else. Its nearest relatives are found in north Africa.

Solitary Dunegrass

Mineral landscapes and apparently barren areas often receive short shrift. Though sand dunes often harbor rare species and surprisingly abundant wildlife (they are often hotspots for desert rodent diversity, for instance), they appear barren and many people are inclined to assume that anything goes and such places can’t possibly be damaged. They certainly do make wonderful playgrounds for human visitors, but I wish more dune fields in the west would be approached with a lighter touch, appreciated not merely as sandboxes but as ecosystems.

Sand at Dawn

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