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Almost a year after the Vandenberg monkeyflower was officially listed as an endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed Monday that more than 5,700 acres of local land in which the plant can be found has been approved as a protected critical habitat.

The critical habitat designation, which is expected to go into effect today, includes about 5,755 total acres located on or near the Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

“Protecting the few remaining places where this rare and beautiful monkeyflower lives will give it a real shot at survival and recovery,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the monkeyflower protected as an endangered species last August. “Protecting its habitat is the best way to prevent its extinction.”

Of the 5,755 acres, 4,674 of them are on state lands within the Burton Mesa Reserve and La Purisima Mission State Park, with about 820 acres on private lands, 38 acres on local agency lands, and 223 acres on Department of Justice lands.

The move won’t have much of an effect on the permitted activities on the newly designated land, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials. The designation will not affect land ownership or establish a refuge and has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits.

“Management of the land remains the same,” said Ashley Spratt, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We’re really just designating that land and identifying those elements that the Vandenberg monkeyflower needs.”

The Vandenberg monkeyflower (Diplacus vandenbergensis) is a small, yellow flower that is found only in Western Santa Barbara County. It is known to exist in just nine locations, typically in open spaces on sandy soils between shrubs.

The continued presence and expansion of non-native plants, as well as habitat destruction and fragmentation have contributed to the species’ decline, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials.

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“The benefit of designating critical habitat for a listed plant or animal is that it informs government agencies, landowners and the public of the specific areas that are important to the conservation of the species,” said Steve Henry, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ventura office. “Identifying this habitat helps focus the conservation efforts of our partners such as state and local governments or nongovernmental organizations or individuals.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the monkeyflower on the candidate waiting list for federal protection in 2010.

In 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife reached an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization, to ensure that all the species that were on the federal waiting list for protection as of 2010 would get protection decisions by 2018. So far, under that agreement, 143 animals and plants have gained Endangered Species Act protection, and another 10 have been proposed for protection.

“Protecting the Vandenberg monkeyflower and its habitat helps not only the wildflower but all of the plants and animals that call this special place home,” Anderson, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said.

The public may view materials concerning the designation at www.regulations.gov, with the docket numbers FWS–R8–ES–2013–0049; RIN 1018-AZ33.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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