The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) designated (pdf) approximately 9,600 acres as critical habitat for the endangered Coachella Valley milk vetch (Astragalus lentifinosus var. coachellae). The critical habitat designation covers four areas within the greater Coachella Valley area near Palm Springs, California.

As a result of the designation, federal agencies must consult with FWS under the Endangered Species Act regarding the impacts of federal actions on the plant species within the designated area. The ruling does not directly affect private land ownership.

The plant was listed as endangered in 1998, but FWS determined at that time that designation of critical habitat was not prudent. Two lawsuits were filed in 2001 challenging that decision, and in response, FWS designated critical habitat for the plant in 2005. Another lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2009, alleging that the 2005 designation failed to designate adequate critical habitat for the species. This week’s designation resulted from a settlement agreement among the parties to the 2009 litigation.

FWS cites development, invasive species, groundwater pumping, and off-highway vehicles as reasons for the plant’s endangered status.

(Photograph courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife).