Following a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the beardless chinchweed will receive protection as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Service designated 10,604 acres in Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties in Arizona as protected critical habitat for the rare sunflower.

Beardless chinch weed, Pectis imberbis, photo by Dr. Mark Fishbein
Beardless chinch weed, Pectis imberbis, photo by Dr. Mark Fishbein

Beardless chinchweed is one of a dozen imperiled animals and plants threatened by the proposed Rosemont copper mine near Tucson, which would impact more than 145,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

“This fragile, dainty sunflower lends color to southern Arizona’s native grasslands and supports pollinating insects, so federal safeguards are very important,” said Michael Robinson at the Center. “Like other imperiled species living in the Santa Rita Mountains threatened by the proposed Rosemont mine, the chinchweed wouldn’t stand a chance without these Endangered Species Act protections.”

Beardless chinchweed is a tall, yellow flower whose six remaining populations occupy less than five acres. Some partially extend into the footprint of the proposed Rosemont mine and would be crushed by mining activities. Historically there were 21 populations known in Arizona and Mexico. The plant was last reported in Mexico in 1940.

The remaining populations in southern Arizona are now known across four mountain ranges: the Atascosa-Pajarito, Huachuca, Santa Rita and Canelo Hills. Five of those populations each include fewer than 50 plants. Just 992 individual beardless chinchweed plants occur in total.

The chinchweed was first identified as a candidate for federal listing in 1980. The Center filed a scientific petition to protect it in 2010. In addition to mining, the chinchweed is threatened by livestock grazing, the proliferation of nonnative plants, and the global climate emergency. This week’s extreme heatwave in southern Arizona and the associated long-term drought bode poorly for the chinchweed.

In 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a workplan to address a backlog of more than 500 species awaiting protection decisions, but the Trump administration kept the agency from completing decisions for dozens of species every year of Trump’s tenure.

The Center sued the Trump administration in 2020 for failing to decide whether 241 plants and animals across the country should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit, filed in district court in Washington, D.C., is one of the largest ever under the Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.