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Rare Plant Proposed For Endangered Species List

Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press

A rare plant that grows only in Chelan County was proposed Friday for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Only about 3,300 specimens of the Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow exist, scattered among five parcels of land in Chelan County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

“There are no known cultural or medicinal uses of this plant,” said federal plant ecologist Ted Thomas. “It probably has not been investigated to see if it does have medical value.”

Thomas declined to say exactly where the plant could be found, except that it was in the Blewett Pass Highway region near Leavenworth.

“We don’t want hordes of people tramping to the sites and stomping it into the ground or picking it to death,” Thomas said.

There is no organized opposition to this becoming the sixth plant under endangered species protection in the state, said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jon Gilstrom.

The Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow is a perennial that grows up to 5 feet tall in moist meadows. It has bright pink flowers that bloom from mid-June to the end of July.

It is found on two small parcels of U.S. Forest Service land, one site that is part private land and part state Department of Natural Resources land, and two private parcels. Those lands total 125 acres.

About 2,500 of the 3,300 known specimens are on the DNR land and the agency is protecting them, Gilstrom said.

The plant is threatened by habitat loss due to agriculture expansion, residential development, livestock grazing, fire suppression and loss of wetlands, Fish and Wildlife said.

Unlike the harsh penalties for killing animals on the endangered species list, there are no penalties for killing such plants on private lands, Gilstrom said.

Private landowners also face no restrictions on their land use because of the listing.

But any proposed actions on federal lands or that involve federal funds must not jeopardize survival of the listed species, Fish and Wildlife said. It will also be illegal to pick the plant from federal lands.

Plants already under endangered species protection in Washington include Bradshaw’s desert-parsley, marsh sandwort, Nelson’s checker-mallow, water howellia and golden paintbrush.

The public comment period on the proposed listing lasts until Sept. 30.

Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow was discovered in 1893 around the towns of Leavenworth and Peshastin. It probably never grew outside those areas, making it vulnerable to being wiped out, Fish and Wildlife said.

Many of the plants were killed by bulldozers creating fire lines in the 1994 Rat Creek Fire.

Saving plant species is important because plants supply food, oxygen, clothing, construction and medicinal materials. Only about 5 percent of known plants have been screened for medicinal value.

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