Endangered sunflower gets critical habitat

Nearly nine years after the Pecos sunflower received protection under the Endangered Species Act, it now also has the critical habitat necessary to ensure the species' survival.

The Pecos sunflower was listed as "threatened" under the ESA back in October 1999. It then took until 2005 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan for the plant. Three years later, the sunflower now officially has 1.305 acres of protected habitat.

Here's what that means, according to the Associated Press:

The designation of critical habitat means those areas contain features essential to conserve a threatened or endangered species and may require special management consideration or protection.

Such a designation does not affect the ownership of the land and does not establish a refuge or preserve, Fish and Wildlife said. The agency also said the designation does not stop private landowners from taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits.

However, federal agencies that undertake, fund or allow actions that could affect critical habitat must consult Fish and Wildlife to ensure they do not adversely modify or destroy the critical habitat.

The Pecos sunflower is the only sunflower in the Southwest United States that grows exclusively in wetlands. Many of its habitats have been lost or degraded as humans have tapped wetlands for domestic purposes or irrigation, or filled them in for development.