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More protection sought for rare poppy found in southern Utah

The dwarf bearclaw poppy is endemic to Washington County, UT. The species occurs on rolling hills and bluffs in sparsely-vegetated desert shrub communities between 2,700 ft. and 3,330 ft. in elevation. It is listed endangered Credit: Daniela Roth / USFWS

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) — Federal officials and environmentalists are working together to boost protection for a rare poppy that is only found in southern Utah.

The U.S. Forest Service, Utah Valley University and The Nature Conservancy are examining how to manage the dwarf bear-poppy or bearclaw poppy, which has been on the decline for 40 years, The Spectrum & Daily News reported Friday.

The flower was first put on the federally endangered species list in 1979. It can only blossom in specific geological conditions.

“They’re here and nowhere else because they have very specialized requirements for places they can live,” said Susan Meyer, research ecologist and lead project scientist for the Forest Service. “Those requirements are only met on these gypsum soils and at a certain elevation that occurs only around St. George.”

Researchers have started using drones to find, count and measure the flowers without disturbing the habitat. The sensitive flowers can be harmed by foot traffic. The poppies also cannot be replanted as they do not survive in cultivated areas, according to experts.

“I didn’t want to study them anymore because I didn’t like walking around and ruining their habitat, so we got the idea to try it with drones,” Meyer said.

The Nature Conservancy established the 800-acre (324-hectare) White Dome Nature Preserve that protects most of the habitat occupied by the poppy. The conservancy established the preserve after housing developments had been planned on the habitat. Elaine York, the conservancy’s west desert regional director, worked with state and federal agencies to make the land purchase happen.

“It was a struggle and took close to 10 years because it was a lot of fundraising and we had to do it over time,” York said.


Information from: The Spectrum,