Organizations step up to save the Georgia aster

out asterA coalition of public and private conservation organizations is stepping up to save the Georgia aster, a purple Southern flower that is on the verge of being listed under the Endangered Species Act. 

“Across the South, we’ve really put an emphasis on bringing partners together to recover plants, fish and wildlife before they need protection under the Endangered Species Act,” explained Fish and Wildlife Service Southeastern Regional Director Cindy Dohner. “It’s a strategy that’s making great strides, in part because conserving one at-risk plant or animal often benefits others.”

For instance, conserving the open, grassy spaces the Georgia aster needs also benefits declining species such as the grasshopper sparrow, field sparrow and eastern meadowlark. 

The Georgia aster, Symphyotrichum georgianum, was once more common across the Southeast, living in open savanna and prairie communities.  But many of these areas have become wooded over in the wake of extensive wildfire control and the disappearance of large, native grazing animals. Conserving this species today involves working to keep parts of the landscape open through the use of prescribed fire – fire intentionally set under very specific weather conditions, often to mimic the ecological role of natural fires; or cutting trees and mowing.

The Candidate Conservation Agreement, supported by a litany of private and governmental entities in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, outlines  a laundry list of priorities the signatories will commit to in order to prevent the aster’s needing to be added to the Threatened and Endangered Species List. Those measures include:

• Searching for new populations;

• Monitoring known occurrences to estimate range-wide population trends;

• Keeping forests with Georgia aster thinned to a level that provides ample sunlight, while minimizing threats from drought and competition;

• Avoiding mowing utility and transportation rights-of way with Georgia aster from late spring to mid-fall, when Georgia aster is at its tallest and reproducing.  If possible, mowing in mid- to late-spring to maximize impacts to invasive plants before Georgia aster is high enough to be significantly damaged;

• When mowing rights-of-way, cutting to no less than 4 inches, and avoiding operating machinery on wet soils to reduce soil compaction;

• Avoiding broadcast spraying of herbicides in or near Georgia aster populations;

• Marking populations to avoid inadvertent damage during right-of-way maintenance.

The effort is part of larger scale effort in the Southeast to pre-empt endangered species listing by boosting plant and wildlife populations. The Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating more than 400 species for possible listing over the next decade.

The Naturalist's Corner

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