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Photo: Chris Best / USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to downlist the Tobusch fishhook cactus from endangered to threatened, reflecting protection and recovery of the tiny, spiny plant guided by the Endangered Species Act.

Found in oak woodland savannahs of the Edwards Plateau in central Texas, the cactus faces ongoing threats from livestock grazing, urban sprawl, loss of periodic fires, insect parasites, small population size and climate change. Since it was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1979, however, many more populations have been found and several have been protected.

“More endangered species have been found to be partially or fully recovered in 2016 than in any other year since the Endangered Species Act became law in 1973,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The steady recovery of this cactus and many other species demonstrates the remarkable power of the Endangered Species Act, which has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of protected species.”

A flowing Tobusch fishhook cactus. (Photo: Chris Best / USFWS)

A flowing Tobusch fishhook cactus. (Photo: Chris Best / USFWS)

Eleven species were found to have recovered in 2016, including another Texas plant, called the Johnston’s frankenia; four subspecies of island fox from the Channel Islands; two humpback whale populations; Kentucky’s white-haired goldenrod; Santa Cruz cypress; and Columbian white-tailed deer. The Tobusch fishhook cactus is among another four species proposed for downlisting or delisting, including another Texas species — the black-capped vireo — along with grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Florida manatees.

“I can see no better way to celebrate the Endangered Species Act’s 43rd birthday today than to acknowledge the recovery of this diminutive cactus,” said Robinson. “The road to recovery for endangered species is often a long one, but thanks to the Endangered Species Act, species like the Tobusch fishhook cactus are recovering.”

When the species was first protected in 1979, only roughly 200 Tobusch fishhook cacti were known from just four sites. Today 3,395 individual cacti have been identified at more than 100 sites, a number of which are protected.

The Tobusch fishhook cactus lives on sparsely vegetated limestone outcrops on the Edwards Plateau. As its name suggests, it is armed with curved “fishhook” spines. At maturity, this globular cactus reaches about 2 inches in height and diameter. It sports yellow flowers that attract pollinators, but takes nine years of growing before it is reproductively mature.

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