A partnership between several state and federal entities may help a bright violet flower that grows especially in parts of Northeast Georgia to continue thriving.
The Georgia aster, which blooms in the fall, had been declining for several decades and was on the verge of federal protection.
Private and public groups announced Friday in a formal agreement signing at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens they would take certain steps to conserve the plant and help keep it off the endangered species list.
“If you list something under the Endangered Species Act, it comes with restrictions,” said Mincy Moffett, a botanist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “And that’s never a popular thing to do.
“This is a way that we can get the landowners together where this species is and work proactively for the conservation.”
Gainesville and Hall County are in the middle of the historic range, with a particular patch of the flowers found in the Wilson Shoals Wildlife Management Area in Banks County.
“It’s a small perennial ... that grows 2-3 feet in height that is mostly associated with open areas,” Moffett said.
“We believe historically those habitats were maintained naturally by wildfire that occurred on a regular basis in the Southeast and by large grazing animals.”
As the region was settled and towns sprang up, then subdivisions and roads, “we have all these fire suppression activities,” which degrade the habitat, Moffett said.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s website states “habitat loss due to development has been considered a threat to the plant throughout its range, and continues to be an issue in places.”
The flower has been a candidate for federal protection for about a decade but “has been precluded by higher priority species,” according to the agency.
Moffett said he believes the signing of a Candidate Conservation Agreement also is politically significant.
“We don’t have to be heavy-handed with regulations,” he said. “We can work together and do things proactively. Hopefully, this will be a model with dealing with some of these other at-risk species.”