Native Cactus No Longer Endangered

June 2, 2023

Sclerocactus Glaucus, a rare barrel cactus native to mountain plateau regions of Western Colorado is scheduled to be taken off the Federal threatened and endangered species list in June. Through data collected and analyzed by Denver Botanic Gardens’ scientists led by Michelle DePrenger-Levin, M.S., it is projected that populations are stable and resilient. The findings could indicate something about how we’re interacting with the Cacti’s natural habitat. By Connor Shreve. This story is sponsored by Happy Pappy’s Pizza & Wings and Kroegers Ace Hardware

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Good news for lovers of Western Colorado's ecology. A native and rare plant is coming off the endangered species list. You're watching the Local News Network, brought to you by Happy Pappy's Pizza and Wings and Kroegers Ace Hardware. I'm Connor Shreve. After decades of research and recording, Sclerocactus glaucus, also known as the Colorado Hookless Cactus, will be delisted from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in June.

It has met those criteria of having enough individuals that we're not worried about random deaths or random chance occurrences that might make populations plummet. There's enough individuals and the population trends are stable. It's doing well.

Michelle DePrenger-Levin with the Denver Botanic Gardens has been researching the small barrel cactus native to Western Colorado since 2008, and says researchers initially believed that there to be far fewer Sclerocactus glaucus than there ended up being.

There were folks that went and looked and said, "I think that it might be hybridizing with this really common species." So, we looked into that. We had all these concerns. There's oil and gas development, there's grazing, there's recreation, there's a lot of threats. And when we thought that there were just a few individuals and that it might be hybridizing, so you might be losing the genetic diversity that was this species, there's a lot of concern.

Research assuaged concerns about cross-breeding. Population surveys done by the Bureau of Land Management found higher numbers of the plant.

And then we, since 2008, have been going out and tagging and following individuals over time to see how long they live, how fast they grow, how often they reproduce, how many recruits, you know, how many new little babies we have coming up, depending on how many flowered the year before.

DePrenger-Levin's research found enough of the cacti for experts to believe the species can now withstand random or chance declines.

But there's going to be variation among individuals. And so by chance, maybe you lose too many of them and then there population tanks. But there are a lot of, there are many more individuals than we thought there were overall. So, we're not as worried about that random chance and we can follow more of this, the general patterns that we have found of our studies since 2008.

The barrel cactus lives in Mancos shale and can be found in what the US Fish and Wildlife Service classify as mountain prairie regions in the Gunnison and Colorado River basins. And DePrenger-Levin says the findings indicate something about that land, more specifically, how we use it.

With the protections and the controls that the Bureau of Land Management has on these lands in place, that we can continue to enjoy the lands and use the lands as needed, and that these habitats are supporting a long-lived perennial, that is this rare cactus. So it's a good indication that as things are going on right now, that these habitats are secure, are supporting the biodiversity that we want to see into the future.

The decision to delist Sclerocactus glaucus from the threatened and endangered species list is made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. That choice is informed, based on all the research available about the species from the Denver Botanic Gardens team and others. The cacti's status will continue to be monitored even after it's removed from the list. DePrenger-Levin calls this a great recovery story that shows how more information can lead to better understanding. Spoken like a true research biologist. You can learn more about this story and others online at Thanks for watching this edition of The Local News Network. I'm Connor Shreve.


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