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Agreement to protect flower across Southeast

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 10, 2014 at 1:06 pm •  Published: May 10, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — A threatened flower called the Georgia aster that once flourished across the Southeast may find better protection now that a utility company, highway crews and local governments are promising steps to protect it.

The purple aster grows best in woodlands and prairies with plenty of sunshine and acidic soils. Scientists say it once flourished across much of the Southeast before large grazing animals were pushed out of the region and humans started controlling wildfires, which naturally clear land and create the conditions favorable for the flower. It's now found in parts of Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

While natural prairie land has decreased, the flower can be found on sun-exposed land when humans create prairie-like conditions. For example, biologists have found the aster growing along the access roads that utilities build beneath power transmission lines. Workers keep those pathways free of overhead vegetation and periodically mow the ground. Other spots include mowed land along highways and interstates.

"It's basically mimicking the large grazing area," said Mara Alexander, a botanist for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Federal officials reached an agreement with groups including utility company Georgia Power, state highway officials and local government and landholders to agree to steps meant to help save the flower. For example, work crews maintaining rights of way will agree not to mow them from mid-May through mid-November. That will spare the aster from being cut during its growing season.

Under the deal, those signing the agreement promise not to blanket areas with herbicides, which can kill the aster, and instead spray chemicals only where needed. The agreement also calls for regular counts of aster populations, which should give environmental authorities more information on how the plant is fairing.

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