A species of buttercup once believed extinct, and today found only on a single 15-foot mound in Garfield County, may now have a brighter future, thanks to action by The Nature Conservancy.

The autumn buttercup, whose scientific name is Ranunculus acriformis var. aestivalis, has been proposed for endangered-species protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Only about 20 plants of the species are known to survive, all of them found on the mound in a privately owned pasture in a spring-fed, boggy area near the Sevier River.Chris Montague, assistant director of The Nature Conservancy's Great Basin field office in Salt Lake City, said the group has purchased the 44-acre pasture containing the mound to assure protection of the remaining plants.

"Most people don't realize how biologically important and unusual our state is," Montague said. The group's scientific staff ranks Utah fifth in number of rare and threatened species of plants and animals.

Working with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the conservation group will help develop a recovery plan for the buttercup.

"The transaction follows four months of negotiations with the private owners of the pasture site and six months of private fund-raising efforts by Conservancy staff," said Montague. Helping with the purchase were the Goodhill Foundation, the Ohio Global Fund, and the Ruth Eleanor Bamberger and John Ernest Bamberger Memorial Foundation.

The plant was first described and collected around the turn of the century in southern Utah by a botanist named Marcus E. Jones. In the 1940s, another expert used Jones' diary to relocate the species.

But then the plant's numbers dropped and botanists couldn't locate any for the next 35 years, causing the Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude the buttercup was probably extinct. But then botanist Kathy Muntz found one small population in 1982 near the place where Jones discovered the species.

At that time, she found 407 mature plants and 64 seedlings. But in the last six years, "due to more intensive agricultural use of the property and possible rodent predation, the population declined precipitously," Montague said. With only 20 left, the Fish and Wildlife Service contacted The Nature Conservancy early this year.