Test aimed at helping delist threatened plants

The Bureau of Land Management is considering allowing experimental transplanting and reseeding of two threatened plants that have been found only in Rio Blanco County.

The effort initially would result in further restrictions on energy development but eventually could help lead to the plants being removed from the Endangered Species Act and the law’s protections no longer being needed.

Colorado State University’s Restoration Ecology Lab is proposing working with the BLM on the experiment involving two wild mustards, the Dudley Bluffs bladderpod and Dudley Bluffs twinpod.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the bladderpod is a cushion plant that’s generally only about a half-inch to inch in diameter, while the twinpod grows from 4.8 inches to 7.2 inches tall. Both grow on barren white oil shale outcrops, with the bladderpod’s entire known range being limited to within 10 miles of where it was first found. The twinpod occurs in locations as far apart as 23 miles.

The project area is about 27 miles southeast of Rangely in the northern part of the Piceance Basin and consists of 12 study areas. Transplants would come from plants grown from seed in greenhouses. Researchers plan to evaluate the effectiveness of transplanting versus planting from seed, as well as other factors such as whether planting other native species known to attract pollinators would lead to increased fertilization of the two plants — an action that also could be used to aid them where they’re already growing. The results of studies of other factors such as soil moisture needs also could be used to help existing populations.

The project would result in an additional 15 acres of land-use restrictions for mineral development for the first 10 years, an amount that would increase to 450 acres after that if the effort is successful, according to an environmental assessment by the BLM. The estimates are based on varying buffer-zone distances that would trigger certain requirements for the BLM to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding proposed activities that could affect the plants.

The plants grow in an area of high mineral development interest. Eleven of the 12 proposed study areas have existing oil and gas leases. One site is on an existing sodium lease where a no-surface-occupancy restriction already is in place. Three sites are in areas identified as available for oil shale leasing, but factors such as those areas’ narrow shape and steep topography already make them undesirable for shale leasing, the BLM says.


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