Federal agency urges endangered listing for three area wildflowers
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is recommending Endangered Species Act protection for three western Colorado wildflowers, two of which it says are threatened by energy development.
The proposed listings under the act are the first by the Obama administration in nearly a year, according to conservation groups who say the administration has failed to act aggressively enough to protect species.
The Parachute penstemon and Pagosa skyrocket have been candidates for protection since at least 1990, and the De Beque phacelia has been a candidate since 1980. Fish and Wildlife proposes to list the Pagosa skyrocket as endangered and the other two as threatened, throughout their ranges.
Josh Pollock, conservation director for the Center for Native Ecosystems, said the decision will be followed by a 60-day public-comment period, during which such recommendations sometimes get reversed.
“There’s still no guarantees at this point, but it’s an important step. It’s one more step on the way toward getting listed,” he said.
The De Beque phacelia is found only on clay soil near De Beque. More than three-quarters of its habitat has been leased for oil and gas development.
The Parachute penstemon occurs in seven known populations on steep oil shale outcrops on and around the Roan Plateau. Four populations are considered large enough to be stable, and three of them are on land owned by Occidental Petroleum, which has been working with the state to protect the plants.
Two of the remaining populations are on top of the Roan Plateau in areas recently leased for oil and gas development. Conservation groups are challenging leasing of the Roan Plateau in court.
The Pagosa skyrocket is found in only two known locations on shale outcrops near Pagosa Springs. Both are largely near or within rights of way for state highways.
In its listing proposal, Fish and Wildlife says the Pagosa skyrocket is threatened by commercial, residential and agricultural development and associated utility installations and access roads.
Natural gas development and oil shale research and potential development threaten the other two species, the agency says. De Beque phacelia also is threatened by the federally proposed West-wide Energy Corridor, expansion of roads and utilities, off-road vehicle use, livestock grazing and proposed reservoir projects.
While Fish and Wildlife said the Colorado Natural Areas Program was “very successful” in getting Occidental Petroleum to agree to minimize its impacts on the Parachute penstemon, the agency said the agreement falls short because it is voluntary instead of legally binding.
Occidental spokesman Richard Kline said he couldn’t comment on the proposed listing because he hadn’t seen it yet. But he said the company has had a long commitment to work with the state to protect the Parachute penstemon.
“We’re exceptionally proud of that. We have full intent to continue to work to protect its continued existence,” he said.
The Bureau of Land Management has provisions designed to protect the Parachute penstemon on the Roan Plateau from surface disturbance from oil and gas development and other activities. But Fish and Wildlife says those provisions have proven inadequate and allowed destruction of plants. The BLM’s failure to consult with Fish and Wildlife led to direct impacts on at least 90 of the plants during an environmental cleanup project along the Anvil Points Road, Fish and Wildlife said.
An Endangered Species Act listing forces federal agencies to consult with Fish and Wildlife when making decisions on oil and gas, grazing and other activities that might affect a species or its critical habitat.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Native Ecosystems and other groups have a pending lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife, contending it hasn’t made adequate progress in listing the three Colorado plants and 250 other species known to warrant protection.
They say 522 species were listed under the Clinton administration and 62 under the Bush administration. The Obama administration has proposed protection for nine species. It finalized a Bush administration proposal to protect 48 species on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and also finalized protection for two plants in the continental U.S.
“Things have really just slowed to a trickle, and that has been disappointing considering how many species Fish and Wildlife has on their candidate list,” Pollock said. “… It’s encouraging to see things finally moving, but there are still more than 200 species out there that are in the same state of limbo.”