Ruling delayed over rare flower in energy area

A Colorado judge declined to rule Wednesday on whether a rare northwest Colorado wildflower should be reconsidered for Endangered Species Act protection.

U.S. District Court Judge Walker Miller had been expected to issue a decision, but instead asked both sides to submit more documents by early July.

The Center for Native Ecosystems and other environmental groups want the judge to order U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rethink its decision not to list the Graham’s penstemon as a threatened species.

The Graham’s penstemon is a member of the snapdragon family, and its known global population of about 6,000 plants is found only on oil shale outcrops in Rio Blanco County in Colorado and three counties in Utah.

A threatened species listing would have consequences for energy development, livestock grazing, off-road vehicle use and other activities in those areas.

“If the judge wants additional briefings, we’re happy to provide that,” said Meg Parish, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “We think it will give us another opportunity to show how strong this case is.”

Seth Willey, regional recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency can’t comment on pending litigation, other than to say its decision not to list the plant was based on the best science available at the time.

After prior litigation, Fish and Wildlife proposed a threatened species listing in early 2006. It reversed course later that year. Environmental groups say the change of heart followed a campaign by the Bureau of Land Management, which has authority over oil shale and oil and gas development on federal lands.

Government attorneys have argued that prospects for any oil shale development are uncertain and that it initially would be unlikely to overlap with the plant’s habitat. Environmental groups chiefly are concerned about potential effects of oil and gas development and road construction in Utah. The government contends the lawsuit relies on speculation about impacts on the plant and that the Fish and Wildlife Service found identified threats to be “not significant.”

BLM spokesman David Boyd said Colorado’s Graham’s penstemon population is near the Utah border, mostly within the 5,000-acre Raven’s Ridge Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The area was designated in 1997 to protect plants and paleontological resources, and it prohibits surface disturbances to protect the Graham’s penstemon.

“The population has been closely monitored there since 1986 and has remained stable,” Boyd said.


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