Protection sought for rare wildflowers threatened by oil shale development


A broad coalition of conservation groups have sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging the agency to grant Endangered Species Act protection to two imperiled wildflowers in Utah and Colorado. The Service proposed to protect the flowers and some of their most important habitat last August.

Unfortunately, in May, bowing to pressure from industrial energy interests, the agency announced it was considering substituting protection under the Act with a completely voluntary “conservation agreement” to be executed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as well as state and county agencies — the same parties that for many years have worked to block federal protection of the Graham’s and White River beardtongues.

The best available science makes clear that the two wildflowers need the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive, according to the letter sent to the Service this week by the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Rocky Mountain Wild, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah Native Plant Society, Western Resource Advocates and Western Watersheds Project.

In its proposal last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that 84,000 acres should be protected as critical habitat for the two plants. But the new conservation agreement provides for only 49,000 acres of so called “conservation areas” to be voluntarily protected.

A plan providing for 35,000 fewer acres of protected lands than the Service has determined these plants need is de facto inadequate,” said Megan Mueller with Rocky Mountain Wild. “To survive, these beautiful wildflowers need the immediate protection of the Endangered Species Act, which is 99 percent effective at preventing extinction.”

Graham’s and White River beardtongues are found only in oil shale outcroppings in northeastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and northwestern Colorado’s Piceance Basin. The two flowers have awaited listing under the Endangered Species Act since 1975 and 1983 respectively.

The Service has concluded that no significant economic impacts would result from designating critical habitat for these species, despite industry-backed assertions that protecting the two species would hurt local economies and impede energy development. Endangered Species Act protection would require proponents of any federally funded or permitted projects in the wildflowers’ habitat to consult with the Service to make sure the plants are not being harmed.