- News &
DENVER — Responding to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal today to protect the Graham’s beardtongue (Penstemon grahamii) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, a coalition of conservation groups applauded the proposal and urged the government to follow through as quickly as possible because threats from oil and gas drilling are mounting. Graham’s beardtongue is a rare wildflower found only on oil shale outcrops in the Uinta Basin of Utah and northeastern Colorado. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are only 6200 individual plants left. Graham’s beardtongue first became an official Candidate for Endangered Species Act protection in 1975.
“It’s a good day for plants when something like this happens,” said Dr. Leila Shultz of Utah State University, who spent two seasons inventorying Graham’s beardtongue in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “The plant itself is a unique biological resource that we shouldn’t lose from our ecosystem. It’s an indicator of a special habitat.”
“Graham’s beardtongue is finally moving toward the protection it desperately needs after thirty years of waiting,” said Erin Robertson, staff biologist at Center for Native Ecosystems. “Time is of the essence to protect this beautiful wildflower, and this is what the Endangered Species Act was made for.”
Concerned about increasing drilling in the wildflower’s habitat, Center for Native Ecosystems (Denver), Utah Native Plant Society (Salt Lake City), Colorado Native Plant Society (Fort Collins), Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (Salt Lake City), and American Lands Alliance (Washington, D.C.) formally petitioned the Service to protect Graham’s beardtongue under the Act in 2002. After the Service ignored the petition, the coalition filed suit in 2003. The Fish and Wildlife Service announcement today was prompted by a court settlement reached in September. The Environmental Law Clinical Partnership at the University of Denver College of Law represented the conservation groups in the lawsuit.
"As energy development in the region rapidly progresses, the listing of this wildflower and the designation of its critical habitat will help to ensure that conflicts are avoided and that its habitat is not inadvertently destroyed,” said Tony Frates of the Utah Native Plant Society.
The listing proposal announced today also includes 3,500 acres of critical habitat for the wildflower, almost all of it in northeastern Utah. Most of this proposed critical habitat is found on Bureau of Land Management land. 422 acres are on state land and 464 acres are on private land. This habitat includes the current surviving populations as well as habitat designed to allow for recovery.
“The Uinta Basin is home to many rare wildflowers that are a part of Colorado’s unique natural heritage,” said Dave Anderson, Vice President of the Colorado Native Plant Society. “We are relieved to see that the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the threats these special plants are facing and is doing something about it in the case of Graham’s beardtongue.”
The Uinta Basin is already under intense pressure from oil and gas drilling, and the Bush administration is rushing to approve commercial mining of oil shale and tar sands in the Basin. The BLM refers to the Basin as “Utah’s Oil Patch.”
The Service is taking public comment on the proposal until March 20th, and is under court order to make a final determination by December 2006. “It’s about time that this incredible wildflower is protected,” said Steve Bloch, Staff Attorney with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “We look forward to a final listing rule soon.”