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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

 

January 19, 2006    
06-1               

Contacts:  Laura Romin 801-975-3330 ext 142
                    Diane Katzenberger 303-236-4578

 

Service Proposes Protection for Grahamís Beardtongue and Critical Habitat Designation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to list the Grahamís beardtongue, an herbaceous perennial plant found in northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In addition, the Service is proposing to designate 3,058 acres as critical habitat for the Grahamís beardtongue in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, and Duchesne and Uintah Counties, Utah.

In 2002 the Service was petitioned by the Center for Native Ecosystems, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Utah Native Plant Society, the Colorado Native Plant Society and the American Lands Alliance to list the Grahamís beardtongue (Penstemon grahamii) as threatened or endangered under the ESA.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Service have been working to conserve the species outside the need to list it under the Endangered Species Act.  Todayís proposal is the result of a court ordered settlement agreement requiring the Service to publish a proposal to list the Grahamís beardtongue by January 9, 2006.

The Service requests that the public forward any additional comments or data about the species to Henry Maddux, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Field Office, 2369 West Orton Circle, West Valley, Utah 84119 or via e-mail to fw6_penstemongrahamii@fws.gov or by faxsimile to 801-975-3331.

Comments and data will be accepted until March 19, 2006.  The Service is particularly seeking information detailing definitive effects of oil shale operations and any demonstration of oil shale recovery technologies on Bureau of Land Management lands; success of ongoing oil shale or tar sands development projects, particularly in the Green River formation; and available economic and technological analyses. Comments are also being sought regarding the proposed critical habitat designation.

If the Grahamís beardtongue is listed under the ESA, the Service will continue to work cooperatively with partners to conserve their habitat,

The Grahamís beardtongue currently is known to exist in a series of small populations that extend in a narrow band from Raven Ridge west of the town of Rangely in Rio Blanco County, Colorado westward to the vicinity of Sand Wash near the point where Carbon, Duchesne, and Uintah Counties meet in Utahís Uinta Basin.

The Grahamís beardtongue is an herbaceous perennial plant within the sub-genus Cristai.  Each plant has one to three stems arising from a taproot.  These stems are 7-18 centimeters tall.  The plant has a cluster of flowers usually of 3 to 20 flowers, although occasionally just one or two flowers are present.  The color of the petals varies from light to dark lavender, or pinkish, with dark violet lines in the throat of the corolla tube.

Threats to the plant may include loss of habitat due to oil and gas exploration, drilling and field development; and tar sand and oil shale mining.  Off-road vehicle use, overuse by domestic and wild animals, and overuse in the horticultural trade may also affect some populations.  These threats, in combination with small population sizes and the limited distribution of the plant, may make it vulnerable to natural and human-caused events.

Native plants are important for their ecological, economic, and aesthetic values. Plants play an important role in development of crops that resist disease, insects, and drought. At least 25 percent of prescription drugs contain ingredients derived from plant compounds, including medicine to treat cancer, heart disease, juvenile leukemia, and malaria, and to assist in organ transplants. Plants are also used to develop natural pesticides.

The Service used the best scientific information to first determine which lands contribute to the conservation of the Grahamís beardtongue by defining the physical and biological features needed for long-term conservation of the plant. The proposed critical habitat designation is limited to lands with such features that require special management.  All lands being proposed as critical habitat are occupied by the Grahamís beardtongue. The five units being proposed are separated by unoccupied gaps in the species range.  The units are:

  • Sand Wash Unit (124 acres) occurs in the vicinity of Sand Wash in southwestern Uintah and adjacent Duchesne Counties, Utah.
  • Seep Ridge Unit (1,428 acres) occurs approximately 17 miles east of the Sand Wash population in the vicinity of Buck, Sunday School, and Klondike Canyons near the Seep Ridge road in south central Uintah County, Utah.
  • Evacuation Creek Unit (1,577 acres) occurs approximately 10 miles east of the Seep Ridge unit in Asphalt Wash and Evacuation Creek drainages near the abandoned Gilsonite mining towns of Dragon and Rainbow.  This population is in southeastern Uintah County, Utah, and adjacent Rio Blanco County, Colorado.
  • White River Unit (197 acres) occurs approximately 5 miles north of the Evacuation Creek unit in Hells Hole and Weaver Canyons immediately south of the White River in eastern Uintah County, Utah.
  • Raven Ridge Unit (175 acres) occurs approximately 7 miles northwest of the White River unit along the west flank of Raven Ridge and north of the White River between Raven Ridge and the Utah border in extreme western Rio Blanco County, Colorado.

ďThe Service is proposing only those areas considered to contribute to the conservation of the Grahamís beardtongue,Ē said Mitch King, the Serviceís Acting Regional Director of the Mountain-Prairie region.  ďWe encourage people to review our proposal and provide comments and any additional information they believe relevant. The Service will consider all available information before making a final decision.Ē

 Over 70 percent of the population of Grahamís beardtongue occurs on BLM lands.  Over 70 percent of the proposed critical habitat acreage also occurs on BLM lands.  BLM in Colorado and Utah has identified the beardtongue as a sensitive species.

 BLM has implemented conservation stipulations for the plant associated with well locations that have prevented habitat degradation.  Conservation measures include moving well pad and pipeline locations to avoid direct impact to the plants.  These measures likely provide effective protections.  Increased energy development in Grahamís beardtongue habitat could increase the likelihood of direct loss of plants and increased habitat loss and fragmentation.  FWS Acting Regional Director Mitch King also noted that the Service wants to work with BLM to ensure sufficient conservation measures are in place on BLM lands so that listing the beardtongue and designating critical habitat would not be warranted. 

 Critical habitat is a term in the ESA. It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands. Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund or authorize that might affect critical habitat.

 An economic analysis of the critical habitat proposal will be prepared and made available for public comment before a final decision is made. The Service may exclude areas from the final description if the benefit of exclusion outweighs the benefit of inclusion. Over the next few months, the Service will be considering whether all the areas proposed for designation are essential to the conservation of the species.

 In 30 years of implementing the ESA, the Service has found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits.

 In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the Endangered Species Act including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Serviceís Private Stewardship Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for listed species is also provided on many of the Serviceís National Wildlife Refuges and State wildlife management areas.

 A copy of the proposed rules and other information about the Grahamís beardtongue are available on the Internet at:

http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/plants/grahambeardtongue or by calling the Serviceís Utah Field Office at 801-975-3330.

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

                                                         - FWS -


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