Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

June 22, 2010

Contacts: Al Pfister: 970.243.2778; al_pfister@fws.gov

                Leith Edgar: 303.236.4588; leith_edgar@fws.gov

                                                       

 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Proposal to List Three Colorado Plants 

                             

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced a proposal to protect three Colorado plants under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). If made final, the measure would extend ESA protection by designating the Pagosa skyrocket as endangered throughout its range; and the Parachute beardtongue and DeBeque phacelia as threatened throughout their ranges. The decision by the Service will be published June 23, 2010, in the Federal Register.

 

The three plants, which are found only in Western Colorado, are impacted by threats throughout their ranges.  Each plant faces a different set of threats.

 

The listing of the three plants will have land use implications for all affected Federal lands because the ESA directs Federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery of Federally listed species. Consequently, Federal lands provide the greatest protection for endangered and threatened plants. Where listed plants occur on Federal lands, consultation with the Service is required when projects or activities may affect the species.

 

However, this listing does not directly affect private and non-Federal landowners whose property hosts the three proposed plants. Consultations come into play only in cases where activities involving plants require Federal funding or permitting or the use of an Environmental Protection Agency-registered pesticide. The ESA does not provide any greater protection to listed plants on private lands than they already receive under State law. The ESA also does not prohibit "take" of listed plants on private lands, but landowners must still comply with State laws protecting imperiled plants.

 

Comments and scientific information regarding the three proposed plants for listing may be submitted online at http://regulations.gov or U.S. mail or hand delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: 1018-AV83; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.

 

The Pagosa skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha) is a rare biennial plant, which only grows on shale outcrops in and around Pagosa Springs in Archuleta County, Colo. Approximately 78 percent of its suitable habitat is located on private lands, which are primed for residential, commercial and agricultural development. Such development is a serious threat to the imperiled species because plants are destroyed, along with the seeds in the soil that would produce next year’s plants. Conservation relies on cooperation by private landowners because little of the range is Federally owned; a mere 20 acres composes the Pagosa skyrocket’s entire Federally managed habitat. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the parcel.

 

Since the Pagosa skyrocket primarily persists alongside highways, development would also have an indirect effect on the species’ viability. Construction of access roads, utility installations and increased public use will likely have a deleterious effect on the plant’s habitat. Currently, developments in the planning process for completion in the next five to ten years could potentially eliminate 34 percent of Pagosa skyrocket occupied habit adjacent to highways.

 

Pagosa skyrocket is also threatened by livestock trampling. The species may be compatible with light grazing, but the level of impact and the threshold of Pagosa skyrocket tolerance have not been studied.

 

The Pagosa skyrocket only grows on Pagosa-Winifred soils derived from Mancos Shale, which limits the plant’s opportunities for spreading to new locations. The spatially fragmented species is also prone to extinction because its two known occurrences have a limited gene pool. Pagosa skyrocket is a biennial plant; its seeds grow into low rosettes of leaves that overwinter and then produce flowering stems the next year. Population numbers fluctuate year to year based on environmental conditions. One poor year of unfavorable weather, minimal moisture or natural disturbance can be detrimental to the species. Therefore, climate change could potentially impact the Pagosa skyrocket negatively; however,  current data are not reliable enough at the local level for us to draw conclusions regarding the degree to which climate change threatens the Pagosa skyrocket.

 

At the time of the proposal’s writing, no regulatory mechanisms exist that protect the Pagosa skyrocket.

 

Parachute beardtongue (Penstemon debilis), also known as Parachute penstemon, is an extremely rare plant, which only grows on the oil shale outcrops within the Green River Formation in Garfield County, Colo., including private and Federal lands of the Roan Plateau.  Only approximately 4,000 plants are known to exist. Approximately 82 percent of known Parachute beardtongue plants are on private land owned by a natural gas and oil shale production company, and most of the remaining 18 percent occur in one occurrence on BLM land. It is possible that unknown Parachute beardtongue occurrences do exist, but access to the steep slopes of the plant’s habitat is not always an option, especially for possible occurrences on private land. Extensive survey work on available habitat has been conducted, resulting in the seven occurrences known to exist.

 

In recent years the Piceance basin (which includes the Roan Plateau) has experienced a natural gas development boom, and surface exploration and production of the below-ground resource are on the rise. The BLM projects that natural gas will continue to be developed in the next 20 years on the Roan Plateau. This year well permits in Garfield county decreased, since natural gas production is tied to market prices. However, the overall trend of natural gas production and exploration is growth.

 

That growth brings many potential hazards to the Parachute beardtongue. Increased energy exploration involves construction of roads, well pads, evaporation ponds and pipeline corridors. The largest of the Parachute beardtongue’s seven known occurrences, Mount Callahan Natural Area, is owned by an energy development company. The landowner intends to develop up to three natural gas drilling pads in the vicinity.

 

Energy exploration requires extensive disturbance to the surface, including excavation and construction of roads, well pads, and pipelines. Each of these actions has the potential to cause direct impacts, such as plant removal and trampling. Although less easily assessed, indirect impacts are also threats to the Parachute beardtongue. Dust deposition impedes the growth of plants and diminished habitat for pollinators has a detrimental effect on plant reproduction.  In addition, road maintenance associated with actions not related to energy development threatens to bury or uproot plants growing above or below the roads.

 

BLM, the Colorado Natural Areas Program, and the private landowner, have measures in place to protect Parachute beardtongue.  However these measures have not been fully successful in protecting the species thus far; and in all, we do not believe there are adequate existing regulatory mechanisms to protect Parachute beardtongue.

 

The Parachute beardtongue’s small population size also makes the species susceptible to environmental disturbances, such as drought, soil erosion and the effects of climate change; however, current data are not reliable enough at the local level for us to draw conclusions regarding the degree to which climate change threatens the Parachute beardtongue.

 

DeBeque phacelia (Phacelia submutica) is a rare, short-lived annual plant, which grows in the clay soils derived from the Atwell Gulch and Shire members of the Wasatch Formation in Mesa and Garfield counties, Colo. The DeBeque phacelia population is highly fragmented; 25 known occurrences occupy a total of 104 acres, and 15 of the occurrences occupy one acre or less. DeBeque phacelia only grows in small patches on uniquely suitable soil. When their life cycle ends by late June to early July, the plants dry up and blow away. The soils dry up to form deep cracks, which the seeds fall into.

 

DeBeque phacelia seeds can lay dormant in the soil for more than five years until the combination of temperature and precipitation are optimal for germination. Collectively, the dormant seeds comprise a seed bank that the species depends on for survival. Because of the unique weather conditions needed to break seed dormancy, climate change could disrupt the reproductive cycle of DeBeque phacelia; however, current data are not reliable enough at the local level for us to draw conclusions regarding the degree to which climate change threatens the DeBeque phacelia.  

Although approximately 538 acres of suitable DeBeque phacelia habitat have been mapped, only about 19 percent of the known suitable habitat appears to be used by the plants.  Because the plants and seeds are invisible most of the time, it is difficult to avoid and protect them from soil disturbance.

 

DeBeque phacelia is threatened with destruction and modification of its seed bank and habitat due to ground disturbance from natural gas exploration and production. Natural gas projects include the construction of well pads and roads; installation of pipelines; and construction of associated buildings, holding tanks and other facilities. Approximately 78 percent of the occupied habitat for the species and 67 percent of the entire range are on BLM land currently leased for oil and gas drilling.

 

The DeBeque phacelia habitat is traversed by the WestWide energy transport right-of-way corridor for oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines; electricity transmission; and distribution facilities on Federal lands. The corridor’s aim is to improve efficiency of processing oil and gas use authorizations on Federal lands. 

 

Nine of the DeBeque phacelia’s 25 occurrences are located within the energy corridor, including eight acres, or 8 percent, of occupied habitat and 290 acres, or 54 percent, of suitable habitat. Fortunately, on Federal lands impacts to known DeBeque phacelia locations are mostly being avoided by careful placement of pipelines, well pads and associated facilities. However, the cumulative effect of the corridor may make protection of the habitat more difficult because seed banks and suitable habitat are increasingly likely to be overlooked, disturbed or removed during the process of approving and developing locations for new energy projects.

 

At the time of the proposal’s writing, no regulatory mechanisms exist to protect the DeBeque phacelia.

 

For more info (www. http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/plants/3ColoradoPlants/index.html)

 

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 mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

 

 

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