Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

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

Service Recognizes Voluntary Conservation Efforts in Designation of Critical Habitat for Three Rare Colorado Plants

Contacts:

Patty Gelatt: 970.243.2778; Patty_Gelatt@fws.gov
Ellen Mayo: 970.243.2778; Ellen_Mayo@fws.gov
Leith Edgar: 303.236.4588; Leith_Edgar@fws.gov

LAKEWOOD, Colo. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today that based on feedback and input from the State of Colorado, the oil and gas industry, and the public, it has refined and narrowed the final rule to designate critical habitat for three rare western Colorado plants: the Pagosa skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha), Parachute beardtongue (Penstemon debilis), and DeBeque phacelia (Phacelia submutica).

Specifically, the final rule excludes OXY USA and Occidental Oil Shale (OXY) lands from critical habitat because of existing conservation practices and continuing partnerships in place on these private properties. Where critical habitat for plants or other species is designated on Federal lands, the Endangered Species Act requires Federal agencies to consult with the Service when projects or activities may affect the species. In contrast, critical habitat designation generally does not affect private and non-Federal lands where the plants may be located. Only if an activity affecting plants on private or non-Federal land requires Federal funding or permitting would a consultation with the Service be needed.

“We appreciate and recognize the voluntary conservation efforts underway that will help ensure that these three native plants recover and remain part of the Rocky Mountains’ flora for generations of Americans to appreciate,” said Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Steve Guertin. “The input we have received, coupled with the work of our conservation partners, has helped us refine a rule that will protect these extremely rare plants from going extinct.”

The Service does not expect to recommend the prohibition or reduction of oil and gas activities in critical habitat areas; instead, where potential impacts on the rare plants may occur, the Service will work with project proponents to implement mitigation and conservation measures to protect habitat, while allowing energy development projects to move forward. Additionally, the Service does not expect to recommend any timing or seasonal restrictions on development and, based on successful voluntary conservation efforts already underway, does not believe that recommended conservation efforts will lead to a decrease in oil and gas development.

Parachute beardtongue, also known as Parachute penstemon, is an extremely rare plant, which only grows in Garfield County, Colorado. Fewer than 4,200 plants are known to exist. Threats to the species and its habitat include development, oil shale mine reclamation, road maintenance, and natural events such as fire and drought. The Service has identified 15,510 acres of critical habitat for Parachute beardtongue in four units with 90 percent of the ownership on Federal lands. The designation excludes OXY USA and Occidental Oil Shale (OXY) lands from critical habitat because of existing conservation practices and continuing partnerships in place on these private properties.

Pagosa skyrocket is a rare short-lived plant known from only two populations near Pagosa Springs in Archuleta County, Colorado. Highly restricted soil requirements and geographic range make it particularly susceptible to extinction at any time due to a range of impacts, including development, habitat fragmentation, and prolonged drought. The Service has identified 9,641 acres as critical habitat for Pagosa skyrocket in four units.

DeBeque phacelia is a rare, very short-lived annual plant that grows on barren patches of shrink-swell clay of the Wasatch Formation. Nine populations are known in Mesa and Garfield Counties, western Colorado. We are designating 25,484 acres of critical habitat for DeBeque phacelia in nine units with 86 percent of the area on Federal lands. All of these nine units are currently occupied.

A copy of the final critical habitat designation, our final economic analysis, our final environmental assessment, and other information about Pagosa skyrocket, Parachute beardtongue, and DeBeque phacelia are available on the internet at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/plants/3ColoradoPlants/index.html, or by contacting the Western Colorado Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction, CO 81506-3946, phone 970-243-2778. The final critical habitat designation will publish in the Federal Register on August 13, 2012. For general information on critical habitat please visit:  http://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/critical_habitat.pdf.

For public domain imagery of the three plants, please visit this flickr gallery: http://bit.ly/PJCQaY.

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 http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/. Connect with our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/USFWSMountainPrairie, follow our tweets at http://twitter.com/USFWSMtnPrairie, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/.

 - FWS -