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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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


                                                                              January 27, 2004

Contacts: Mary Jennings 307-772-2374 x 32
Diane Katzenberger 303-236-4578

Draft Environmental Assessment and Draft Economic Analysis of Proposed Critical Habitat for the Desert Yellowhead Released for Public Comment

A draft environmental assessment and draft economic analysis of the potential impacts of designating critical habitat for the desert yellowhead, a perennial herb in the sunflower family found on federally-managed land in the Beaver Rim area of Fremont County, Wyoming, are available for public comment.

To give the public the opportunity to comment on these documents as well as the critical habitat proposal, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period on the proposal for critical habitat for the desert yellowhead until (30 days from publication).

The draft economic analysis, prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc., indicates that over a 10-year period, direct costs are estimated at $500,000 to $600,000 for federal agencies to consult with the Service to ensure that a particular activity does not harm the critical habitat. However, only a portion of these costs would be attributable to a critical habitat designation. Even without critical habitat, consultation activities would still be taking place, but it is difficult to quantify precisely what portion of the total costs can be attributed to the critical habitat designation.

"The Endangered Species Act requires that whenever a federal agency undertakes, funds, or issues a permit for a project, the agency needs to consult with the Service," explained Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. "Since the desert yellowhead is found only on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, these costs would be associated with that consultation process."

Most of the identified costs are associated with possible project modifications for oil and gas extraction activities. Other activities that could potentially be affected by the designation of critical habitat are the revision of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Lander Resource Management Plan, cattle grazing, utility right-of-ways, and geophysical oil and gas exploration.

An economic analysis is required whenever critical habitat is proposed. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service may exclude areas from a critical habitat designation if the benefits of excluding them are greater than the benefits of including them, unless the exclusion would result in the extinction of the protected species.

The desert yellowhead was listed as a threatened species throughout its range on March 14, 2002. A proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the plant was published the Federal Register on March 14, 2003. The critical habitat proposal was completed in response to a lawsuit filed by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Center for Native Ecosystems, and Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Written comments on the proposal to designate critical habitat for the desert yellowhead as well as the draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment should be submitted to Field Supervisor, Wyoming Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4000 Airport Parkway, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82001, or by facsimile to 307-772-2358. Electronic mail comments may be sent to Please submit electronic comments in ACSII file format and avoid the use of special characters or encryption. Comments must be received by February 26, 2004. Comments previously submitted regarding the critical habitat proposal need not be resubmitted as they have been incorporated into the public record and will be fully considered in preparation of the final rule.

While all comments regarding these documents are welcome, we are specifically seeking comments regarding: the amount and distribution of desert yellowhead and what habitat is essential to the species and why; land use practices and current or planned activities in the subject area; any foreseeable economic or other impacts from the designation of critical habitat; and economic and other values associated with designating critical habitat from non-consumptive uses such uses as hiking, camping, birdwatching, enhanced watershed protection, improved air quality, and increased soil retention.

A notice of availability of the draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment was published today in the Federal Register. These documents and the proposal to designate critical habitat for the desert yellowhead are available on the Internet at

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act identifying geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. 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.

The desert yellowhead has leafy stems of up to12 inches high with alternate, lance-shaped leathery leaves that are often folded along the midvein. Each flower head, of which there are 25 to 80 on each stem, contains 4 to 6 yellow disk flowers surrounded by five yellow, small leaves. The outer whorl of the flower consists of many white bristles.

It is illegal to collect and remove listed plants from Federal Lands. However, the Endangered Species Act does not prohibit take of listed plants on private lands, although landowners must comply with state laws protecting imperiled plants.

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 plants compounds, including medicine to treat cancer, heart disease, juvenile leukemia, and malaria, as well as those used to assist in organ transplants. Plants are also used to develop natural pesticides.

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 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource 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 governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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