[Federal Register: February 4, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 23)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 5959-5962]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on 
a Petition To List Ptilagrostis porteri (Porter feathergrass) as 
Threatened or Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding for a petition to list Ptilagrostis porteri (Porter 
feathergrass) as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended (the Act). We find that the petition and 
additional information in Service files do not present substantial 
scientific or commercial information indicating that listing this 
species may be warranted. We will not be initiating a further status 
review in response to this petition. The public may submit to us any 
new information that becomes available concerning the status of or 
threats to the species.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on January 28, 
2005. New information concerning this species may be submitted for our 
consideration at any time.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, or questions concerning this 
petition finding should be submitted to the Western Colorado 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services Field 
Office, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction, Colorado 81506. 
The petition finding and supporting information are available for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address. The petition and finding are available on our Web site 
at http://r6.fws.gov/plants/feathergrass.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Allan R. Pfister, Supervisor, Western
Colorado Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (see ADDRESSES section) (telephone (970) 243-2778; facsimile
(970) 245-6933).



Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, as
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that we make a finding on
whether a petition to

[[Page 5960]]

list, delist, or reclassify a species presents substantial scientific
or commercial information to demonstrate that the petitioned action may
be warranted. This finding is to be based on all information available
to us at the time the finding is made. To the maximum extent
practicable, we make this finding within 90 days of the date the
petition was received, and notice of the finding must be published
promptly in the Federal Register.
We received a petition, dated March 5, 2002, to list the plant
Ptilagrostis porteri (Porter feathergrass) as threatened or endangered
within its historic range. The petition was submitted by Jacob Smith,
Executive Director of the Center for Native Ecosystems, and by the
Colorado Native Plant Society, Joshua Pollock, Southern Rockies
Ecosystem Project, and the American Lands Alliance. We received the
petition on March 7, 2002. Action on this petition was precluded due to
other priority actions and because funding in Fiscal Years 2002 and
2003 was not sufficient to process a preliminary finding. The
petitioners filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue on June 26, 2002,
alleging that the Service violated the Act by failing to prepare a 90-
day petition finding. A lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court
for the District of Arizona on September 17, 2003. An agreement was
reached on May 24, 2004, specifying that the Service would submit for
publication in the Federal Register on or before January 31, 2005, a
determination whether the petition presents substantial information
indicating that listing may be warranted.

Species Information

Ptilagrostis porteri is a small, perennial bunchgrass with a tuft
of fine, narrow basal leaves 2-12 centimeters (cm) (0.8-4.7 inches
(in)) long. Stems are 20-35 cm (7.9-13.8 in) tall with single-flowered
spikelets in a terminal panicle about 5-10 cm (2-4 in) long. Panicle
branches can be closed or open. Awns are 1.5-2 cm (0.6-0.8 in) long,
feathery, and bent below the middle.
Ptilagrostis porteri has very specific soil hydration requirements.
It grows on the shoulders and sides of elevated hummocks that have
formed in peat fens. The hummocks are elevated above the water table,
providing a moist but not saturated peat substrate. Most of the
species' habitat is classified as rich or extreme-rich calcareous fen.
The pH of these fens is high (7.4-8.6) compared to other montane fens,
and the peat accumulates at a much slower rate, about 11 cm (4 in) per
thousand years (Sanderson and March 1996). Fens are considered a
category 1, irreplaceable resource in the Service's Region 6 (Hartmann
The fens where P. porteri grows are found at elevations from 2,800
to 3,400 meters (m) (9,200 to 11,200 feet (ft)) in the north end of
South Park and surrounding Tarryall, Mosquito, and Kenosha mountain
ranges in Park County, Colorado, about 130 kilometers (km) (80 miles
(mi)) southwest of Denver. One small population occurs in neighboring
Summit County, and one small outlier population occurs about 56 km (35
mi) to the southeast in El Paso County. Extreme-rich fens with a
similar flora are found elsewhere in the United States in only a few
locations in Wyoming and California.
Ptilagrostis porteri is the only Ptilagrostis species in North
America. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) ranks P. porteri
as imperiled globally (G2) and in the State of Colorado (S2). It was a
Federal category 2 candidate species until 1996 when the candidate
categories were discontinued (61 FR 64481). It is designated as a
sensitive species on the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Region 2 list for
Twenty-two populations of Ptilagrostis porteri are recorded with
data in the CNHP data system; three additional records have no
available information and two historical records have not been
relocated. The CNHP has determined that there are 284 hectares (ha)
(702 acres (ac)) of occupied habitat, based on field survey maps of the
populations recorded in their geographic information system (CNHP
2004). Other estimates from field observations compiled by Johnston
(2004) indicate that the total occupied habitat could be 650 ha (1,600
ac). For this finding, we use the acreage determined by CNHP. Available
plant inventory records are too inconsistent to provide reliable
estimates of population sizes or trends (CNHP 2004, Johnston 2004, and
Sanderson 2000).
Fourteen of the 22 known populations are on USFS land, primarily in
Pike National Forest. They contain more than 50 percent of the plants
on 183 ha (451 ac) of habitat. The remaining 8 populations are in
private or mixed ownership, and contain less than 50 percent of the
plants on 104 ha (258 ac) of the known habitat (CNHP 2004).
Each P. porteri population is ranked by CNHP for quality and
viability. Six populations are ranked A (relatively large, intact,
defensible and viable). Five A-ranked populations occur on USFS land,
covering about 137 ha (338 ac) of occupied habitat; the remaining A-
ranked population occupies an estimated 7 ha (18 ac) of private land.
Seven populations are ranked B (small but in good condition, or large
but disturbed and/or not viable or defensible). Five B-ranked
populations occur on 44 ha (108 ac) of USFS land, and one B-ranked
population occurs on 54 ha (134 ac) of private land. Eight populations
are ranked C (small, in poor condition, possibly not viable). Three C-
ranked populations occur on 2 ha (5 ac) of USFS land, three C-ranked
populations occur on 36 ha (89 ac) of USFS and private lands, and two
C-ranked populations occur on 6 ha (15 ac) of mostly private lands. One
population is ranked D (degraded or not viable); it occurs on 0.8 ha (2
ac) of private land (CNHP 2004).
The 13 A- and B-ranked populations occur in 2 separate watersheds
(CNHP 2004). Eight populations are in the South Platte Headwaters
watershed. They occur along two headwater tributaries flowing down from
the rim of South Park on the west and north sides to the South Platte
River, one via the Middle Fork of the South Platte and the other one
via Tarryall Creek. Five populations are in the Upper South Platte
watershed. Within this watershed, the populations are located in two
separate drainages. One drainage runs east into the North Fork of the
South Platte; the other exits through underground aquifers (von
Ahlefeldt 1989). This distribution across two watersheds and four
headwater sources reduces the potential impact to the total population
that may result from one water project.

Conservation Status

Pursuant to section 4(a) of the ESA, we may list a species of a
plant taxon on the basis of any one of the following factors--(A)
Present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of
habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational,
scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D)
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other manmade or
natural factors affecting its continued existence. The petitioners cite
threats under factors A, D, and E. The petitioners did not mention any
threats due to overutilization (factor B). This grass is not easily
harvested for hay, nor is it currently of commercial or horticultural
interest. Therefore, overutilization is not considered to be a threat
to this species. The petitioners likewise did not cite any threats due
to disease or predation (factor C). Predation from grazing is not
considered to be a threat to the species because it is not known to be
palatable to

[[Page 5961]]

livestock, and no diseases or pests are known to have any effect on the
species (Johnston 2004; von Ahlefeldt 1989; CNHP 2004). Therefore,
disease and predation are not considered to be threats to this species.
In regard to factor A (The Present or Threatened Destruction,
Modification, or Curtailment of the Species' Habitat or Range), the
petition states that Ptilagrostis porteri habitat is threatened by: (1)
Water diversions and other hydrological alterations; (2) peat mining
and other mining; (3) residential development; (4) livestock grazing;
(5) motorized vehicle use; (6) hiking and other non-motorized
recreation; and (7) beaver activity.
Potential impacts to the moisture regime for Ptilagrostis porteri
arise from water projects that would draw down the ground water level
and projects that would divert surface water from wetlands and
irrigated agricultural lands. The water is purchased by municipalities
in the Denver Metropolitan area. The South Park Conjunctive Use Project
proposal, cited by the petitioners and active at the time of the
petition, would have drawn water from creeks upstream of P. porteri
populations and from the water table under the wetlands in South Park
to supply the city of Aurora in the Denver Metro area with 2,500
hectare-meters (ha-m) (20,000 acre-feet (ac-ft)) of water per year.
Water was to be delivered as stream flow in a main tributary creek to
the South Platte River (U.S. Geological Survey 2002). The project would
have impacted two of the four major drainages where high-quality P.
porteri populations are found, and may, therefore, have constituted a
threat to the species. Lowering the water table in the fen habitat
would create conditions too dry for P. porteri, whereas construction of
recharge reservoirs could over-water the microhabitat for P. porteri
and could destroy the fen vegetation community. Petitioners state that
the project threatened to severely impact 50 to 75 percent of the total
habitat occupied by P. porteri, based on an assessment by Sanderson
The South Park Conjunctive Use Project proposal was rejected in
District Court for Water Division No. 1 in 1998 in favor of the
plaintiff, the Park County Water Preservation Coalition, based on
augmentation modeling that showed that available water was
insufficient. The Colorado Supreme Court rejected an appeal after the
date this listing petition was submitted (Colorado Bar Association
2002). No other major water draw-down projects are currently being
proposed in Park County (G. Nichols 2004, Eiseman 2004).
The City of Aurora recently purchased 900 ha-m (7,000 ac-ft) of
water per year from an existing City of Thornton project that has been
diverting water from 11 South Park ranches for about 20 years (McHugh
2004). There are no available data to indicate whether Ptilagrostis
porteri habitat has been impacted by this ongoing diversion. The City
of Centennial in the metropolitan Denver area has purchased surface
water from another ranch that has a 35-ha (86-ac) C-ranked population
of P. porteri. Two other populations described by the petitioners have
been ditched and partially drained in the past. Both of these
populations are ranked C because they are small, but the remaining
habitat still has a water level sufficient to support the species (CNHP
2004). The town of Fairplay is no longer depending on Beaver Creek
water that flows through two P. porteri populations; they are now using
well water (G. Nichols 2004).
Conservation easement agreements including water rights have
recently been completed for three private ranches as part of the South
Park Basin Legacy Project. Completed easements now protect a 7-ha (18-
ac) A-ranked population and a 0.8-ha (2-ac) D-ranked population (CNHP
Based on the foregoing, we have concluded that neither the petition
nor our files contain substantial information indicating that listing
this species may be warranted based on impacts from water diversions
and other hydrological alterations.
Petitioners state that there is a moratorium on peat mining in Park
County and that the threat is primarily the possibility that the
moratorium could be rescinded. Park County regulations allow peat
mining to continue if it was permitted before the new policy was
adopted, but the County has no record of current activity, nor is there
any expectation that new operations will be allowed (Eiseman 2004).
Sanderson and March (1996) reported that nearly 20 percent of the total
extreme rich fen area in South Park has been permanently lost due to
past mining of peat. At least four populations of Ptilagrostis porteri
have been partially destroyed by peat mining in the past. The remaining
portions of these fens survive in good condition because they have
subsurface water sources (CNHP 2004). The hypothetical possibility of
repeal of protective regulations is not substantial information.
Therefore, we conclude that there is not substantial information to
indicate that listing the species may be warranted as a consequence of
impacts from peat mining.
Placer mining has occurred in the past, and continues at one
Ptilagrostis porteri location under a USFS permit issued in 1993. The
permit covers small-scale recreational mining, comprising about 30
dredging days per year and other activities by about 20 people on
weekends and 4 people on weekdays between May and October. A draft
Biological Evaluation by the USFS in 2000 (Howard 2000) found no effect
to sensitive plant species, although P. porteri is known to occur
within the project area. The petition and our files do not contain
substantial information indicating that placer mining might be a threat
to the species.
Petitioners state that residential development alters local
hydrology and removes wetland habitat by infilling and, therefore, is a
threat to Ptilagrostis porteri. Based on private land ownership (CNHP
2004), about 7 of the 22 populations may be vulnerable to this threat;
2 of the 7 have recently been placed in conservation easements. These
populations are located in the South Platte Headwaters watershed in 2
of the 4 main drainage systems that support the species. More new
residential development has occurred in South Park in the last 5 years
than in the 20 years from 1980 to 2000 (G. Nichols 2004). There are 4
centers of new residential development in South Park along Sacramento
Creek and the Middle Fork of the South Platte, at Warm Springs Ranch
and in the Silver Hills area, all of which are close to populations of
P. porteri. No substantial information is provided in the petition or
available in our files on actual impacts of the existing developments
on nearby wetlands. Although there are potential cumulative effects on
hydrology and physical structure of the fens, we conclude that there is
no substantial information in the petition or our files indicating that
these might warrant a listing proposal.
Petitioners state that excessive livestock grazing can cause
trampling damage to the fen habitat of Ptilagrostis porteri. Grazing
pressures have fluctuated historically. Records kept by the USFS for
allotments where the largest P. porteri populations now occur show that
cattle grazing was intense during the 1920s and 1930s. Since 1968,
major changes in management have been implemented on the National
Forest. Photographs taken in 1939 and 1989 show a dramatic increase in
vegetation cover on the fens (von Ahlefeldt 1989), and von Ahlefeldt
considered moderate grazing to have a minor impact on P. porteri
because cattle find it unpalatable and they usually walk between the

[[Page 5962]]

without trampling the plants. Field observations of grazing impacts on
P. porteri populations over the past 35 years indicate a significant
change in grazing management and consequent improvement in the visible
condition of vegetation on the fens (CNHP 2004, Johnston 2004). We
conclude that neither the petition nor information in our files
provides substantial information that grazing is, or is likely to be in
the foreseeable future, a threat to the species.
Petitioners state that evidence of off-road vehicle use, including
snowmobiles, has been observed at five of the Ptilagrostis porteri
populations. Similar observations have been recorded by CNHP (2004).
There is no available additional documentation of the effects of such
impacts on this species or its habitat. Thus we conclude that there is
no substantial information to indicate that off-road vehicle use
presents a threat to the species.
Petitioners state that trail widening and erosion damage nearby
peat bogs. Only minor impacts of this type have been recorded by field
surveyors (CNHP 2004). Neither the petition nor our files provides
additional information to support the petition's contention that this
is a threat to the species. In addition, petitioners cite beaver
activity as a potential threat, but state that it is not currently
threatening any known populations of Ptilagrostis porteri. We have no
information to contradict petitioner's statement that beaver activity
is not currently threatening any known populations.
In regard to factor D (The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory
Mechanisms), petitioners state that existing regulatory mechanisms are
inadequate to ensure protection and recovery for Ptilagrostis porteri.
The USFS currently manages P. porteri as a sensitive species and the
habitat is managed as wetlands, in accordance with the USFS Region 2
Policy on protection of fens (Hilliard 2002) and the Watershed
Conservation Practices Handbook for Region 2 (2001). The USFS manages
about 65 percent of the P. porteri habitat. The largest known
population, A-ranked by CNHP, is in a Federal Wilderness Area on the
Pike National Forest. The management practices under these regulations
are discussed under Listing Factor A. Just as we determined that there
is not substantial information in the petition or our files that the
effects of these regulations may warrant listing, there is also no
substantial information that the regulations themselves are inadequate
and might warrant a listing.
Petitioners cite the lack of regulations to prevent impacts caused
by water diversions as a threat. However, as discussed above, existing
law and regulatory mechanisms have resulted in termination of the
project cited by petitioners as the greatest threat to the species. The
petition does not present, nor do we have, substantial information on
other specific threats related to water diversions. Hypothetical
possibilities do not constitute substantial scientific information
indicating a listing may be warranted. Thus we conclude that the
petition has not presented substantial information to indicate that
lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms is a threat to the species.
In regard to factor E (Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting
the Continued Existence of Ptilagrostis porteri), the petitioners
consider the species to be vulnerable due to the small size of most of
its populations. They report that only 9 populations have more than 300
plants, 9 have 100 or fewer plants, and 5 populations have 20 or fewer
plants. The CNHP (2004) reports 9 recorded populations smaller than 2
ha (5 ac); 1 is ranked A, 1 is ranked B, 6 are ranked C, and 1 is
ranked D (the C and D populations are so ranked primarily because they
are small). The size of these small populations refers to the extent of
occupied habitat within fens that are more extensive. Therefore, size
of the population may not be related to size or condition of the
habitat or age or susceptibility to drying out. Size also may not
indicate ability to reproduce, because the plants can self-fertilize.
Thus available information is not substantial enough to indicate that
small numbers of plants or acreage by itself pose a threat to this


We have reviewed the petition and its supporting documentation, as
well as information in our files and other readily available
information. On the basis of this review, we find that the petition
does not present substantial information indicating that listing of
Ptilagrostis porteri may be warranted, nor do we have such information.
The petition is based primarily on the threat of habitat destruction by
major water draw-down and diversion projects. The major water draw-down
project that was imminent at the time of petition submission (2002) is
no longer proposed. No water projects are currently planned on Federal
land within the species' range. Likewise, substantial information is
not available to indicate that the other potential impacts cited by the
petitioners rise to a level that threatens the species.
In making this finding we rely on information provided by the
petitioners and that readily available to us, and evaluate that
information in accordance with 50 CFR 424.14(b). The contents of this
finding summarize information included in the petition and information
that was available to us at the time of the petition review. Our review
for the purposes of a so-called ``90-day'' finding under section
4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA and Sec. 424.14(b) of our regulations is limited
to a determination of whether the information in the petition
constitutes ``substantial scientific or commercial information''
indicating that listing may be warranted. Available information
indicates that the primary threat cited in the petition has been
eliminated, and the information relating to it is accordingly no longer
applicable. We found that the petition did not provide substantial
information on the other threats cited, many of which by the petition's
own wording are potential or hypothetical threats rather than existing


A complete list of all references cited in this finding is
available upon request from the Grand Junction Ecological Services
Field Office (see ADDRESSES section).


The primary author of this document is Ellen Mayo, Grand Junction
Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see
ADDRESSES section).


The authority for this action is the ESA of 1973, as amended (16
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

Dated: January 28, 2005.
Marshall P. Jones,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 05-2133 Filed 2-3-05; 8:45 am]