U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service changes its mind

by Caroline Brown

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today announced that it’s withdrawing its proposal to list the Graham’s penstemon (Penstemon grahamii) as an endangered species under the EPA’s Endangered Species Act, says the Associated Press.

A member of the snapdragon family, the lavender wildflower is found only in certain areas of northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah–all owned by the federal Bureau of Land Managment (BLM)–land that sits on top of valuable oil shales. The BLM is in the business of leasing the land to companies for oil and gas extraction.

Sigh. Here we go.

The withdrawn proposal would have resulted in the designation of 3000+ acres where Graham’s penstemon is found as critical habitat, and therefore unavailable for lease to oil and gas companies. The FWS made the proposal in January 2006 after years of petitioning from regional conservation groups, including 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.

The Center for Native Ecosystems says that Graham’s penstemon is hardy, but not enough to withstand a heavy machinery assault:

But this is no delicate wildflower – it is only found on oil shale barrens where most other plants could never withstand the blazing heat reflected from the surrounding white shale fragments. Unfortunately, as well adapted as Graham’s penstemon is to these harsh environments, it doesn’t stand a chance against oil and gas drilling and exploration activities, off-road vehicles, or livestock trampling.

Somewhere between January and now, the FWS changed its mind. Graham’s penstemon, it decided, isn’t really important endangered after all:

Larry England, a botanist with the FWS in Salt Lake City said the proposal was withdrawn Tuesday because the service couldn’t show that the threats to the species and its population range were imminent.

“We still have a conservation concern that is ongoing and we will track it in relation to all potential energy development, not just oil shale and tar sands,” England said.

Obviously that view isn’t shared by the conservation organizations who worked so hard to convince the FWS to get behind their proposal only to have the rug pulled out from under them less than a year later:

A statement from the Center for Native Ecosystems criticizes the FWS for relying heavily on comments from the BLM in making its decision. The BLM has been increasingly offering lands in the area of the flower’s habitat for oil and gas leases.

“As a sister agency, we’re taking them at face value and at their word,” England said.

Yep, let’s take them at their word! They would never lie!

Good luck, little wildflower.

Photo courtesy of Susan Meyer/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

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3 Comments to “U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service changes its mind”

  1. Oh, grrrrrrrrrrr……what a beautiful little flower. It just makes me want to throw something…preferably something very solid ….at the heads of the people making these decisions.

  2. 3000 acres seems like a very small piece of land to set aside! It must be smack in the middle of something more desirable. If only we could reduce our dependence on gas and oil products with alternate energy sources the world would be a very different place! Can you imagine not needing product from the oil rich countries? Or, our own for that matter. The little penstemon could live on in peace and so could we! Peace on earth, good will toward women. (and man, of course)!

  3. I can’t wait to see what that world looks like, Ginger, when we get to that place without a need for fossil fuels and have a more sustainable lifestyle partnered with “clean” energy. Hey, I can dream, right?! 😛

    Thanks for the wildflower update Caroline. The “endangereds list” is an imperfect system, and I think we just have to keep aware, as you are doing, to help it work even in the smallest way.

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