SALT LAKE CITY – Conservation advocates are saying the federal government’s proposed plan to protect two nearly extinct wildflowers that grow in Utah and Colorado doesn’t do enough to ensure their survival.
Lori Ann Burd, endangered species campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering limited protection for the Graham’s and White River beardtongues. She said she’s convinced the only move that can save the flowers from disappearing entirely is to list them under the Endangered Species Act.
“The Endangered Species Act is 99 percent effective at preventing extinction,” she said. “But a species must be listed under the act in order for the act’s protections to work. And these species have been sitting on the list awaiting protection, in one case for almost four decades, and in the other case for three decades, and during that time, they’ve become more and more imperiled.”
Burd said the beardtongues are found only in oil-shale outcroppings in northeastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and an area of northwestern Colorado.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released its draft conservation plan to protect the wildflowers, but Burd said she sees it as a major problem that the plan would end the protections after 15 years. An ESA listing lasts until the species population is restored. Burd said she thinks the wildflowers’ habitat can be protected while also allowing for oil and gas development in the region.
“Listing would not preclude economic activity, would not preclude oil and gas drilling,” she said. “It would just mean that Fish and Wildlife would have to take a look at the activity, if a federal agency has to permit it, and determine whether there might be impacts to the species. If there might be impacts to these wildflowers, then they would have to determine how to minimize the impacts.”
Burd said oil and gas development, and animals grazing, are among the factors that have led to the decline of the Graham’s and White River beardtongues.
The FWS conservation plan is online at <a href=”http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/plants/2utahbeardtongues/” target=”parent”>fws.gov</a>.