For Immediate Release, May 6, 2014

Contact:  Tony Frates, Utah Native Plant Society, (801) 277-9240
Lori Ann Burd, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6405
Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981

Agency Balks at Protecting Colorado and Utah Wildflowers Threatened by Oil Shale Development

SALT LAKE CITY— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft conservation agreement today that delays and potentially undermines federal protection for two imperiled wildflowers in Utah and Colorado that were proposed for Endangered Species Act protection last August. The draft agreement does not provide strong enough protections to ensure the plants’ recovery and would remain in place for 15 years — enough time that the species could be pushed to the brink of extinction.

Graham’s and White River beardtongues are found only in oil shale outcroppings in northeastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and northwestern Colorado’s Piceance Basin. The two flowers have awaited federal protection since 1975 and 1983 respectively.

“The parties to this conservation plan — including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management — have worked to prevent protection for these incredible plants for many years,” said Tony Frates of the Utah Native Plant Society. “The fact that the conservation agreement is nullified if Graham’s and White River beardtongues become federally protected shows that this agreement is not really about conservation. These species need to be listed, with critical habitat designated, under the Endangered Species Act.”

Both plants are at risk of extinction due to habitat loss. In the proposed listing rule, the Service estimated that up to 94 percent of the total known populations of Graham's and White River beardtongues will be vulnerable to both direct loss and indirect negative impacts such as habitat fragmentation from oil shale and tar sands development.

“These flowers have waited decades for protection in the face of mounting threats, and this plan’s simply not enough to save them,” said Lori Ann Burd with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If these two wildflowers are going to survive, they need the immediate protection of the Endangered Species Act, which is 99 percent effective at preventing extinction. But the Act only works if species actually get protected.”

In 2011 the Center for Native Ecosystems (now Rocky Mountain Wild), Utah Native Plant Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Colorado Native Plant Society, represented by Earthjustice, prevailed in a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the Graham’s beardtongue as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Graham’s and White River beardtongues are facing an ever-increasing onslaught of conventional oil and gas and unconventional oil shale development that threatens both individual plants and the species’ overall habitat," said Stephen Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “We have every reason to believe that these remarkable native wildflowers will go extinct without the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.”

The Service has concluded that no significant economic impacts would result from designating critical habitat for these species, despite industry-backed assertions that protecting the two species would hurt local economies and impede energy development. Endangered Species Act protection with critical habitat designation would require any federally funded or permitted projects to consult with the Service to make sure the plants and their habitat would not be harmed.

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