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grahamii_susan meyer

Graham’s Penstemon – Photo by Susan Meyer

Conservation groups, including Rocky Mountain Wild, have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Denver challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to deny Endangered Species Act protection to two imperiled wildflowers that live only on oil shale formations in Colorado and Utah. Oil and gas development threaten 100 percent of known White River beardtongue populations and over 85 percent of the known Graham’s beardtongue populations.

In August 2013, the Service proposed to provide Endangered Species Act protection to the wildflowers and nearly 76,000 acres of their essential habitat, recognizing the threat posed by mining and drilling. One year later—after lobbying by industry and its supporters, including the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and Uintah County—the Service reversed-course and denied Endangered Species Act protections. The Service based its decision on a 15-year “conservation agreement” negotiated behind closed doors with pro-industry stakeholders.

Public records obtained by the conservation groups show that the conservation agreement purposefully excluded wildflower habitat from protection to accommodate oil shale mining and drilling.

“The conservation agreement is a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry,” said Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups. “Although the Fish and Wildlife Service previously identified habitat that was essential to the survival of these wildflowers, the agency rolled over during negotiations and sacrificed more than 40% of this essential habitat, including lands the oil shale industry plans to strip mine in the next 15 years.”

For more detail on this issue visit: www.rockymountainwild.org.

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