Two wildflowers that grow only where there are oil shale or tar sands will stay off the federal endangered species list for now. Instead, an agreement has been worked out to protect some of the areas where they grow in eastern Utah.
The two species are Graham’s beardtongue and White River beardtongue, two small flowers related to snapdragons. They grow in eastern Utah and western Colorado where oil shale or tar sands are close to the surface.
A year ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing them as endangered species, but now the agency has withdrawn the proposal. Instead, it’s worked out an agreement with the federal Bureau of Land Management, Utah’s State Institutional Trust Lands Administration, Governor Gary Herbert’s Public Lands Policy office and local governments in Utah and Colorado. It protects 44-thousand acres of public and private land from strip mining and road construction.
Tova Spector, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, says the flowers are better off under the new arrangement.
Spector tells KUER, “For, like Graham’s beardtongue, for instance, about half of the known occurrences of the species occur on state and private lands where they’d receive less protection under the Endangered Species Act. So in this conservation agreement, they receive protection that helps to reduce those threats.”
There’s only one commercial oil shale operation and only one tar sands mine in eastern Utah. Both operate on state land. But Steve Bloch with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says the plants are also threatened by conventional energy development and livestock grazing.
“These species, as the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges," Bloch says, "are warranted for protection under the Endangered Species Act and need that protection so they can survive and thrive.”
Conservation groups have been fighting legal battles for more than a decade to get the two plants on the endangered species list. Bloch says his group and several others may decide to go back to court yet again to fight the deal.