The federal government is planning to protect two kinds of wildflower that grow only in eastern Utah and western Colorado – and only in areas where there are oil shale or tar sands.
Graham’s penstemon (Penstemon grahamii) and White River penstemon (Penstemon scariousus var. albifluvis) are two related species, similar but smaller than the common garden flowers of the same genus. They grow in areas of Utah’s Uintah Basin where oil shale is near the surface. Bekee Hotze with the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service says the plan is to designate about 76-thousand acres of critical habitat for these two flowers under the Endangered Species Act. But she doesn’t think it will necessarily shut down energy development in those areas.
“We would hopefully be able to work out ways that we could still manage the oil shale or get the oil shale out of the ground," Hotze tells KUER. "But we want to make sure that we have enough protection in place that the species does not go extinct.”
The issue of an endangered species listing for these flowers has been controversial for a number of years. Graham’s penstemon was withdrawn from a potential listing in 2006, but environmental groups took the issue to court and won.