Feds list Parachute penstemon as threatened plant | AspenTimes.com

Feds list Parachute penstemon as threatened plant

Post Independent staff report
Aspen, CO Colorado
Post Independent file The Parachute penstemon, also called the Parachute beardtongue, is the subject of a final rule designating it as a threatened plant species. It is a rare plant that grows only on the oil shale outcrops of the Roan Plateau in Garfield County.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced its decision to list three rare wildflowers native to western Colorado as threatened or endangered species.

They include the Parachute penstemon, also known as Parachute beardtongue (Penstemon debilis). It’s an extremely rare plant that only grows on the oil shale outcrops of the Roan Plateau in western Garfield County. Just 4,133 plants are known to exist.

Threats to the species and its habitat include energy development, oil shale mine reclamation, road maintenance and inadequate regulations to protect the plant from disturbance.

Also included in the listing are the Debeque phacelia (Phacelia submutica) as a threatened species and the Pagosa skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha) as an endangered species, a more serious listing.

The Debeque phacelia is a short-lived annual plant that grows on barren patches of shrink-swell clay of the Wasatch Formation. Just eight populations of the plant are spread across 626 acres of habitat in the southern Piceance Basin oil and gas fields of Mesa and Garfield counties.

It is threatened by natural gas development, pipelines and roads, and by off-road vehicles, livestock grazing and inadequate regulatory protections.

Pagosa skyrocket is a rare biennial plant known to grow in only two populations near Pagosa Springs. Because it grows only in certain soils and 87 percent of its habitat in on private lands, it is at great risk of extinction. Threats include land development, livestock grazing and prolonged drought.

The ruling is issued under the Endangered Species Act, and includes a proposal to designate 54,036 acres as critical habitat for the three species.

The critical habitat designation calls for:

• 19,155 acres for the Parachute penstemon in four areas, with 73 percent of the land owned by the federal government and 27 percent on private land.

• 24,987 acres for the Debeque phacelia in nine areas, with 87 percent on federal lands.

• 9,894 acres for the Pagosa skyrocket in four areas, with 21 percent of the area on national forest land and the remaining on private lands.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments on the proposal for the critical habitat designation though Sept. 26.

Comments may be submitted online at http://regulations.gov or by mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: (R6-ES-2011-0040); Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, Va. 22203.

A copy of the final rule, proposed critical habitat, and other information about Pagosa skyrocket, Parachute beardtongue, and Debeque phacelia are available online at http://www.fws. gov/mountain-prairie/species/ plants/3ColoradoPlants/index.html or by contacting the Western Colorado Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Grand Junction at (970) 243-2778.

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