Common Sense Prevails as Feds Approve Conservation Agreement to Protect Plant Species
|It doesn’t happen often, but common sense collaboration has won out over the usual regulate-and-litigate approach to how the federal government manages sensitive plant and animal species throughout the United States. On August 5th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its proposal to list two plant|
|species in eastern Utah and western Colorado as threatened and instead signed onto a 15-year federal-state-local Conservation Agreement designed to preserve habitat and support surveys and research for the plants.The two, very similar species – White River beardtongue and Graham’s penstemon – purportedly grow exclusively on or near oil shale outcrops and an endangered species listing could have severely limited energy development. The Agreement, on the other hand, is designed to both protect the plants and permit development to take place.Enefit American Oil (EAO), which consulted with federal, state and local agencies in the creation of the Agreement, applauds the decision. “This is a great example of how we can find win-win solutions by working collaboratively,” said EAO Chief Executive Officer Rikki Hrenko-Browning. “The Conservation Agreement will provide better protections for the plants and better outcomes for the community than if the federal government had gone through with a listing under the Endangered Species Act.”
In particular, Hrenko-Browning noted that the Agreement will apply to plants on private land, as well as those on federal and state land; an ESA listing doesn’t apply to private land in many cases. Considering that an estimated one-third of the plants in question are on private land, that’s a significant difference. Companies like EAO are supportive of the Agreement, even though it means setting aside private land for conservation zones, because it dramatically lessens the uncertainties and restrictions that a federal listing would entail.
The Agreement designates about 44,000 acres of land as conservation zones for the slow-growing plants, where surface-disturbing activities such as mining will be limited. Two-thirds to three-quarters of the known populations of the plants will be protected in these areas.
It’s also important to note that recent surveys have located more plants than were previously known to exist. This was likely a motivator in the federal decision to approve the Conservation Agreement instead of pursuing an endangered species listing. The Agreement was signed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Uintah County, Utah; Rio Blanco County, Colorado; the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the Utah Governor’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Utah and Colorado offices. It will be enforced through state and county regulations.