As well adapted as Graham’s penstemon is to its harsh environment, it doesn’t stand a chance against oil and gas drilling. This species grows on sparsely vegetated outcrops of the Green River Formation at 4,600 to 6,700 feet in elevation, is found only in the Uinta Basin (referred to by the Bureau of Land Management as “Utah’s oil patch”), and grows only on oil shale soils.
In 2014, we joined six other conservation groups to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for denying Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection to two species of imperiled wildflowers affected by the oil and gas drilling. The Service proposed to protect the White River and Graham’s penstemon in August 2013 after determining that 91% of Graham’s penstemon populations and 100% of White River penstemons were threatened by the impacts of oil and gas development. The Service then reversed course in August 2014, opting instead for an inadequate voluntary “conservation agreement” with the Bureau of Land Management and several state and county agencies with active roles in energy development.
On October 25, 2016, a federal court ruled in favor of our conservation group! The court concluded that the Service could not reasonably rely on the “conservation agreement” in denying Endangered Species Act protection.
The court also faulted the Service for failing to explain why the agreement would not simply leave the penstemons in the same “precarious state” in 15 years as they were in when FWS proposed listing. The court also found that FWS did not base its decision solely on the best available science, as required by the ESA.
The court vacated the decision not to list and reinstated the proposed rule.
Image credit: Kevin Megown, USFS, https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/9421871809