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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces proposal to list Pagosa skyrocket

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a proposal to protect a local plant under the Endangered Species Act. If made final, the measure would extend ESA protection by designating the Pagosa skyrocket as endangered throughout its range.

The decision by the service will be published in the Federal Register.

The listing of the plant will have land use implications for all affected federal lands because the ESA directs federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery of Federally listed species. Consequently, federal lands provide the greatest protection for endangered and threatened plants.

Where listed plants occur on federal lands, consultation with the service is required when projects or activities may affect the species.

However, this listing does not directly affect private and non-Federal landowners whose property hosts the three proposed plants. Consultations come into play only in cases where activities involving plants require federal funding or permitting or the use of an Environmental Protection Agency-registered pesticide. The ESA does not provide any greater protection to listed plants on private lands than they already receive under state law. The ESA also does not prohibit “take” of listed plants on private lands, but landowners must still comply with state laws protecting imperiled plants.

Comments and scientific information regarding the plant proposed for listing may be submitted online at http://regulations.gov.

The Pagosa skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha) is a rare biennial plant, which only grows on shale outcrops in and around Pagosa Springs in Archuleta County. Approximately 78 percent of its suitable habitat is located on private lands, which are primed for residential, commercial and agricultural development. Such development is a serious threat to the imperiled species because plants are destroyed, along with the seeds in the soil that would produce next year’s plants. Conservation relies on cooperation by private landowners because little of the range is federally owned; a mere 20 acres composes the Pagosa skyrocket’s entire federally managed habitat. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the parcel.

Since the Pagosa skyrocket primarily persists alongside highways, development would also have an indirect effect on the species’ viability. Construction of access roads, utility installations and increased public use will likely have a deleterious effect on the plant’s habitat.

Currently, developments in the planning process for completion in the next five to 10 years could potentially eliminate 34 percent of Pagosa skyrocket occupied habit adjacent to highways.

Pagosa skyrocket is also threatened by livestock trampling. The species may be compatible with light grazing, but the level of impact and the threshold of Pagosa skyrocket tolerance have not been studied.

The Pagosa skyrocket only grows on Pagosa-Winifred soils derived from Mancos Shale, which limits the plant’s opportunities for spreading to new locations. The spatially fragmented species is also prone to extinction because its two known occurrences have a limited gene pool. Pagosa skyrocket is a biennial plant; its seeds grow into low rosettes of leaves that overwinter and then produce flowering stems the next year. Population numbers fluctuate year to year based on environmental conditions. One poor year of unfavorable weather, minimal moisture or natural disturbance can be detrimental to the species. Therefore, climate change could potentially impact the Pagosa skyrocket negatively; however, current data are not reliable enough at the local level for us to draw conclusions regarding the degree to which climate change threatens the Pagosa skyrocket.

At the time of the proposal’s writing, no regulatory mechanisms exist that protect the Pagosa skyrocket.

For more information, go to www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/plants/3ColoradoPlants/index.html.