New Flower Species Protections Pit Energy Industry Against Conservationists in Colorado

Plants may hinder energy exploration


The recent placing of three Colorado wildflowers on the federal endangered and threatened species lists will make it harder to exploit untapped fuel resources in the Rocky Mountain State, a group representing the energy industry tells Fox News, an assertion the government denies.

“What we're seeing here is the federal government coming in and adding another layer of regulation,” says Kathleen Sgamma, director of government and public affairs at Western Energy Alliance. Regulators are “saying we don't care about ... what the states are doing and what industry and nonprofit groups are doing to protect those species.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Pagosa skyrocket as endangered. The other two flowers, the Parachute beardtongue and the DeBeque phacelia, are listed as threatened. The latter two grow only in northwestern Colorado, which is also home to the 200-square-mile Roan Plateau atop massive reserves of natural gas, as well as oil in the form of oil shale.

“The listing of these plants won't stop any oil and gas drilling,” maintains Gina Glenne, a Fish and Wildlife botanist. “When you have a project on federal lands where it may impact the plant, what we do is work to mitigate those impacts. That can involve moving a project some small distance but it doesn't ever really stop a project, especially an oil and gas project where we know that those resources are needed.”

Western Energy’s Sgamma says that is still a problem.

“By 2020 we could produce as much oil and natural gas in the West as we currently import from Russia, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Algeria and Nigeria combined,” she said, but “we’re adding more regulation and slowing the development of American energy, preventing us from reaching our full potential and creating jobs and economic development across the West.”

Sgamma also charges that listings of these flowers are based on bad science provided by an environmental group whose intent is to slow or stop energy development at all costs.

Fish and Wildlife’s Glenne denies this is the case.

“We obviously try to be as unbiased as we possibly can. These are unique species. They have been looked at extensively by taxonomic experts," she said. "Our goal with all of these species is to get them protected and recovered to a point where they no longer need listing.”

Glenne believes protecting threatened and endangered species is particularly important in the fragile, desert-like environment of the American West. “If you’re in a moist environment the grasses will come back and the trees will eventually re-colonize, whereas a lot of times in the West if you disturb an area you’ve created a scar on the landscape for 50, 100, 200 years.”

Those living in the West are used to the constant struggle to strike a balance between exploiting the region’s wealth of natural resources while preserving its unique and beautiful features for future generations.

Fish and Wildlife is taking public comments until Sept. 26 on a "critical habitat designation" that will eventually accompany the listing of these three wildflowers.