By Jennifer Dobner
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - State and county officials in Utah have devised a plan to protect a pair of rare desert wildflowers, in a move seen as potentially discouraging the federal government from listing the species as endangered and allowing development to proceed.
A draft conservation agreement released this week suggests the Graham’s and White River beardtongue species could be protected despite oil and gas development in the region where they grow.
The flowers are found only in a small area of eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin and in parts of western Colorado.
The proposal from officials in Utah would establish conservation areas for the species that would be managed and monitored over a 15-year period.
The 58-page proposal states that the goal of the agreement is "to promote the species' long-term persistence, thereby preventing the need for listing either species" as endangered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year proposed listing the species.
Larry Crist, the field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Utah office, said the agency is still assessing the draft conservation agreement. “It’s not by any means a slam dunk,” he said.
The wildflowers are threatened by energy development, including oil shale exploration, road construction and recreational off-road vehicle use, said Tony Frates of the Utah Native Plants Society.
His group, which has twice brought federal lawsuits over one of the flowers, contends the conservation agreement grew out of state and local fears that listing the plants would open the door to more endangered species and development restrictions.
A final decision on listing the flowers could come later this year, Crist said.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis)