Utah Native Plant Society

The posts contained herein may not always necessarily represent the official positions and views of the Utah Native Plant Society and are mine alone; nonetheless, this blog is intended to largely supplement the Utah Native Plant Society web site and has similar goals and objectives and when I think my slant about something is perhaps either controversial or straying from what might be generally supported by UNPS, I will try to so indicate since I am also the webmaster for the UNPS web site, a former UNPS board member, conservation co-chair, Utah rare plants guide coordinator, and remain actively involved with day-to-day issues involving the organization. Much of the information contained here will therefore no doubt therefore relate to issues of current concern to the UNPS board and/or its members, inquires made to unps@unps.org, postings made on the UNPS listserv, and the activities our various committees are involved with (conservation, restoration, rare plant issues, invasive species, horticulture and more) and our many and various botanical connections not the least of which are the herbariums based in Utah and elsewhere, and other conservation organizations that have goals that overlap those of UNPS.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Endangered Species Day 2016

(Note: this has similar, although not identical, content distributed on the UNPS listserv today)

It's here: Endangered Species Day 2016.

Occurring within Utah are 25 plant species that currently are listed under the Endangered Species Act (12 of those are designated as "endangered" meaning in danger of extinction, and 13 as "threatened" i.e. on verge of becoming endangered as defined in the ESA). The first species from Utah was federally listed in 1978 (Phacelia argillacea); the last in 2013 (prior to that, no species had been listed since 2001, a drought of some 12 years). No plant species from Utah have been designated absent legal action since prior to the year 2000.

In addition we have three candidate species, species found to be eligible for listing and formally designated as candidate species, but awaiting action. Candidate designation is very worthwhile but offers no protection.

There are many species worthy of designation that are imperiled; there should be many more designated than there are (we have well over 400 endemic vascular plant species that only occur in Utah, and over 10% of our 3,200 taxa of vascular plants alone are considered rare and many of those have a wide variety of imminent threats) but at the same time, we are grateful for the existence of the Endangered Species Act and look forward to the day when it is again revered, and its rules and regulatory intent are again implemented in the spirit that was intended by Congress.

We are also grateful for the work of the The Nature Conservancy in Utah who has to date worked to establish preserves in Utah that are currently helping to protect at least five federally listed plant species plus one (and possibly soon, two) species that should be listed.

TNC Utah Link:


We are also grateful for our many conservation and other partners, some of whom are mentioned here (see the "Private organization" section):


We are also grateful for our rare plant committee and their exhaustive efforts to rate/rank/seek evaluations for Utah rare plants and publish their findings, and who have spent incredible amounts of time in so doing, mostly notably, Drs. Jason Alexander and Walter Fertig.  We are incredibly fortunate to have them on our board and having taken numerous active roles within UNPS, just we are indebted to the prior similar work of most notably Dr. Duane Atwood, and also many others.  It is through their efforts and all of the taxonomists/botanists that are their contemporaries as well as the vast number that are no longer with us that have painstakingly identified species and unique varieties that occur in the state/region that provides us with focus and direction for future conservation actions.  To all of them, every resident of the state is permanently indebted.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Utah Listing Preclusion Model

An American Bar Association environment and energy resources section article (author unknown) is referring to Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing avoidance tactics in Utah as the Utah Listing Preclusion Model.


Conservation Agreements and ESA Listing: the Utah Listing Preclusion Model


The approach is touted as one other states should use in certain circumstances to avoid listing under the ESA.

From the 2015 article:

"In the past five years, Utah species accounted for twenty-five percent of those where listing was precluded by an agreement. During this time period,  no state has precluded listing for more species than Utah. Recent listing preclusions in Utah provide a valuable model for other states  to consider when faced with a potential ESA listing."

Utah tactics in avoiding ESA listing using last minute and ill-conceived conservation agreements is a poor practice which, as feared, has set a very dangerous precedent.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Deseret milkvetch delisting deja vu

Utah's ESA listed Astragalus desereticus (Deseret milkvetch) is again in the news. 

Astragalus desereticus
(Ben Franklin, Utah Natural Heritage Program)

The Western Area Power Administration  (WAPA) petitioned to delist it in on October 6, 2015 claiming to provide "new" information.  (It unlikely that the information presented is particularly "new").   It is known that WAPA wants to put some kind of power line or transmission corridor through or near the mostly private/state owned property where this species grows.  Based on that petition, the FWS has decided to review it further.  See:

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Findings on 29 petitions
(81 FR 14058 14072 published March 16, 2016)

The species has been listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act since October 20, 1999.  Through early March of 2016, the rare plant committee of the Utah Native Plant Society continued to rank it as "High" conservation priority (there is only one higher priority ranking).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had already formally decided to recommend the species for delisting in 2011.  So why has it remained listed?  (A question for taxpayers to ask, now that FWS will be spending more time on an expensive re-review in light of the positive finding.)  In any event, the FWS has made a positive 90-day finding meaning that they will now review this again and come out with another finding one year from now.

In doing so, the FWS must assess current known residential construction as a result of suburban sprawl and road widening threats.   It is inevitable that these impacts will occur, and this severely edaphically restricted species has nowhere else to go.  Further there is essentially no federal lands ownership involving its habitat (perhaps a tiny amount on Forest Service lands reportedly recently found, but almost all private and state).

And extensive surveys should be conducted this year, since to my knowledge the species has not been surveyed in recent years.   What has the effect been in recent years involving record high average temperatures?  Are there other new threats or impacts?

The very delisting petition itself represents an imminent threat to the species.  Given that the petitioner presents a threat to the species, the delisting petition has to be in large part viewed in that light.  

Also given that no plant species are being listed in Utah in favor instead of "conservation agreements" even when the FWS itself proposes to list them, then no species should be delisted absent some sort of very significant, long-term conservation agreement as well.  (And long term does not mean 10 or 15 years.)   In this case, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is a significant owner of its habitat.  There have been past agreements, but as protector of our wildlife (which should, but rarely does, include plant species), they should be jumping at this opportunity to enter into an appropriate 25-year minimum conservation agreement, or better yet, providing a conservation easement that will permanently protect at least 80% of the existing known habitat without surface disturbances including power transmission corridors that end up being corridors which encourage invasive species and increase recreational impacts.  And cattle grazing is a continued threat as well.

Here's the text from the PDF relating to this latest FR notice published on 3/16/2016 (see link above):

"We received a petition dated October 6, 2015, from Western Area Power Administration requesting that Deseret milkvetch (currently listed as threatened), be delisted under the Act due to new information. The petition clearly identified itself as such and included the requisite identification information for the petitioner, required at 50 CFR 424.14(a). This finding addresses the petition. Finding Based on our review of the petition and sources cited in the petition, we find that the petition resents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action (delisting) may be warranted for the Deseret milkvetch
(Astragalus desereticus), based on a lack of threats under any of the five listing factors. However, during our status review, we will thoroughly evaluate all potential threats to the species, including the extent to which any protections or other conservation efforts have reduced those threats. Thus, for this species, the Service requests information relevant to whether the species falls within the definition of either an endangered species under section 3(6) of the Act or a threatened species under section 3(20), including
information on the five listing factors under section 4(a)(1) and any other factors identified in this finding . . . "

Even if the FWS decides ultimately to delist the species, they would still be required to monitor the species for an additional five years following the delisting date.  To what extent FWS would have the funding or personnel to conduct that required monitoring is unknown.

More information:

USFWS ECOS species profile for Deseret milkvetch

Astragalus desereticus on the Utah Rare Plant guide:


or access via:


Utah DNR UCDC Deseret Milkvetch page

Delisting a Species: Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cactus poachers: we are watching you

An excellent article on a longstanding topic appeared in The Atlantic on February 22, 2016:

The first letter in the genus name, i.e. in the scientific name otherwise properly referred to in italics although with some misspellings, should have all been capitalized in the article.  Overall however it is a well-written piece, although with a less than satisfactory ending in terms of what happened to the smugglers that were caught red-handed.

This activity has been going on of course for decades.  A limited number of obsessed folks in Japan/Asia are another big source of the problem, but Europe typically has produced some of the worst offenders (Germany, Austria, Russia, etc.).  They come over and take whatever they want and don't care whether they are in a national park or not.  Note from the article that they even lifted a plant right out of Utah's Arches National Park, probably a Sclerocactus parviflorus.

It isn't just foreigners that do this; there are avid domestic cactophiles acting alone or sometimes in groups that make periodic raids on Utah cacti from time to time as well.

Usually the foreigners are smarter than this, and will simply put seeds (it is not okay to take them from without permit much less from rare/sensitive plant species or federally listed species; different rules may apply depending on the species) and parts of dug up plants into envelopes or small boxes and simply mail them out to themselves.  Private couriers like FedEx/DHL/Airborne used to be pretty popular historically and was the more common method which then typically avoided customs completely.  Stuffing plant parts into cereal boxes with respect to some of the activity noted in the recent article and caught on a video camera:  not so smart.  

These people are terrorists, just of a different sort. To be only levied a small fine after being caught red-handed however is hardly going to discourage this activity; if anything it will encourage this behavior.  People like this should frankly at a minimum have their passports revoked indefinitely, or for at least some very long period of time and made to pay multi-thousand dollar fines.

We should all be outraged at this flagrant and ignorant behavior.  It must stop.

To cactus smugglers:  you are being watched.  There are video and surveillance cameras in places that you might not expect.   We will work to ensure you are caught and that fines are increased.  

To anyone who thinks they can collect just seeds and that it is just fine:  wrong.   Stop.  Check the laws of the state and country you visit.  You cannot move plant parts on Utah highways without a permit.  You cannot take seeds much less parts of plants from our national and state parks and from other protected areas.   You cannot take seeds or plant parts from federal lands without a permit from an appropriate federal agency.   

What can you do?

Become aware of laws relating to the collection of plant materials.  For starters, see:

Laws and Utah native plants

If you see suspicious activity in national parks/monuments or in state parks, report it immediately to local officials.  If a federally listed species, report that activity to the US Fish & Wildlife Service (if in Utah, to the Salt Lake City office).  Take pictures if possible including areas that seem to show obvious signs of digging, tire tracks, etc. and provide those to the appropriate land managing agency.  If you can't determine easily who that is, e-mail the information to the Utah Native Plant Society:


Monday, February 15, 2016

Lions and penstemons deserve equivalent consideration

Few understand that the the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) is global in its intended scope; it is about the entire planet, and a new way of thinking about it.

And that's one of the things that makes it one of the most intelligent and forward-thinking laws that this country has ever passed.  The listing of the African Lion in December of 2015 illustrates how it often is a law that recognizes what is important, even if our direct enforcement options are relatively limited. 

Will we continue to lead the way in this regard? And will we protect our own "African lions" as well?

Listing a species under the ESA brings it the attention and potential action that may help lead to significant voluntary and other conservation actions.   Unfortunately when it comes to listing plant species in the United States, the question as to whether or not a species occurs on federal lands is given considerable weight by the USFWS and becomes a factor in their decision as to whether to list.   As the listing of the African Lion demonstrates, this thinking is wrong.

It matters not where a species occurs in determining whether it is ultimately deserving of protection.  It matters, yes, in terms of assessing threats.  But it is not relevant with respect to whether direct enforcement or other regulatory restrictions would apply.  Rather, the indirect benefits to listing are huge.   The FWS also appropriately recognized this with respect to the endangered lions of Africa and India.

But this is also true with species such as Utah's Penstemon flowersii which in part was denied the listing it deserved because of inadequate regulatory mechanisms, because it mostly does not occur on federal lands.  That is precisely one of the reasons why it should have been listed.  

Through the initial efforts of the Utah Native Plant Society (and others) in identifying it as one of our most "extremely high" species of conservation concern in the state of Utah,  and subsequent very significant the efforts of The Nature Conservancy, there is hope for the also magnificent P. flowersii,  and which again illustrates the many benefits of recognizing a species that needs our attention.

More information:

African Lions Finally Gain Endangered Species Act Protection (Scientific American article by John R. Platt published December 21, 2015

December 21, 2015 FWS press release

Lions Are Now Protected Under the Endangered Species Act (also FWS)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hatch, UTC, not clean nor green

The Utah Technology Council (UTC) bills itself as " the state’s premier professional association for over 5,000 high tech, clean tech and life science companies, representing nearly 10 percent of the state’s total payroll."  It repeats this claim in a 2015 op-ed piece by its CEO Richard Nelson,  I-Squared Act good for tech companies, Utah economy (Deseret News, May 18, 2015) which included a picture of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.

UTC has for many years had a close association with Hatch, and he has often appeared as a speaker at UTC events.  On November 2, 2015, Sen. Hatch is now even being inducted into UTC's Hall of Fame.   And the UTC has gone so far as to include the text of an op-ed piece considerably glorifying Hatch's accomplishments that first appeared in the August 6, 2015 Tribune and which was written by an employee of doTerra (see Corporate Puppet Masters and Orrin Hatch in Utah Stories, Feb. 12, 2015).

Hatch though has repeatedly rejected any association with greenness (Orrin Hatch and environmental issues) except for when it comes to "green cards" and legislation that UTC has strongly supported but which may backfire (New H-1B bill will 'help destroy' U.S. tech workforce: Measure could accelerate offshoring of U.S. jobs, critics argue, Computerworld, Jan 14, 2015).

Associating with "clean" industries however infers being green at some level, like it or not.  Polluted air is not clean nor are polluted rivers.  Protecting the natural world involves being clean.

In fact, Hatch is being inducted under the allusion of somehow being associated with "clean industries" and as someone whose overall policies would somehow attract "clean tech workers" to Utah and living in a healthy environment.   In 2014 he even introduced a UTC Hall of Fame inductee Marc Benioff who has time and again talked about his corporate philosophy of serving a variety of stakeholders, one of which includes the environment.

Yet clearly Hatch does not share many of those same philosophies.  Hatch instead has a relatively narrow view of philanthropy and of what it means to "do the right thing."

At this very moment while being inducted into the UTC's Hall of Fame, two pending bills introduced by Hatch and co-sponsors include:

(1) Senate bill 1142 introduced April 30, 2015Native Species Protection Act - following a common trend to mislead the public by actions with agendas that are actually anti-environmental, this bill of which Hatch is one of four sponsors (including the primary sponsor, Utah Senator Mike Lee) would strip Endangered Species Act protection from any plant or animal species that solely occurs within the boundaries of a given state specifically exempting them from the Endangered Species Act and the commerce clause (article I, section 8, clause 3) of the constitution.   This shameful proposal however is contrary to the intent of the Endangered Species Act and ignores article IV, section 3, clause 4 of the constitution which gives Congress the power to make rules and regulations respecting to territory belonging to the United States.

In Hatch's op-ed dated April  20, 2012 entitled Endangered Species Act Prime Example of Federal Overreach, he outlines some of the same tired arguments (all that relate to animals and not plants yet Senate Bill 1142 makes no distinction between the two) that do not apply to plant issues but which also create the same kind of federal fear mongering that other state and federal officials have also participated in.   Senate Bill 1142 is clearly an attack primarily on the federally listed Utah Prairie Dog (Cynomys parvidens), the only mammal species that is indigenous to Utah.

The real intent here is to try to open as many areas for energy and other development as quickly as possible without Endangered Species Act considerations.   But meanwhile Utah has no laws whatsoever to protect many types of species including plants.  And the combination of these activities will denigrate our quality of life with increased air pollution, decreased water quality, and negative impacts from non-stop road building and so forth.

Many other species, especially plants, can have distributions that may be restricted to a single state that should still be afforded the proper protections under the goal of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to prevent the extinction of species.   Whether a species just happens to fall within the arbitrary geopolitical boundaries of a single state or not is irrelevant to basic biology and the application of this important law that has wide support by the general public and scientists (and not just "greens").   Further, just because a species might occur in more than one state does not mean that it then is an "article of commerce" and so the logic of the bill fails.   If however one were to apply an interstate commerce idea and link that to endangered or threatened species protection under the ESA, the argument that a federal interstate commerce connection exists is implicit in the fact that rare plant seeds or collections of all or parts of plants  (whether by private collectors or by scientists) of species solely occurring in one state inevitably have interstate commerce connections both in being transported across state lines (on federal highways or by airlines) and in being sold commercially domestically and overseas.  The same can be said of animal species.  Clearly Congress can and should regulate that commerce.

(2)Senate bill 1783 introduced July 15, 2015:  "A bill to amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to clarify a provision relating to the designation of a northern transportation route in Washington County, Utah" - this bill would exempt Endangered Species Act provisions with respect to proposals to build a Northern Corridor north of the St. George area through an area already protected by a habitat conservation plan.   The amended language would stipulate that the construction of the route not be subjected to "additional restrictions or requirements from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service."   Without referring to the real issue, Hatch as the sole sponsor of the bill is attempting to subvert any requirements of the Endangered Species Act as they apply to the federally listed Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, with respect to a Northern Corridor.  Simpy put, Hatch does not want to follow the ESA,  signed into law by a Republican president just three years before Hatch's first term in office.  Instead Hatch and other Utah officials want to create their own exceptions as they see fit.

Both of these bills are being given very poor chances of success; it would appear they will not add to Hatch's legacy of "immeasurable success."

UTC (formerly UITA) has for some time now been a de facto arm of the GOP in Utah.   Its CEO sent out the following e-mail to UTC members in 2006:

From:           "Richard Nelson" <rnelson_slc@hotmail.com>            
Date sent:       Mon, 22 May 2006 15:59:22 -0600
Subject:         Hatch Fundraising Reception

In recent years I've worked closely w/ Senator Orrin Hatch and found him to  be a true champion of technology issues in our country.   Since he's had  such an important impact on our technology community, I hope you'll join me  on May 30th to thank him directly.  Many thanks!  Rich


Steve Appleton, Chairman, CEO and President of Micron Technology and the  Host Committee:

Rod Lewis, Richard Nelson, Jack Sunderlage, Will West, Dave Westergard,  Donald R. Savage, Jerry Oldroyd, Mike Bates, Joe Cannon, Jason Kreizenbeck,  Stan Lockhart, Larry Harlow, Bill Timmons Sr., John Kelliher, Makan  Delrahim, Gilbert Kaplan

cordially invite you to a fundraising reception for

The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch
United States Senator

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006
 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM

At the IM Flash Technologies headquarters
Lehi, Utah
(directions below)

The suggested minimum contribution for this event is $500.

The maximum that an individual can contribute is $2,100 per person for the general election.

Please make check payable to:  Hatch Election Committee

Please RSVP to Stan Lockhart at 801-368-2166 or lockhart@connect2.com

Contributions are not deductible for federal income tax purposes.  
Contributions by corporations and foreign nationals are prohibited. Federal law requires us to report the name, address, occupation and employer of each contributor who gives more than $200 in an election cycle to Hatch Election Committee.

Clearly this was an attempt to solicit campaign donations for Hatch's re-election.   And UTC e-mail records and other information were used to solicit those contributions.   Sending this from a private e-mail was an inexcusable stunt by Nelson to raise funds for Hatch.

Hatch raised $6.5 million dollars that year.  In the 2012 campaign he reportedly spent almost $20 per vote (see http://ballotpedia.org/Orrin_Hatch).

For now some 38 years Hatch has made a career out of politics and naturally has fought against term limits.   In running against Frank Moss who had held his prior senate seat for a mere 18 years, Hatch has more than doubled that time using the tried and true "But I can get things for Utah done because I have seniority" argument again and again, the same argument Moss could have just as easily used against him.  (Reportedly Hatch was quoted as saying “What do you call a Senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home.”   In asking that question now of Hatch, i.e. "What do you call a Senator who's served for 38 years?" the answer might be, "Bought and paid for."  (See for example  Drug lobby gave $750,000 to pro-Hatch nonprofit in Utah's U.S. Senate race: Voters unaware of donation.)   At a bare minimum, Hatch's political career is based on hypocrisy.

In so closely affiliating themselves with Hatch, UTC has committed a grave disservice to Utah and to its members.   Awarding Hatch while he is still in office is a further indication of a high level of partisanship and questionable ethics.  While 501(c)(6) non-profit organizations can participate in some amount of lobbying and partisanship as long as they do not constitute a primary business activity, a "professional organization" trying to serve its members should normally greatly distance itself from most politicians and from partisanship in general.

Tech companies that join UTC should understand that they are affiliating themselves with philosophical ideologies that are very much in support of non-clean industries and then decide for themselves whether that is really in the best interest of their companies, and the health of their employees.   While Utah business promoters are touting Utah's environment as an exceptional place to live and work, our politicians are instead doing everything they can to open up as many of our lands for development as possible.

Tech workers should not be lured to Utah under false pretenses.

Individuals or companies considering relocating to Utah can still thrive without any assistance from UTC nor helping to promote some of their misdirected and ineffective agendas.   In fact, please come to Utah and help to provide a counterweight to the prevailing attitudes of certain politicians and other so-called community leaders.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Washington County Resource Management Plans: say no to Northern Corridor

BLM draft resource management plans (RMP's) have been released for review relating to Beaver Dam Wash and the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area located in Utah's Washington County.  The comment deadline is October 15, 2015.

Pending further review, it is likely that the Utah Native Plant Society will support Alternative C and oppose both the Northern Corridor" in the Red Cliffs NCA, as well as oppose continued livestock grazing in the Beaver Dam Wash.

We had recommended three ACEC's to the BLM St. George Field Offices when that input was sought in July 2010 relating to sites involving the federally listed plant species Astragalus holmgreniorum, Arctomecon humilis and Sphaeralcea gierischii but we have not yet determined whether provisions for any of those recommendations have been incorporated into these RMP's.

Meanwhile the normal development forces are at work.  See for example:

Hatch throws clout behind ‘Northern Corridor’ (by David DeMille, July 28, 2015, The Spectrum).

That Hatch would try to bypass federal legislation to thwart the Endangered Species Act is exactly the antics one would expect from someone who blames judges for making laws.   His acts are shameful for Utah and for the nation.  Is this part of the disingenuous "We know best how to care for our state because we live here" flag that many western states and politicians often affiliated with a certain political party seem to waiving these days?  For Hatch to be honored by organizations like the Utah Technology Council for creating "green jobs" is laughable.  The man is anything but green.

An opposing viewpoint from local resident Lisa Rutherford appeared in the August 17, 2015 edition of The Spectrum:

Sen. Hatch's plan won't work

In that column she notes:

UDOT’s 2007 report noted, “The Northern Corridor Alternative would not meet the objective of minimizing impacts to the reserve.” Due to this and other factors noted, “The City of St. George, UDOT, and FHWA determined that the anticipated implementation challenges and potential environmental effects, as previously described, would be substantial and thereby eliminated the Northern Corridor Alternative from further consideration.

Utah Department of Transportation's speculation that a road just might be good for the desert tortoise is equally shameful and embarrassing, and goes down a road (so to speak) that has been so often traveled by those favoring continued degradation of the natural world, and which scientific studies have again and again proven to be false.

More background about the Norther Corridor, see:

The Ghost Highway: The battle for the Northern Corridor, a conclusion by Don Gilman which appeared on August 23, 2015 in The Independent: a voice for Utah
(and prior articles in that series)