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)