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Comment sought on Pagosa Skyrocket listing

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tuesday announced a final rule to list the Pagosa skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

This rule implements the Federal protections provided by the ESA for the western Colorado plant.

Pagosa skyrocket is a rare biennial plant known from only two populations near Pagosa Springs in Archuleta County. Highly restricted soil requirements and geographic range make it particularly susceptible to extinction, primarily due to commercial, municipal, and residential development and the road and utility improvements associated with this development. Other threats include heavy livestock use, fragmentation of habitat, and prolonged drought. About 87 percent of the species’ occupied habitat is on private land where no regulatory mechanisms exist to protect them from the threats.

The Service proposing to designate 9,894 acres of critical habitat for the Pagosa skyrocket in four units with 21 percent of the ownership Federal and the remaining largely on private lands. Two of these units are almost entirely on private lands and are currently occupied by the plant. Two of these units are entirely on U.S. Forest Service lands, are not currently occupied, and are included for future introductions.

The listing of the plant will affect the Federal lands where it occurs because the ESA directs Federal agencies to protect and promote the recovery of Federally listed species. As a result, Federal lands provide the greatest protection for endangered and threatened plants. Where listed plants occur, or within critical habitat on Federal lands, consultation with the Service is required when projects or activities may affect the species.

However, this listing and proposed critical habitat designation does not directly affect private and non-Federal landowners whose properties host the listed plant. Consultations come into play on these private lands only in cases where activities involving plants require Federal funding or permitting or the use of an Environmental Protection Agency-registered pesticide. Colorado does not have any laws that protect this plant. However, it does prohibit deliberate destruction or removal of listed endangered plants from private property in violation of the Colorado state criminal trespass law. Landowners who may have this plant on their property are encouraged to contact the Western Colorado Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for further guidance.

Comments on the proposed critical habitat for the plant will be accepted until Sept. 26, 2011 and may be submitted online at http://regulations.gov or U.S. mail or hand delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: (R6-ES-2011-0040); Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.

A copy of the final rule, proposed critical habitat, and other information about Pagosa skyrocket are available on the Internet at www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/plants/3ColoradoPlants/index.html or by contacting the Western Colorado Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction, CO 81506-3946, phone (970) 243-2778. The final rule and proposed critical habitat are published separately in the final and proposed sections of today’s Federal Register. Please submit any new information, materials, comments, or questions concerning this final rule to the above address.

Native plants are important for their ecological, economic, and aesthetic values. Plants play an important role in development of crops that resist disease, insects and drought. At least 25 percent of prescription drugs contain ingredients derived from plant compounds, including medicine to treat cancer, heart disease, juvenile leukemia, and malaria, and to assist in organ transplants. Plants are also used to develop natural pesticides.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq.

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