A reassessment of threats to a rare wildflower found only on Ute Mountain Ute Tribal land in southwestern Colorado has convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the species no longer needs protection under the Endangered Species Act.
As a result, the agency announced that it has removed the Sleeping Ute milkvetch (Astragalus tortipes) from the candidate species list.
The Sleeping Ute milkvetch is a perennial plant that grows only on the Smokey Hills layer of the Mancos Shale Formation on Ute Mountain Ute Tribal land in Montezuma County. The Fish and Wildlife Service made this finding after a reappraisal of the threats to the species and new information provided by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
The Service determined the rare plant warranted ESA protection in 1996 based on concerns about current activities and the impact of planned or potential development within the species’ extremely limited range. However, a lack of resources prevented the agency from taking action to protect the species, and it was placed on the candidate species list with the consent of the tribe.
Earlier this year, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe provided the agency with results of a new plant survey that estimated nearly 20,000 individual plants, almost five times as many as reported in 2000. The survey also demonstrated that the plants appeared to be flourishing not only in undisturbed areas, but also in those limited areas marked by activities such as grazing, all-terrain vehicle use and other similar disturbances. In addition, potential oil and gas development, once thought to pose a threat to the species, is no longer anticipated to occur within the species’ limited range. Operation of an irrigation canal did not have the predicted negative impacts.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, there are no known or anticipated impacts that rise to a level sufficient to threaten or endanger the species throughout all or a portion of its range. The species no longer meets the definition of a threatened or endangered species, and the agency recommends removing it from the candidate species list. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe supports the agency’s recommendation.