When faced with the prospect of yet another endangered species listing in the Uintah Basin, many would expect that as elected officials tasked with protecting our local community we would take off the proverbial gloves and begin to fight. In the case of the Graham's beardtongue and White River beardtongue (penstemon species) in Eastern Utah, we along with other stakeholders met this challenge with a proposed conservation agreement that goes above and beyond the protections afforded these flowering plants under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Some critics claim that this conservation plan negotiated between local, state and federal agencies is voluntary and so does not provide "real" protection for these plants. Uintah County wants to be clear that this is incorrect. The agreement is enforceable by law.
If the purpose of the ESA is to protect and recover species, the proposed agreement is the only real alternative. It's a simple fact that if this plant is listed as an endangered species, the federal government cannot protect those plants on private and state land. The conservation agreement, on the other hand, provides legally binding protection on state, federal and private lands. The only voluntary aspect to the agreement is that various parties came to the table voluntarily to agree to these binding protections. But rest assured, the protections themselves are enforceable and, realistically, offer the best hope for the long-term survival of these penstemon species.
Uintah County, the state of Utah, the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, industry stakeholders, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cooperatively crafted this agreement to provide more protection for these species than an ESA listing ever could.