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U.S. Fish and Wildlife will consider listing rare Oregon wildflower under Endangered Species Act

Tall western penstemon
Roger T. George
Tall western penstemon

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that they would consider protecting the tall western penstemon under the Endangered Species Act. The agency now has 12 months to decide whether to protect the imperiled Pacific Northwest flower.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Service in January to protect the rare flower. The tall western penstemon lives in just five known populations, narrowly distributed from southwestern Washington to northwestern Oregon.

“This is an important step toward saving this beautiful and rare flower from extinction,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center. “Time is of the essence. Now the Service needs to finish its job and do everything it can to protect the tall western penstemon as quickly as possible.”

The tall western penstemon is part of a genus of plants commonly known as “beardtongues.” Its vivid purple-blue flowers, perched high atop its unusually long stems, make a distinctive and beautiful presence in the region’s rare, ecologically intact wet prairies.

The species’ historic wetland habitat was almost completely lost or severely degraded by extensive agricultural and urban development throughout the Portland-Vancouver metro area. It was presumed extinct until 2008, when local botanists rediscovered the species on the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

Since its rediscovery in 2008, the tall western penstemon has been observed in the metro area on both sides of the Columbia River. Today this rare plant remains threatened throughout its range by ongoing urban and suburban development.

The tall western penstemon is designated as endangered in Washington by the Washington Natural Heritage Program; in Oregon the plant is categorized as threatened with extinction throughout its range by the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center. But these designations do not confer any formal legal protection.

Others among the four species that will begin status reviews are the southern population of bog turtle, the Pedernales River Springs salamander and the ghost orchid.

The USFWS said the petitions "present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions are warranted."

Article Topic Follows: Environment

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