DeBeque phacelia in full bloom during May.
Photo credit: USFWS
DeBeque phacelia (Phacelia submutica) is a very small, low-growing plant with cream colored flowers and dark-green to purplish leaves. This member of the waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae) is an annual, emerging in early April and completing its one-year life cycle by mid-June. The plant is only found in a twelve-mile radius around the town of DeBeque, in Mesa and Garfield Counties, Colorado and is restricted to colorful exposures of chocolate to gray shades of alkaline clay soils within the Wasatch geologic formation. On these island-like barren exposures, it grows in small patches with few individuals. Individuals are known from 9 separate populations and numbers dramatically fluctuate from year-to-year, depending on climatic conditions.
DeBeque phacelia was first discovered in 1911 by naturalist George E. Osterhout, but extensive survey efforts to map the range of the species were not made until the 1980âs. Because of DeBeque phaceliaâs limited range, small population size, and numerous threats to the species, it was proposed for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 with a final listing expected in 2011. Threats to the species today include: oil and gas development, off-road vehicle traffic, heavy livestock use, proposed water projects, and potential effects from climate change.
To help manage and conserve DeBeque phacelia, research is underway to study the effects of dispersed development from oil and gas, off road vehicles, and grazing on the species. Another research project underway looks at the speciesâ reproductive strategy and collects information about its seed bank. In addition, this research is working to develop a method to survey for DeBeque phacelia year-round, using the seeds in the soil. Together, these projects will help land managers find ways to balance development with species conservation.
Eighty-seven percent of DeBeque phacelia populations are on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The remaining twelve percent are on private lands. The Endangered Species Act does not protect plants on private lands and therefore, all conservation actions on private land are voluntary. Funding is available to landowners wanting to conserve the species. Please contact Gina Glenne or Ellen Mayo at 970-243-2778 for further information on this species and ways that you can help with conservation and recovery.
April 6, 2014