Case Study: Parachute Penstemon


Occidental has worked voluntarily in cooperation with the State of Colorado since 1987 to successfully protect a rare plant, the Parachute penstemon (Penstemon debilis), and its habitat. The Parachute penstemon was first discovered on Occidental property in 1986. Within a year, Occidental entered into an agreement with the State of Colorado, through the Colorado Natural Areas Program (CNAP), to voluntarily protect and monitor the largest known population. CNAP, a statutorily created entity under the Division of Parks and Wildlife of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, manages, monitors and protects sensitive habitats and plant species. Under the initial CNAP agreement, 360 acres of Occidental property were designated as a Natural Area to protect the plant's habitat.

Since the initial discovery, only four known viable populations of the Parachute penstemon have been identified, all of them in Garfield County, Colorado. Three of those populations, including the two largest, are located on Occidental property. In 2008, Occidental expanded the agreement with CNAP to protect the second-largest population. The expanded agreement designates a total of 680 acres of Occidental-managed land as a CNAP Natural Area that includes habitat for the Parachute penstemon and its pollinators.

The expanded agreement includes best management practices (BMPs) that facilitate oil and gas development near the habitat, while protecting the species and its pollinators. The BMPs include pre-construction consultation with CNAP for well pad and access road placement, management of noxious weeds, dust control, and protective actions for pollinators. Occidental provides CNAP and its volunteer representatives regular access to inventory the plant populations and assess the associated habitat. Occidental has also allowed CNAP and other research institutions to collect seeds and rare plant specimens to aid botanists in plant species reintroduction and research.

Occidental has been recognized for its efforts to protect the Parachute penstemon and for the company's close cooperation with CNAP. In 2008, Occidental received one of two conservation awards from the Colorado Rare Plant Conservation Initiative. Occidental was the first corporation to receive the award, which is typically reserved for agency representatives and citizen volunteers. In 2009, Occidental received an Outstanding Oil and Gas Operations Award in the category of Environmental Protection from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) formally listed the Parachute penstemon as a federally threatened plant species. However, the FWS acknowledged Occidental's and CNAP's role in the preservation of the species and excluded lands owned by Occidental from the critical habitat designation because of the effective conservation practices already in place for two decades. The CNAP-Occidental agreement serves as an important model for voluntary conservation measures to protect rare plants on private lands.