Hickenlooper: Governors can lead on sage-grouse issue

Gov. John Hickenlooper told northwestern Colorado residents Monday he hopes he can work as chair of the Western Governors’ Association to help find regional common ground on greater sage-grouse management and other oil and gas issues.

His comments came during visits to Craig and Rifle, where he heard local politicians and others reiterate concerns about potential impacts from sage-grouse management and other regulatory proposals pertaining to the energy industry.

Hickenlooper said western governors want to take a science-based approach to management of the greater sage-grouse.

“We think we will have real impact, having Republicans and Democrats addressing this at the same time,” he told an audience in Craig.

The Bureau of Land Management is currently considering how to manage lands to protect the greater sage-grouse to try to keep it from being listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species Act protection. But there’s concern in places such as northwest Colorado that its actions could create undue impacts on oil and gas development, ranching, recreation and other activities.
“It’s hard to say that those activities are the cause of diminishing numbers of sage-grouse,” Hickenlooper said.

He said in Rifle that he’s spoken with Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, on the sage-grouse issue.

“It was heated. It was one of the rare times I raised my voice. … There was a real disagreement on some of the science and some of the issues,” he said.

He said governors are working on a framework for solving sage-grouse management on their own.

“I do think it makes it hard for (federal officials) to push back,” he said.

He also said he’d be willing to designate a point person to deal with the issue at the state level. Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, also chair of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, which hosted Hickenlooper’s Rifle visit Monday, specifically requested that of Hickenlooper Monday. Samson also reminded Hickenlooper that county officials are concerned about the potential loss of revenues to counties from limits on oil and gas development if the sage-grouse is listed for protection.

“I understand that clearly,” Hickenlooper assured him.

He said western governors also are working to agree on a broader, common regulatory framework for oil and gas development that they can present to industry, environmentalists and Washington as what they think is fair.

Rio Blanco County Commissioner Shawn Bolton asked Hickenlooper if he had a plan in place if lawmakers pass a measure imposing a moratorium or ban on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas development, such as those approved by voters in some Front Range communities this fall.

Hickenlooper said such actions violate the rights of mineral owners.

“Even a five-year ban, I see that as government taking something,” he said.

See more on the governor’s Western Slope visits in tomorrow’s Sentinel.



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