Comment time extended on sage-grouse proposal

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to provide three more weeks for people to comment on its proposal to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as an endangered species and designate critical habitat in Colorado and Utah.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and House members from both states had signed a letter asking for a 60-day extension in the comment period and for formal hearings on the matter.

“The lawmakers have heard from energy producers, farmers and other constituents about their concerns with the FWS proposal,” the office of U.S. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a news release last week.

Others signing the letter included Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Reps. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez; and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

“We feel that on any proposal with implications of this magnitude, the federal government should strive for maximum public participation,” their letter said.

The comment period had been scheduled to close March 12. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Steve Segin said it wasn’t yet clear if the agency would be able to extend that deadline or would have to open a new comment period, but either way, there would be three more weeks to weigh in on the proposal.

“You get more input, it helps make for better decisions,” he said.

Fish and Wildlife proposes designating 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse. About 5,000 breeding birds are known to live in the Gunnison Basin and in southeastern Utah.

Gunnison County Commissioner Phil Chamberland said the county had hoped for more than a three-week extension in comment time, and is worried about the listing proposal.

“Frankly I don’t think Fish and Wildlife will do as good as job as we’ve done in working to protect the bird,” he said.

Chamberland said a local collaborative effort involving environmentalists, governments, federal agencies and others has helped protect habitat and boost population numbers. He said he worries that collaboration will be a casualty “if Fish and Wildlife comes down with a heavy hand.”

But Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate with WildEarth Guardians, said the Endangered Species Act is far more flexible than portrayed by those who want it weakened.

“It provides for exactly those kinds of collaborative efforts, and there’s a large array of tools in the Endangered Species Act to allow for collaboration and cooperation with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” she said.


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