County leaders want feds to hear sage-grouse input
Local officials are hoping for a public meeting to press federal officials about their proposal to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as an endangered species and designate 1.7 million acres of critical habitat in Colorado and Utah.
Mesa County commissioners recently sent a letter to the local supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the opportunity to publicly meet and discuss the idea, in concert with commissioners in Gunnison and Delta counties.
“If we get an opportunity at a public hearing, we are going to tell them that the Gunnison sage-grouse has a much better future if we continue to control management here at the local level, rather than have it controlled out of Washington, D.C.,” Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said.
“We don’t think (Fish and Wildlife is) aware of all the resources and time and energy that has been put into stabilizing the Gunnison sage-grouse population,” he said.
In their letter, commissioners request “a public hearing that is detailed and deliberate. It is imperative that the public hearing be held in Gunnison.”
Acquafresca said there is a population closer to Mesa County on Pinon Mesa, but the main population of the bird in the Gunnison area has been stabilized, where a lot of resources have been expended to protect the bird.
He lamented that if the bird is federally listed, he and others would lose the local control that has sustained the populations so far and U.S. Fish and Wildlife would then be “calling the shots” from Washington, D.C.
A comment period about the decision was set to expire on March 12, but a bipartisan request by U.S. senators and representatives from both Colorado and Utah to extend the comment period by 60 days was granted earlier this week.
State wildlife officials, who have invested significant resources in tracking the Gunnison sage-grouse populations and are part of the effort to stabilize numbers, haven’t as yet signed on to the public hearing request.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Mike Porras, spokesman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We certainly recommend that the public have every opportunity to express their concerns and make their comments.”
CPW describes seven “widely scattered and isolated” populations of the bird in southwestern Colorado and into southeastern Utah. The agency says the core population of about 4,000 birds in the Gunnison Basin is considered “stable” with outlying populations “in decline.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife has identified habitat loss and fragmentation as key threats, warranting listing on the endangered list. The agency further identifies activities contributing to the threatened status: residential and commercial development, energy development, invasive plants and the addition of roads, fences and power lines.