County officials griping over grouse rules
New protections for bird 'will kill us,' Pugliese tells guv
RIFLE — County commissioners from across northwest Colorado pleaded Thursday with Gov. John Hickenlooper to intercede as a federal agency considers measures to protect the Greater sage-grouse.
Later that same day, Hickenlooper said he was urging the federal government to consider Colorado as a model for sage grouse management and to avoid listing the bird as a threatened or endangered species.
Commissioners from Garfield, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties and other elected officials said the consequences of the Bureau of Land Management’s decision about how to manage 1.8 million acres extend well beyond the well-being of the bird. The fate of the human communities of the region also lies in the balance, commissioners said.
Stringent management for the bird “will kill us,” Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese said, citing the effects on the region’s energy economy.
Hickenlooper campaigned as a candidate who would work to unite the state, but on the issue of the Greater sage grouse, Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers urged him to “get out of the Front Range, which you’re the mayor of, and we know that.”
Hickenlooper, in a statement released five hours after the Rifle meeting, said he was urging the federal government to consider the region’s economy to “look at the public-private partnerships that have been so successful in Colorado as a model on how to get things done.”
“Given the unique landscapes and natural resources in Colorado, a Colorado-based solution is more practical that one handed down by the federal government,” Hickenlooper said.
The issue is one of life and death for rural communities because of the amount of energy development that would be off-limits in deference to the bird, Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
Resources such as natural gas and other minerals worth $34 billion might no longer be accessible if the most stringent management methods are chosen, Jankovsky said.
That would cost sales, property, severance and other taxes to local communities that depend on them to provide services, Jankovsky said.
In Moffat County, minerals worth $1.1 billion are at risk, Commissioner Chuck Grobe said.
Rio Blanco County Commissioner Jon Hill said he had no similar estimate for his county, but noted that Rio Blanco has long relied on oil and gas exploration and production for its economy.
It could be that human development isn’t as great a threat to the sage grouse as is generally believed, Hill said, noting that when his family arrived at what is now Rangely in 1882, sage grouse were prolific. That was before predator management and the advent of land-management techniques, Hill said.
The governors of Utah and Wyoming have interceded on behalf of rural communities in those states and the commissioners said Colorado should follow suit.
“We need Gov. Hickenlooper to do the same in Colorado,” Jankovsky said. “We need the governor to get boots on the ground and come here to help us.”
Colorado is preparing comments on the draft environmental analysis that will identify individual provisions that would help protect species while not infringing on grazing, oil and gas production, and community development, Hickenlooper’s office said, noting it would propose a hybrid approach to management.
The BLM is considering a range of alternatives, ranging from no changes to one considered to be restrictive.
The agency can pick and choose among the entire range of alternatives and it can include parts of different alternatives in the final proposal.