Economic impact, cost of bird protection estimated

Designating the Gunnison sage-grouse as an endangered species could result in $9.7 million to $12 million in economic costs over 20 years, a new report conducted for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates.

Establishing about 1.7 million acres in critical habitat for the bird would result in another $3.8 million to $4.7 million in costs over that same time period, according to the draft report. It was recently released along with a draft environmental assessment on the critical habitat proposal.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had been scheduled to decide whether to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered Monday, but this summer postponed the decision by six months to further consider comments.

A reopened public comment period on the endangered species listing and critical habitat proposals lasts until Oct. 19. An information session on the proposals will be held from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 7 at Western State Colorado University’s University Center, 600 N. Adams St., Gunnison, followed by a public hearing from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

A similar meeting will be held Oct. 8 in Monticello, Utah.

The population estimate for the Gunnison sage-grouse is about 4,621, with nearly 4,100 occupying the Gunnison Basin.

The critical habitat designation would cover lands in Gunnison, Mesa, Chaffee, Delta, Dolores, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray, Saguache and San Miguel counties in Colorado, and Grand and San Juan counties in Utah. Nearly 737,000 acres would be in Gunnison County, and about 245,000 acres would apply to the Piñon Mesa area, located mostly in Mesa County but spilling over into Utah.

About 45 percent of the 1.7 million acres is currently unoccupied but considered suitable for use or having the ability to be made suitable.

About 48 percent of the proposed critical habitat is on federal land, 49 percent on private land and the rest on state, county or municipal lands.

The impacts study projects that the largest cost of listing the bird as endangered would relate to transportation, at $6.1 million. That would be for monitoring and management efforts and costs of Fish and Wildlife consultations with federal lands agencies and for Colorado Department of Transportation projects.

Transportation also would account for the highest amount of critical habitat costs, at an estimated $1.6 million.

About half of the $1.2 million in critical-habitat costs for livestock grazing would be incurred in the Piñon Mesa area.

Other costs would apply to areas such as recreation, and mineral, fossil-fuel and residential development. Individuals, companies, state and local governments and other non-federal entities are affected by critical habitat designation if their actions take place on federal lands, require federal authorization or involve federal funding.


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