Feds eye broad plan for potential protection

A sweeping plan by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to craft ways of accommodating development on public lands while protecting air quality, wildlife and other resources could have implications for the greater sage-grouse.

Jewell’s “landscape-scale mitigation strategy” was greeted with guarded optimism by West Slope officials who have voiced fears that listing the greater sage-grouse as endangered could do serious damage to the region’s energy economy and undermine cooperative efforts to recover the bird.

“I am not sure what the implications will be from this announcement,” said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy organization. “We would like to think it has grown out of the local efforts regarding the sage-grouse but we need to better understand the exact nature of this mitigation strategy to ensure that it serves all involved.”

Jewell earlier this year visited a Moffat County ranch managed to conserve the greater sage-grouse under agreements with state and federal officials.

The Bureau of Land Management is now evaluating comments on plans to manage federal lands in such a way as to circumvent a listing of the greater sage-grouse by a sister agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Whether Jewell’s proposal could do that is an open question, BLM spokesman Mitch Snow said.

Mitigation is but “a small part” of one of the five criteria Fish and Wildlife officials consider when determining whether to list a species as endangered, Snow said.

Efforts as the one Jewell saw near Craig are being replicated in other states that would be affected by an endangerment listing,  Snow said, calling the landscape-scale mitigation strategy a way of encouraging those efforts.

“It institutionalizes it, if you will,” Snow said.

The broad scale of the approach might mean that efforts to mitigate the effects of a development or project on a species might take place away from the project, under what is termed compensatory mitigation.

“The goal of compensatory mitigation is typically to offset a proposed development action’s expected impact on a resource value through conservation measures that create, restore, enhance, or protect that same resource value in another location,” the strategy says.

However it plays out, Petersen said, “We want to be sure communities have some input into these processes. We believe communities are doing a good job in addressing endangered-species issues.”


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