GarCo ups funds for sage grouse

Garfield County is increasing its spending in its fight over management of the greater sage grouse, and plans to enlist other local tax jurisdictions to take a stand on an issue in which millions of dollars in tax revenue may be at stake.

Commissioners unanimously voted Monday to authorize an additional $72,320 in spending, bringing the total to $212,120.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a 2015 deadline to decide whether the bird should be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is considering measures aimed at heading off the listing. But the oil and gas industry and county worry about limits on drilling that could result from those measures. The county also has put forward its own local management plan for the bird and says its own maps show there’s far less sage-grouse priority habitat than maps used by the BLM indicate.

Under the commissioners’ action Monday, the county will pay American Stewards of Liberty up to $39,800 for its ongoing sage-grouse work, up $15,000 from the previously authorized total; and wildlife scientist Rob Ramey $45,000, up from $35,000. Commissioners contracted for $24,000 for work by consulting firm URS, after previously authorizing $80,000 of work for Rocky Mountain Ecological Services, which has since merged with URS. They also authorized spending $23,320 with Elev8, a mapping firm.

Texas-based American Stewards of Liberty is a private property rights advocacy organization and advises local governments on federal land and environmental issues.

Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the amount of the contracts is substantial, but indicated the financial implications of federal decisions are far greater. As an example, he said 400 wells in one small potentially affected area could tap a $4 billion gas reserve that would result in about $400 million in tax revenue, including $200 million in Garfield County.

“That’s why we’re putting so much effort into this particular issue,” he said.

It’s also why Jankovsky plans to visit with town, school, fire and hospital taxing entities to encourage them to comment on sage-grouse proposals, he said.

“This potentially has great effects on them,” he said.

Reached by phone, Battlement Mesa drilling activist Bob Arrington questioned the county’s efforts.

“I think they’re throwing good money after bad. What they’ve already invested is far too much for what they would gain out of it,” he said.

He believes low natural gas prices will have a lot more to do with how much drilling activity occurs locally than possible sage-grouse decisions, and that those prices aren’t likely to rise anytime soon.

“At this time, the industry, it’s not economic for them to expand heavily; they’d just glut the market more.”


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