Garfield County rallies tax districts against sage-grouse management
Garfield County has successfully enlisted numerous area tax districts in its campaign criticizing a proposed greater sage-grouse management plan because of potential impacts on oil and gas revenue.
Some of them — fire districts from De Beque to New Castle — also fear the Bureau of Land Management’s focus on helping the bird could jeopardize public safety because of consideration being given to pre-positioning firefighting resources to protect its habitat.
The comments are contained in letters submitted to the BLM before this week’s deadline for having done so as the agency considers a range of draft management alternatives in northwest Colorado. It’s trying to help keep the greater sage-grouse from being listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The county has played a leading role in challenging the BLM in that effort, spending more than $200,000 on wildlife and policy consultants and preparing its own sage-grouse mapping.
County officials also met with local government entities to suggest they should express the same concerns about the tax-revenue implications of sage-grouse protections.
As a result, the fire districts; the communities of Silt, Rifle and Parachute; the Grand River Hospital District; and Garfield County School District No. 16 in Parachute all filed individually tailored varieties of a form letter prepared with the help of county consultants.
The De Beque Fire Protection District wrote that about 95 percent of its revenue is related to oil and gas development. “Even if only half the production is stopped, our District would not be able to survive,” it wrote.
School District 16 said 94 percent of its revenue is from oil and gas activity, and a third of its student body is tied to the industry, with enrollment already having dropped more than 30 percent over four years with the drilling slowdown. The town of Parachute voiced concern about the potential impacts on energy producer Encana, which has a field office in the town.
The fire districts say their fire-suppression services help protect sage-grouse habitat. They also question a recommendation by a national team of experts that additional BLM firefighting resources be pre- positioned in sage-grouse habitat on critical fire-danger days. They say that could severely curtail the ability to protect human life.
BLM spokesman David Boyd said the agency already works to protect sage-grouse habitat from fire. But he added, “Public safety, human life, is always the number one priority. That won’t change.”
The agency looked at economic impacts in its draft plan but welcomes additional comments and will consider them in trying to craft a better final plan.
The tax entities say the BLM failed to coordinate with them as required by federal law.
Boyd said the agency sent out about 90 invitations and 14 responded.
He said it’s not too late for entities to become cooperating agencies that work with the BLM in looking at all comments as it develops a final plan.