Moffat officials say sage-grouse options too restrictive for county

Moffat County officials say the Bureau of Land Management is considering too narrow a range of alternatives for how to manage the greater sage-grouse in northwest Colorado.

“The box they’ve placed themselves in doesn’t give them enough latitude to make a good decision,” says Jeff Comstock, the county’s natural resources director.

The issue is of particular interest in the county, which is home to about two-thirds of the state’s greater sage-grouse population. The county worries about the impacts on ranching, oil and gas development, recreation and other activities from new restrictions that may be implemented to protect the bird.

Some 1.7 million acres of BLM lands in northwest Colorado are home to almost half of Colorado’s greater sage-grouse habitat. The agency recently released a draft resource management plan amendment for the region as it works to try to keep the bird from being listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Its preferred alternative would make local adjustments to national management recommendations based on input from the public, local governments and other entities.

The BLM is required to choose a final alternative within the range of the draft ones it considers, although it can pick and choose elements of the various drafts. Moffat believes the BLM’s alternatives don’t include one that’s less restrictive when it comes to oil and gas development or other activities.

“They contracted the range of possibilities and it was too tight,” said Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid.

Jim Cagney, the BLM’s district manager in northwest Colorado, defended the agency’s range of alternatives. Among them is what’s called a no-action alternative that would result in no further restrictions.

For most BLM field offices in the region, that means “real old” management plans would continue to apply, he said. But the situation is different in Moffat County because the BLM’s Little Snake Field Office has a recently crafted sage-grouse management plan that would stay in place under the no-action alternative.

Cagney said all kinds of interests worked on that plan, which was “carefully considered.”

He said if the whole point is to prevent the bird’s listing as a protected species, it doesn’t make sense to craft a plan less restrictive than the one that was just completed.

“I don’t think we need to reinvent that. ... I just don’t see that as a problem,” he said.


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