Move to change grouse plans ‘a possibility’

An aide to Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday that if the Interior Department is moving to consider amending greater sage-grouse plans across the West, that wouldn’t be an unexpected development.

The New York Times on Thursday said Interior plans to publish a formal notice of intent to consider changing some or all of the plans in states including Colorado, according to a draft notice of intent the newspaper had obtained. The changes could affect how activities such as oil and gas development and livestock grazing are managed in the bird’s habitat.

The Times said some Western state officials, who asked not to be named, were told in a conference call by Interior officials Monday that they would seek amendments to the plans.

John Swartout, a senior policy adviser to Hickenlooper who is his representative on sage-grouse issues, said he can’t comment on whether there was a meeting Monday, but he hasn’t seen any notice of intent to seek amendments.

“I have no idea if they’re going to do this or not. It’s definitely a possibility, and they’ve told us they may very well do this. My point is it’s not a surprise that they’re contemplating this,” Swartout said.

The Interior Department in August released the results of a review of the sage-grouse plans, which included recommendations for modifying or replacing policies related to oil and gas leasing and development. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered implementation of the review’s recommendations.

In a meeting last week in Silt with representatives of several area counties, Swartout noted that a range of changes to plans could be pursued, from clarifications that could be made at the administrative level, to full-fledged amendments that could take a long time and involve a public comment period. He noted that there also have been rumblings about an effort to revoke the plans in Congress.

Last week’s meeting, and others that Swartout plans to hold with industry and environmental interests and others, are being held with the idea of trying to come up with a consensus recommendation within the state on what changes to the plan in Colorado should be considered. Swartout said Hickenlooper supports the idea of constructive changes to the plan, as long as it isn’t weakened, which would lead to the possibility that the sage-grouse ends up being listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservation groups on Thursday objected to the possibility of the sage-grouse plans being opened up to change.

“Coloradans, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and dozens of conservation organizations, who supported the state and federal plans to save greater sage-grouse and its habitat expect their hard work and practical solutions to be respected. Our wildlife and Western lands depend on it,” Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, said in a news release.

The oil and gas industry has welcomed the possibility of changes to what it considers to be overly restrictive plans, and Garfield, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Moffat counties have sued to challenge the plan in Colorado due to impacts on energy, ranching and other activities.


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