Official optimistic of sage-grouse ruling in states’ favor

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell could be framing the debate over the fate of the greater sage-grouse in such a way as to allow Colorado and other states greater leeway in dealing with the bird, said the state’s point man on the issue.

“She’s accumulating her information,” said John Swartout. “I think she’s realizing the case we’re making. She’s starting to get a sense of that.”

Swartout, who Gov. John Hickenlooper selected to represent the state’s interest in the discussion of two grouse species on the west side of the state, said Jewell seems to have been influenced by her visit earlier this year to Moffat County to see private efforts aimed at preserving the greater sage-grouse.

Jewell last week announced a “landscape-scale mitigation” strategy for dealing with environmental issues in the West. The strategy specifically mentioned sage grouse, among other concerns.

It also contains provisions that recognize that some efforts to save species such as the grouse might not necessarily take place on the same lands as those inhabited by imperiled species.

One difficulty in dealing with species such as sage grouse is that the effects of efforts to preserve the bird aren’t immediately clear, Swartout said.

“There is such a delay between the activity (aimed at preserving the species) and then the response,” Swartout said.

Colorado has a 25-year history of coordinating state and private efforts to conserve the grouse and its habitat, Swartout noted.

“We think we have a good feel for doing the kinds of things sage grouse respond to,” he said. “If they would just let us do that.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a court-established deadline of September 2015 to decide whether to list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. The service found in 2010 that a listing was warranted, but action was precluded because other species had more pressing needs.

The Bureau of Land Management is considering ways to manage land in 11 western states in ways that would circumvent the need for an endangered or threatened listing by Jewell through its sister agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The BLM plan is expected to be complete by February 2015.

One factor that might work in favor of the Colorado case against listing the greater sage-grouse is that several conservation and environmental organizations are “actively pulling up their sleeves and trying to improve habitat,” Swartout said. “They’re not part of the litigant crowd.”

Several northwest Colorado local governments have voiced fears that listing the greater sage-grouse could threaten the energy economy, preventing drilling on lands occupied by the bird.


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