Precise mapping may help sage-grouse plan

Consultants are making slow but steady progress working with state wildlife officials on new greater sage-grouse maps that could have a significant bearing on the federal government’s efforts to protect the bird in northwest Colorado.

Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado won a state Department of Local Affairs grant of about $380,000 to have the mapping conducted. It’s an effort to ensure that the Bureau of Land Management is using the most accurate maps possible for determining habitat that should be protected under new management plans for the greater sage-grouse in the region.

The BLM last year amended resource management plans in Colorado and other states in a successful effort to persuade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep the species off the federal endangered species list.

The BLM plans include certain restrictions on oil and gas development, livestock grazing, recreation and other activities, in general and priority sage-grouse habitat. That has made accurately mapping the habitat itself important, to ensure the restrictions apply where they should, and not where they aren’t necessary. The current project is aimed at identifying habitat at a more detailed level than generally is the case for Colorado Parks and Wildlife maps relied upon by the BLM.

“This effort is to try to get down lower into the weeds and map at a finer scale and try to zero in on what’s habitat and what’s not habitat,” Dean Riggs, northwest deputy regional manager for CPW, said in an interview earlier this year.

Associated Governments got the state funding for the study thanks to a law passed in 2015 to help cities and counties give input to the federal government on land management matters. The measure taps state mineral impact and severance tax funds to help pay for such efforts.

The Associated Governments project also received matching funds and in-kind help from area counties and other entities, with the total project costing more than $700,000.

Eric Petterson with Olsson Associates, the contractor on the project, told Garfield County commissioners Monday the project probably will require additional funding because of the amount of time involved in coordinating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which has slowed progress. But the positive side of that is the good relationship with CPW that has resulted, with everyone in agreement when it comes to the mapping approach being used, he said.

Zach Perdue, who is working with Petterson on the project, said researchers used the greater sage-grouse population in the Middle Park area as a test case to work with CPW, relying on a blending of two statistical modeling approaches to identify suitable habitat. Researchers are now moving to apply the approach to other populations in northwest Colorado and plan to check their results through observations in the field next summer.

Riggs said the project likely will result in defined habitat shrinking in some places, but growing in other areas.

“Hopefully we’re all going toward using the best available science to inform the mapping process,” he said.

BLM spokesman David Boyd said his agency “absolutely” is willing to look at what the project comes up with, given the BLM’s reliance on CPW’s wildlife expertise in Colorado and its sage-grouse habitat maps.


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