Reporters kept out of discussion on grouse
Only media booted from public event
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell ordered reporters — but no one else — kept out of a discussion with Colorado officials and the general public in Craig on Tuesday.
State officials, who drew up a list of participants for the event, said they were under the impression the meeting would be open to the press and public.
Two reporters, however, were turned away from the American Legion hall for the meeting, in which the fate of the greater sage-grouse was under discussion.
A reporter for radio station KRAI in Craig was barred from entering the meeting, as was one from the Craig Daily Press. The radio station on its website called the gathering “a secret meeting closed to the press. It’s not clear what was discussed in that meeting.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper, who attended the meeting and a tour of the Bord Gulch Ranch beforehand with Jewell and the heads of the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service, was unaware that the press had been barred from attending the meeting in the hall, spokesman Eric Brown said.
Hickenlooper’s office was involved with drafting a list of participants in the meeting, spokespeople for the governor and Interior said.
“Invites went out from the Gov’s office but no member of the public was turned away,” Interior spokesman Blake Androff said in an email responding to an inquiry from The Daily Sentinel.
As many as 50 people attended the meeting, according to several accounts. It was closed to the press, Androff said, “to allow for an open and frank discussion.”
The Craig Daily Press reporter repeatedly tried to enter the American Legion hall but was turned away, even after calling a Moffat County commissioner in the meeting and being told she could go inside.
“We had every expectation that the meeting would be open to reporters. Secretary Jewell’s office decided the meeting should be closed to press to help foster an open and frank discussion. The governor was not involved in this decision,” Hickenlooper spokesman Brown said, adding that Hickenlooper had no security personnel at the door.
The meeting itself was technically a public meeting of the Moffat County Commission, which beforehand posted a public notice of the meeting, casting it as an open-to-the-public workshop, Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said.
“We wanted to cover our bases as we knew all three of us would be there,” Kinkaid said.
Colorado’s Open Meetings Law requires meetings of a quorum of commissioners to be posted in advance.
Commissioners in fact encouraged the public to attend the meeting with Jewell during their regular meeting on Tuesday, the day before Jewell’s visit, Kinkaid said.
There was a guest list, Kinkaid said, “but people came in that weren’t on the list.”
Kinkaid called the meeting “civil, with a lot of different opinions expressed. There was nothing that should have been secret at all.”
Reporters had plenty of opportunity to deal with Jewell in the events leading up to the meeting at the American Legion hall, Androff said, noting that she engaged with reporters for more than an hour at the ranch.
The meeting at the legion hall “was scheduled to last 60 minutes and was closed (to) press to allow for an open and frank discussion, but the Secretary stayed for an additional 30 minutes to ensure that everyone had an opportunity to participate,” Androff said.
Northwest Colorado officials had complained last year that Hickenlooper was doing too little to protect their interests as the Bureau of Land Management considered how to manage lands in Colorado for the greater sage-grouse.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is an Interior Department agency along with the BLM, will have the final word on whether to list the bird as endangered.
Jewell was accompanied on the visit by the heads of both agencies, which Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said amounted to a coup for Hickenlooper.
“My hat’s off to the governor for getting that done,” Jankovsky said.
The discussion in the American Legion hall, however, contained no bombshells, Jankovsky said.
“There was nothing to me that should have been secretive,” he said, echoing the comments of fellow Commissioner Kinkaid. “It was all discussions we have had many times with the BLM.”
Another participant, Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek conservation districts, said she saw officials register surprise when she told them at the meeting that BLM hasn’t recognized that sage-grouse are competing on the same habitat with wild horses.
“There are 10 million acres of wild-horse herd areas that overlap with greater sage-grouse habitat,” Hendrickson said. “I don’t know that they knew that and understood that.”
Environmental and industry organizations said Jewell’s visit marked progress in dealing with the grouse.
“It was obvious that Secretary Jewell was genuinely interested in hearing local perspectives on the bird and the landscape it and we all live in,” said Luke Schafer, a Craig resident and sage-grouse coordinator for Conservation Colorado.
Jewell’s visit was significant, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
“Only cynical and unimaginative people believe that western Colorado has to choose between sage-grouse and prosperity,” Ludlam said. “Allowing the secretary to see firsthand how energy and grouse can thrive together was step one of the convincing process.”