Study finds far less sage-grouse habitat

A study commissioned by Garfield County proposes shrinking land to be protected for the greater sage-grouse to a small fraction of that now being considered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The proposal is part of a draft, Garfield-specific conservation plan for the bird that county commissioners are scheduled to consider Monday.

The county wants the BLM to consider and possibly incorporate a county plan into its own as the federal agency looks into protective measures it hopes might keep the greater sage-grouse off the federal threatened and endangered species list. County officials and the oil and gas industry are concerned about the degree to which measures being considered by the BLM could hamper drilling, particularly if applied to lands where they’re not necessary.

Mapping by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and adopted by the BLM preliminarily identifies about 221,000 acres northwest of Rifle and Parachute as priority greater sage-grouse habitat.

However, the county’s draft plan says that map is hampered by “the coarseness of the data” behind it, has “serious validity issues” and inaccurately classifies “large areas of unsuitable habitat for potential grouse habitat.”

That’s because it includes acreage such as steep terrain or land vegetated by conifers, aspen or grassland rather than sagebrush, the plan says.

The plan’s mapping tentatively identifies just 15,525 acres as suitable habitat.

Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the CPW map took a “50,000-foot-view” of habitat.

“We wanted a more accurate view so we could really pinpoint the sage-grouse habitat, and it is a staggering difference,” he said.

The county contends the BLM must make its plan consistent with whatever plan the county adopts, or state why it is unable to do so.

“We feel strongly that the federal government needs to take a look at our local plan,” Jankovsky said.

Jim Cagney, district manager for the BLM for northwest Colorado, has said it’s difficult for the agency to consider an existing local sage-grouse conservation agreement because it is voluntary. But Jankovsky notes that the new county proposal would include mandatory measures on the BLM land that’s covered, and voluntary, incentive-based ones on private lands.

Part of the proposal would prevent surface disturbances in 0.6-mile buffer zones around leks, which are courtship areas for sage-grouse. That differs from a 4-mile buffer zone being considered by the BLM. Garfield County officials think a buffer zone that might make sense in wide-open terrain such as in Wyoming isn’t necessary in the rough, mountain-and-valley habitat in the county.


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