Top Interior officials to visit Craig over sage grouse

Gov. John Hickenlooper is pulling in some big guns in the state’s struggles with federal officials over how to protect the greater sage grouse without hindering economic development.

Although it took a bit of cajoling, the governor managed to persuade Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to view an example of how both can be accomplished.

Jewell, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, will tour this afternoon a ranch near Craig that has instituted some innovative measures to protect the bird while still operating the place as it always has.

The visit comes as Fish and Wildlife is considering whether to list the bird for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Bureau of Land Management is considering land-management measures aimed at keeping it from needing to be listed, but Fish and Wildlife officials are unsure that plan will work.

Jewell oversees both agencies.

To help settle the matter, Hickenlooper, Jewell, Ashe and BLM principal deputy director Neil Kornze will visit the Bord Gulch Ranch to view measures being undertaken by ranch manager Ray Owens. Owens was one of two 2013 recipients of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Wildlife Landowner of the Year honor.

The governor said some members of Jewell’s staff recommended she not come to Colorado for fear the secretary would be unfairly criticized by area residents over the sage grouse and other federal issues.

But Hickenlooper said Jewell overruled them, saying she wanted to see firsthand what is happening with the bird.

“We should respect her when she’s out here and appreciate her because she’s taking a lot of risk,” the governor said. “She said, ‘I want to see with my own eyes. I want to learn.’ “

Area Colorado counties and Hickenlooper have been at odds over measures being considered to protect the bird, saying they could negatively impact oil and gas development, recreation, ranching and other business and recreational activities.

They say a happy medium can be found without placing the bird on the endangered list, which would bring with it strict rules over the species’ habitat.

The governor’s office said Jewell and Hickenlooper will highlight the importance of partnerships between the federal government, states, landowners and others in implementing conservation strategies that could accomplish the same thing without hindering economic development.

“We’re very appreciative that the governor extended the invitation tour and that (Jewell) accepted it and that she’s going to see sage-grouse country firsthand, and give us an opportunity to work out a win-win solution for the bird and our economy,” said Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid. “It will give us an opportunity to share with her our efforts that we’ve put forth to keep the bird from being listed as endangered. I’m looking forward to her listening to a Colorado alternative for our part of the country. We are cautiously optimistic about the outcome.”

Kinkaid said he didn’t think there were plans to raise other issues during the visit.

Staff writer Dennis Webb contributed to this report.



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