All for naught?

The New York Times reported Thursday that the Interior Department intends to consider amending “all or some” sage-grouse habitat management programs in 10 western states, which could upend a decade of collaboration and compromise to keep the bird off the endangered species list.

This wasn’t unexpected. The Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported last week on John Swartout’s ongoing efforts to help stakeholders arrive at a statewide consensus on whether Colorado’s plan should change. The plan, approved by the Obama administration in 2015, prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide not list the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

Swartout, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s appointed point person on sage-grouse issues, initiated a series of meetings with local governments, energy industry representatives and environmental interests because state officials anticipated federal action, either by Interior or Congress, to loosen protections on habitat.

Reaching consensus is a tall order. Colorado’s plan was already being challenged in court by Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Jackson counties for the limitations it places on energy, ranching and other activities. But a unified position would help keep the plan in place, lessening the chances the bird would become the focus of a push for federal protection. Interior’s announcement adds a new degree of difficulty to Swartout’s endeavor.

Interior’s draft notice says it will begin a 45-day comment process, which is certain to bring a flood of responses. Count us among those who view this as a short-sighted move that could unravel Colorado’s plan — developed over years with local and state involvement — and bring the state an unnecessary step closer to a new campaign to list the bird.


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