Cooperation is key to sage-grouse plan

Based on comments recorded by The Daily Sentinel’s Gary Harmon on Sunday, major players in the greater sage-grouse saga in this state agree on one thing: Colorado needs a plan to protect the grouse that is developed by people in this state, based on the conditions here, not something crafted in Washington.

However, reaching agreement on that Colorado plan will be the knotty problem, since there are conservation groups and oil and gas organizations, recreationists, local elected officials and a governor involved, and different views of what is needed.

But reaching an accord that offers sufficent protection so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declines to include the greater sage grouse on the list of threatened or endangered species is in nearly everyone’s best interest. Once a species is listed, authority for ensuring protection for its habitat rests with the federal agency and local involvement in those protection decisions is usually far more limited.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to determine by the end of 2015 whether to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered. In the meantime, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has initiated a multi-state effort to craft state plans to protect sage grouse habitat, which could have a significant impact on the listing decision.

The BLM’s draft plan for Colorado has been completed, and the public has until next Monday to comment on it. Once that comment period ends, the BLM will work until next Sept. 30 to write a final environmental impact statement and management plan for the bird.

For Coloradans to have a real shot at their ideas driving the final BLM plan, groups with a variety of views need to come together in the next few months to craft their own compromise language and submit it with a unified voice to the BLM.

A state-developed plan would have several benefits. For example, as Garfield County officials have noted, proposals put forth by BLM’s national technical experts may work well in the wide-open plains of Wyoming and parts of northwestern Colorado, but they fall far short of working on the fragmented, high-elevation Roan Plateau.

Additionally, some of the BLM proposals consider shutting off far more areas of public lands than even many of the conservation groups believe are necessary to protect the birds.

Also, as several people on different sides of the issue have noted, the BLM proposal looks only at how to preserve habitat for the greater sage grouse. But the grouse is really a bellwether species that indicates how other flora and fauna are doing. A better plan would seek ways to protect habitat for all species.

There are ways to protect grouse habitat while allowing energy development, recreation and other uses. But they won’t be found unless differing interest groups are willing to sit down together to develop such a plan. The governor should be the leader in bringing people together to do that.


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