GarCo fears drilling impacts from sage-grouse proposal

Garfield County commissioners share the oil and gas industry’s concern that proposed conservation measures for the greater sage-grouse could virtually shut down drilling in parts of northwest Colorado.

Commissioners are expected to give final approval today to a letter expressing their concerns to the Bureau of Land Management. They discussed a draft version Monday with the county’s building and planning director, Fred Jarman, who worked with county Commissioner Tom Jankovsky to write it.

Particularly worrisome for Garfield officials is a national report containing recommendations the BLM is considering for greater sage-grouse habitat.

“We believe that the national report is draconian, frankly, in a lot of its suggested approaches to management of those areas,” Jarman told commissioners Monday.

The county letter said the national report recommends that mineral development and large-scale disturbances be excluded from priority habitats where possible and limited as much as possible in other areas. Jarman worries about the implications of a proposal for 4-mile no-disturbance buffers around the bird’s mating sites, or leks. Similarly, a recommendation to allow just 3 percent surface disturbance per square mile in certain areas, or fewer than 20 acres per 640, might accommodate a few well pads but leave no way to develop pipelines to them, he said.

County officials are worried about the possible economic ramifications on energy development in some areas, and say it would affect other activities such as livestock grazing and recreation as well.

The BLM is considering the measures in hopes of keeping the greater sage-grouse off the federal threatened and endangered species list. 

Almost half of the bird’s Colorado habitat is in the BLM’s northwest Colorado district.

The county letter notes that it, the BLM, other governmental agencies and other entities already have created a conservation plan for the Parachute/Piceance/Roan creek areas. That plan seeks to maintain a viable greater sage-grouse population while providing for energy development.

Referring to that plan Monday, county Commissioner John Martin said the BLM should “let it work and go from there.”

He also noted that even as the BLM is considering the new measures, hunters can obtain licenses to take greater sage-grouse in Colorado and other states.

The county letter also says that research suggests greater sage-grouse numbers fell after certain tools to control predators such as coyotes were eliminated, something the BLM should consider in placing the bird’s numbers in historical context.


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