Hickenlooper deserves credit for responding to regional concerns
By Mike Samson and Doug Monger
Last Monday, Gov. John Hickenlooper took the time to meet with the local elected officials who make up the board of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado. We raised a number of issues that are of great concern to our region, chief among them the management of greater sage-grouse habitat.
To his credit, the governor seems to understand, as we all do, that listing the greater sage- grouse under the Endangered Species Act would be an unnecessary economic disaster for northwestern Colorado, and further, that the BLM’s proposed alternatives for managing federal land in lieu of a listing would pose equally devastating economic consequences.
The overly broad and restrictive stipulations called for in the BLM’s environmental impact statement will harm virtually every type of economic activity that takes place on public land in the western part of the state.
It’s not only oil and gas development that is at stake — as important as that is to our economy. Grazing, hunting, recreation, mining and renewable energy will all be negatively impacted by the onerous restrictions that the alternative would place on federally owned land, which makes up such a large percentage of our acreage.
As concerning as the potential economic damage is, the fact that local input was all but ignored by the BLM is perhaps a greater concern. Many of our member governments, as well as the state of Colorado, have invested a great deal of time, effort and resources into conducting thorough, scientifically rigorous, peer-reviewed studies that produced an accurate picture of actual sage-grouse habitat and came up with workable measures to protect it without crippling our economic lives. These were rejected out of hand by BLM officials, who felt that only they had the wisdom to regulate the issue.
The governor understands, as we do, that what is required is not a heavy-handed, top-down, Washington, D.C.,-generated plan that relies more on emotion and agenda than on scientific facts and reality.
We thank the governor for his commitment to take the lead, along with his fellow western governors, in pressing the BLM leaders to realize their approach does not work for the people of northwestern Colorado. We also thank him for committing to assign a point person from the state to work with our local governments, other stakeholders and the BLM to develop a made-in-Colorado plan that will ensure the preservation of both the greater sage-grouse and the regional economy.
Another issue brought up that we found the governor helpful on was in freeing up more than $3 million in federal mineral lease money that should have been distributed to local communities.
The city of Grand Junction alerted us to the fact that at least $3.8 million was available in the Local Government Permanent Fund, a “rainy day” fund set up in 2008 to receive part of the federal bonus payments from oil and gas lease sales, for distribution to affected communities when certain conditions were present.
In past years, this fund was raided to help balance the state budget. However, this year the fund has a balance, and all the conditions are set for our local communities to receive those funds. We were happy to see the governor agree, and are pleased with his promise to help direct that money to where it belongs.
We are also grateful to the city of Grand Junction, particularly Revenue Supervisor Elizabeth Tice-Janda, for discovering this and bringing it to the attention of us and the Department of Local Affairs, whose cooperation we also appreciate.
It is no secret that we do not agree with Hickenlooper on every issue. Indeed, we have publicly taken him to task on a number of his policies and on bills he has signed into law that we strongly believe he should have vetoed.
There remains something of a disconnect between our predominantly rural values and those of the mainly urban political structure in Denver. When we feel his policies will hurt the families and businesses of northwestern Colorado, we will continue to stand in respectful opposition.
But on these issues at least, we are pleased that Gov. Hickenlooper has demonstrated his strong support for our position. We are grateful that he took the time to come out and listen to our concerns, and that he is willing to stand with the people of northwestern Colorado against a federal government agency that feels entitled to run roughshod over our region’s people and economy.
We look forward to working with the governor in the coming months on this extremely important issue.
Mike Samson is a Garfield County commissioner and chairman of the Associated Governments of Northweste Colorado. Doug Monger is a Routt County commissioner and vice chairman of AGNC.