Jewell should endorse area sage-grouse efforts

Folks in western Colorado should appreciate and even applaud the efforts that led to U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell being in Colorado Tuesday. She and several other Interior Department honchos joined Gov. John Hickenlooper and local officials on a tour of a ranch in Moffat County that is working hard to protect greater sage-grouse habitat.

We hope Jewell will seriously consider those efforts and others under way in Colorado to protect the native birds, and not enact federal measures that could seriously harm the economy in this part of the state.

Hickenlooper told county commissioners from a number of counties in northwestern Colorado late last year that he would work to convince federal authorities that local and state efforts to protect the sage grouse are working well in Colorado. Because of the efforts here, locals argue, reasonably enough, that there is no need for a federal designation of the grouse as an endangered species or for implementation of a nationwide, one-size-fits-all BLM plan to protect grouse habitat. Either of those federal actions could decimate the economy of northwestern Colorado.

Hickenlooper has demonstrated those were not just idle words he offered last year. He has written a letter to federal authorities about Colorado’s sage-grouse protection efforts. And it reportedly took substantial persuading on his part to convince Jewell and the other federal officials to visit Colorado to view the sage-grouse work.

For her part, Jewell reportedly is making the trip despite the objections of some of her staff, who thought she might face unfair criticism from local residents because of the stance of Interior Department agencies such as the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the sage grouse.

We certainly respect a top public official who is willing to override the objections of her staff and face possible public criticism in order to see what is actually occurring on the ground, rather than simply issue an edict from Washington.

Moreover, as one of her first official visits to western Colorado since she became Interior secretary, Jewell has chosen to learn firsthand about a controversial issue, not simply show up to dedicate a park or extol the wonders of federal lands. That, too, is appreciated.

But all of this will mean little if Jewell’s visit is not much more than a photo-op of her viewing the wilds of northwestern Colorado and reciting some kind words about what is happening here.

We hope Jewell and the other Interior Department officials will see that Coloradans are working hard to protect sage-grouse habitat while still preserving opportunities for important economic activities such as ranching and oil and gas development.

These activities are critical to the economy of this region. They should not be throttled by federal restrictions, when even environmental groups say there are effective means of protecting both grouse habitat and economic drivers.


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