Sage advice on grouse protection

It was welcome news to see Gov. John Hickenlooper respond to commissioners from four northwestern Colorado counties last week with ideas much like the commissioners are advocating for protecting the Greater sage grouse.

“Given the unique landscapes and natural resources in Colorado, a Colorado-based solution is more practical than one handed down by the federal government,” the governor said.

We certainly agree with that view. And a Colorado-based solution, developed through local sage grouse conservation plans, is what the four counties have been seeking. Here’s hoping federal authorities will be responsive to that idea.

Commissioners from all four counties met in Rifle Thursday to urge Hickenlooper to use his position to push for a more Colorado-friendly plan from the Bureau of Land Management for sage-grouse protection.

The county commissioners from Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties, or their representatives, have been working for a number of years to develop plans for protecting the Greater sage grouse. Some of those plans involve public-private partnerships and voluntary participation.

In March 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported the Greater sage grouse as “warranted but precluded” for listing as a threatened or endangered species. That means the birds meet the requirements for listing on the Endangered Species Act, but other species are a higher priority.

Even so, the BLM determined it had to take action in Colorado and other states to protect sage-grouse habitat.

Since spring of 2012, the four Colorado counties have been working with the BLM on that effort. But they fear the BLM has already settled on the most restrictive alternative for protecting the endangered birds, an alternative they believe will block development of energy resources in much of northwestern Colorado and make other uses of public and private lands in the region exceedingly difficult.

Furthermore, the county officials say the BLM has ignored important scientific information that indicates the birds can be protected without putting as much land off limits to development as the BLM has suggested.

Additionally, they point to a letter from former state BLM Director Helen Hankins, written a little more than a year ago, in which Hankins dismissed the possibility of voluntary measures, such as those proposed in local sage-grouse conservation plans, being adequate to protect the birds.

The BLM is considering a range of alternatives under a draft plan for protecting the sage grouse. The deadline for public comment on that draft plan is Dec. 2. Hickenlooper said his office will be pushing for a hybrid plan — something made up of the different alternatives and the local efforts in Colorado.

That makes sense, and the BLM should carefully consider the state’s proposal. Protecting the Greater sage grouse should not require devastating the economy of northwestern Colorado.


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