State efforts are solution, 
not problem for grouse

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s point man on fending off an endangered listing for two species of sage grouse in Colorado doesn’t sound very optimistic.

The Interior Department intends to list the birds as “threatened,” John Swartout said Thursday at a meeting of Club 20, which “is the worst thing that could happen to either bird.”

We agree. It sounds counter-intuitive, but enacting federal measures to protect the birds could cause more harm than good. It would likely unravel the coalition-building and spirit of cooperation that has taken place thus far in an effort to thwart a listing. The synergy among county commissions, ranchers, energy companies, environmental groups and state officials could give way to indifference about the fate of the birds.

It’s a bureaucratic version of the old adage, “the cure is worse than the disease.” Why throttle a team effort to solve a problem? Listing the birds as threatened or endangered at best breeds resentment and at worst creates an adversarial relationship between the state and federal government that could stall recovery of bird populations.

Hickenlooper has been a man of action, repeatedly appealing to federal authorities to recognize local and state efforts to protect both the greater sage grouse and the Gunnison sage grouse. He tapped Swartout in December to lead a state effort to deal with sage grouse.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a 2015 decision on whether to list the greater sage grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act. A decision whether to list the Gunnison sage grouse as endangered is scheduled for May 12. Meanwhile, the BLM has been considering how to manage some 4 million acres in northwest Colorado to prevent an endangered listing of the greater sage grouse.

Both the prospect of a listing and the measures being considered by the BLM have caused consternation among several northwest Colorado counties, and among oil and gas, agricultural, recreation and other interests. Hickenlooper has advocated for a BLM management plan that factors in Colorado’s response to the native birds.

Earlier this year, Hickenlooper managed to persuade Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to come to northwestern Colorado to see first-hand efforts under way to protect bird habitat, while still allowing for important economic activities such as ranching and oil and gas development.

Despite the governor’s efforts, the feds seem bent on resorting to drastic measures. “Our backs are against the wall,” Swartout said. It prompts the question: What more can Colorado do? The governor has made it clear that the state and its citizens are taking the matter seriously. The state’s investment in preserving bird habitat and coming up with creative solutions now hangs in the balance.

What will it take for the folks in Washington, D.C. to see that we’re the solution, not part of the problem?


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