Garfield: Green groups had late impact on grouse plans

An attorney representing Garfield County says federal records show a notable number of meetings and interactions between the Interior Department and conservation groups at the same time Interior was making significant last-minute changes before finalizing plans to protect greater sage-grouse.

Kent Holsinger, an attorney retained by the county in connection with its open-records request of the government, said he wouldn’t say there are any laws against the communications that occurred.

“But I think it paints a pretty telling picture that these same advocates are meeting and corresponding with (Interior officials) at the same time they’re making these changes,” he told Garfield commissioners Monday.

Holsinger said the county received 138 documents in response to its request. Some reflected meetings and correspondence with groups including WildEarth Guardians, the National Wildlife Federation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Wilderness Society and Advocates for the West, he said.

The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service last September released land-use management plans in 11 states in an effort to better protect the greater sage-grouse. The action helped persuade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the bird didn’t warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Garfield County has been concerned about the BLM Colorado plan’s possible impacts on activities like oil and gas development. Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Monday that some of the major last-minute changes made to the plan before its release were to require more drastic conservation measures if sage-grouse populations fall below certain levels and to require certain protections around leks, the bird’s mating grounds, for not just its priority habitat but its general habitat. The Colorado plans bar new oil and gas leasing within a mile of active leks.

Deputy Garfield County Manager Fred Jarman told commissioners the changes were made with input from conservation groups after the door had closed on the opportunity for local governments to further coordinate with the BLM under a role provided for under federal environmental law.

“These very large changes came out at the end that you would think in a transparent and true process would be vetted with all of us,” he said.

Interior spokeswoman Amanda Degroff said by email Monday that the plans “follow the best available science and were developed collaboratively with state and local partners.”

She said Interior plans to continue meeting with stakeholders including state and county officials during the implementation phase.

“We continue to believe the plans are both balanced and effective — protecting key sage-grouse habitat and providing for sustainable development.”

WildEarth Guardians’ Erik Molvar, one of those who emailed the Interior Department, said there’s nothing to prevent anyone from seeking a meeting with government officials or sending them correspondence.

“It’s not like the government is closed off to anyone,” he said.

But he pointed out that Wild-
Earth Guardians didn’t get what it wanted out of the plans, noting that it has sued the government over them and contends they don’t provide scientifically sound protections for the bird. He said Interior instead was swayed by western governors who wanted to prevent protections.

“I don’t see where we were driving the process,” he said.


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