GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - A Nederland-based wildlife biologist who has weighed in on a range of federal endangered species issues will assist Garfield County in its interests over a federal study aimed at protecting the greater sage grouse.
County commissioners on Monday agreed to a sole source contract with Rob R. Ramey of Western Science International Inc. "to provide expert scientific assistance" on the sage grouse issue.
"The sole source action is recommended due to the fact that Dr. Ramey is a biologist who has demonstrated expertise in the subject," according to a county staff recommendation to enter the contract without seeking competitive bids. The county will pay Ramey up to $35,000 for his services.
Earlier this year, the county also renewed a $20,000 contract with the consulting group American Stewards of Liberty (ASL) related to the sage grouse issue.
The group is advising the county in its role as a coordinating agency working with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a sage grouse protection plan.
The BLM is in the process of drafting new protections for the bird, in an effort to keep it from landing on the federal threatened and endangered species list. A draft proposal is due out sometime this year.
Local government and oil and gas industry officials from Garfield and other affected counties in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming have questioned habitat mapping and other scientific data being used in the study.
Garfield County has also asked that the federal agencies take into consideration local protection plans that are already in place through agreements with energy companies and other interests.
"Dr. Ramey will be looking at the science included in the BLM's environmental impact statement on the sage grouse, and advising us if the science is correct for our area," Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said following the decision to hire Ramey.
"If there is going to be a listing, we want to take a good look at that science," he said.
The sagebrush-covered rangeland north of Parachute and throughout much of northwestern Colorado is considered prime habitat for the sage grouse. That's also where much of the county's oil and gas activity is located.
Ramey, through Western Science International, specializes in independent scientific review, advice and research on issues related to the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, according to the company's website.
A former director of zoology at the Denver Museum of Natural History, Ramey has refuted scientific evidence in government studies related to several endangered species issues over the last two decades.
He co-authored a 2011 report in The Journal of Energy and Development, titled "Oil and Gas Development and Greater Sage Grouse: A Review of Threats and Mitigation Measures."
One wildlife activist and industry watchdog who was at the Monday Board of County Commissioners meeting said she welcomed the outside review, as long as the findings are impartial.
"The information that is discovered by this consultant should be made public, so that the citizens know what those impacts are," said former Pitkin County Dorothea Farris, who monitors environmental issues related to the industry.
"The impacts should be made clear, so that they can be addressed," Farris said.