SILT — Garfield County’s proposed alternative identifying a much smaller habitat area for the greater sage-grouse northwest of Parachute is “still on the table” as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management gathers public input on a draft proposal to protect the bird.
But there’s a distinct difference between the county’s preference, being put forward by paid consultants on behalf of the Garfield County commissioners, and the BLM’s preferred “Colorado sub-regional” alternative, agency officials said during an open house Monday at the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt.
The preferred Alternative D, one of four included in the BLM’s draft Northwestern Colorado Greater Sage-grouse Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), combines the input of local cooperating agencies throughout the region, including Garfield County.
The final EIS due next spring “could end up being a mixture of any of these alternatives,” according to the draft proposal.
Other alternatives contained in the plan include the no action Alternative A, a conservation plan arrived at by a national technical team, Alternative B, and one based on the recommendations of conservation groups, known as Alternative C.
“The BLM and Forest Service do not have to choose one alternative in its entirety,” according to a summary statement in the draft document. “Rather, they may pick and choose from each alternative to develop the proposed plan.”
That still includes the Garfield-specific plan, BLM spokesman David Boyd said.
“The Garfield County plan is within the range of alternatives,” he said. “It is still on the table, and we would like to hear public comments on that.”
The BLM has extended the public comment period on the draft EIS concerning the greater sage-grouse until Dec. 2.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked the BLM and Forest Service to prepare a protection plan concerning the bird’s habitat on public lands, in an effort to keep the bird from landing on the federal Endangered Species list.
“We have people telling us that we can do more to protect the bird,” said BLM Northwest Colorado District Manager Jim Cagney. “We know that.
“We also have people warning us of severe economic implications if we increase those protections,” he said. “We know that, too.”
About 20 people attended the first of two informational presentations at the open house on Monday, not counting the various BLM, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other agency staff that was on hand to answer questions.
“I would like to see Garfield County support protections for the sage-grouse,” said New Castle resident Joyce Crawford following the presentation. “The agencies have put a lot of research into what is proposed, and we need to support that research.”
Crawford said she prefers the conservation alternative, but could settle for the protections contained in the preferred alternative.
The various alternatives suggest different levels of protection for what are identified as “major threats” to the bird’s habitat, including energy development, roads and transmission lines, and habitat fragmentation.
The major contention from Garfield County officials has been that the bird’s habitat is overstated in the small section of the county that is included in the study. Mapping and wildlife biology consultants have offered evidence that the habitat area is about 93 percent smaller than what federal officials used in their analysis.