Gov. John Hickenlooper is urging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to consider a state alternative as the agency prepares its final plan for managing the greater sage-grouse on federal lands in northwestern Colorado.
In a letter sent Tuesday to BLM Northwest District Manager Jim Cagney, Hickenlooper stressed the adoption of a plan that “both safeguards the economic engine of northwestern Colorado and protects the greater sage-grouse sufficiently to preclude a listing under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
The governor said such an alternative has been offered by local governments in the region, along with input from energy, ranching and conservation interests.
That plan, which Garfield County played a leading role in developing, is not among the four management alternatives currently being considered, although parts of it remain on the table for consideration, BLM officials have said.
Hickenlooper said in a Wednesday news release that the local plan recognizes the need to protect the bird, “while providing for continued and future economic vibrancy of this region of the state.”
Garfield County has spent more than $200,000 to present alternative mapping that suggests a much smaller habitat for the greater sage-grouse in the region, which includes the natural-gas rich area northwest of Parachute.
The county commissioners have objected to proposed protective measures included in the BLM’s preferred alternative that could limit natural gas development and other permitted activities on federal lands.
Hickenlooper’s letter follows up on his pledge to members of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado in November to work with the region in proposing an alternative plan for the BLM’s consideration.
“It just reinforces the strength of our efforts to have the state of Colorado and the governor come out in support of our position,” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Wednesday.
“If the BLM and Fish and Wildlife will accept it, I believe we will end up with a better product that will protect the bird and hopefully maintain access to grazing and mineral resources as well,” Jankovsky said.
Included with Hickenlooper’s letter were formal comments from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) that he said provide a scientific perspective supporting the local alternative.
The governor also pointed to “significant progress” made in recent years through public/private partnerships to further sage-grouse conservation efforts on state and private lands.
That same approach should be used in coming up with a management plan for federal lands, he said.
“The communities of northwestern Colorado rely on access and productivity associated with public lands for their livelihood,” Hickenlooper wrote in his letter. “With that in mind, any plan that the BLM ultimately promotes must accurately assess the socio-economic values that link people to the land in that area.”
The letter also notes that, since 2000, the state of Colorado has spent more than $40 million on conservation efforts for the species.
That effort has led to conservation planning and implementation, land protection through conservation easements and other measures, population and habitat monitoring, habitat treatments, grazing plans, restoration, research and public communications, according to the governor’s news release.
Rather than imposing “more formal and less flexible” land-use restrictions through “disturbance caps,” as recommended in the BLM alternatives, the governor also suggested using a localized “adaptive management” approach.
“Rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all prescription, we urge the BLM to consider local conditions before, during, and after any tools are deployed,” the governor wrote. “In places with healthy and thriving bird populations, restrictions should be more flexible; in locations with struggling bird populations, restrictions should be tighter.”
The governor also urged BLM to work cooperatively across all sectors in its conservation efforts.
“When industry and agriculture are key players in the development of a conservation plan, we all stand to benefit,” Hickenlooper wrote in his letter. “Reconstituting and strengthening the role for local working groups in the northwestern region is one way we might guarantee a seat at the table for all stakeholders as this effort progresses.”
The BLM is considering comments received by the December deadline on its draft sage-grouse management plan. The agency is expected to forward its response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this winter. A final management plan is expected to be released later this year.
“It just reinforces the strength of our efforts to have the state of Colorado and the governor come out in support of our position.”
Garfield County commissioner