Garfield County ups ante to influence sage grouse study
October 17, 2013
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County is prepared to spend more than $200,000 this year to build a case that the science being used by the federal government aimed at protecting the greater sage grouse is flawed.
County commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to increase by $72,320 the various contract amounts being paid to four consulting groups that are working on an analysis and alternative mapping related to the ongoing federal study.
Included is an additional $15,000 to be paid to the Texas-based American Stewards of Liberty, for a total amount of up to $39,800, to help steer the county through the regulatory review process.
The county is also paying up to $45,000 to Nederland-based wildlife biologist Rob Ramey to do an independent scientific review of the study, and is contracted with two habitat mapping consultants.
“The approach being used by the BLM will have an enormous impact, and it’s important that it not be based on bad science.”
Garfield County director of community development
All totaled, the bill could come to more than $212,000 for the county to develop a scientific counter-argument.
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County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said it's money well spent, given the potential loss of natural gas industry-related tax revenues and mineral lease dollars, should the sage grouse become listed as endangered.
"These (consulting) contracts do represent substantial amounts of money," he acknowledged.
But, when it comes to Garfield County and other property tax-dependent entities, such as local school districts and the Grand River Hospital District, "the potential loss is substantial," Jankovsky said.
Garfield County is an official coordinating agency, working with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service as they prepare a draft sage grouse protection plan for public lands in a region .
That study could result in the bird being listed as an endangered species, potentially impacting natural gas production in part of Garfield County northwest of Parachute, and impacting much of northwest Colorado, southwest Wyoming and northeast Utah.
Public comments for the draft Environmental Impact Statement are due Nov. 14, followed by additional agency review and revisions next year and a likely decision whether to list the bird sometime in 2015.
However, it's uncertain how the federal government shutdown, which is affecting the federal agencies involved, might alter that timeline, said Fred Jarman, Garfield County's director of community development, who is heavily involved in the sage grouse issue.
Ultimately, the goal of the county is to make sure the science being used by the federal government in preparing the sage grouse study, including the area that can reasonably be identified as sage grouse habitat, is sound.
"Garfield County is being looked at to develop a model that other affected counties can use," Jarman said. "The approach being used by the BLM will have an enormous impact, and it's important that it not be based on bad science."