Garfield County supports revisions to sage-grouse habitat mapping | PostIndependent.com

Garfield County supports revisions to sage-grouse habitat mapping

FILE - In this April 20, 2013 file photo, male greater sage grouse perform mating rituals for a female grouse, not pictured, on a lake outside Walden, Colo. Some Western governors say a new Trump administration directive threatens to undermine a hard-won compromise aimed at saving a beleaguered bird scattered across their region. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
AP | AP

Garfield County commissioners are looking to move forward with revisions to habitat mapping for the greater sage-grouse that they believe better reflects the bird species’ habitat in a remote northern part of the county where there’s active natural gas production.

“As commissioners, we are elected to preserve and protect the public health, welfare and safety of our citizens,” a letter from the commissioners to the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado reads.

The letter was ratified by the commissioners earlier this month.

“We concur with and applaud [Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s] conservation approach to greater sage-grouse habitat mapping, and encourage the BLM to incorporate these new maps into its resource management plans, understanding the underlying collaboration between local government and the State of Colorado in their creation.”

“Garfield County provides its full support to the revised mapping,” the commissioners declared in the letter.

David Boyd, area U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said the BLM will need to review the revision when it is submitted by Parks and Wildlife. He said the BLM can make minor changes to the plan once it’s submitted, but it tends to rely on wildlife officials for analysis.

“Garfield County has been very active in the sage-grouse effort all along,” Boyd added. “They have been concerned about the more unique nature of Garfield County’s sage-grouse mapping.”

Mapping and protections for the greater sage-grouse have been a lengthy ongoing process, and one of particular concern to Garfield County, as the BLM, wildlife officials and local governments continue to work to find a solution that best reflects all their concerns.

While a refined habitat mapping in the region was undertaken by the BLM and other agencies, Garfield County commissioners voiced concerns about the plan in 2015, as they did not feel it reflected concerns they had for species protections in Garfield County.

The AGNC, of which Garfield County is a member, began to develop a plan for the greater sage-grouse habitat in all of Northwest Colorado.

The revised plan, which Garfield County commissioners supported at their Nov. 5 meeting, identifies terrain that is not suitable for sage-grouse habitation, which better allows for new development opportunities. At the same time, it directs greater sage-grouse conservation in the appropriate areas, states a county press release.

The mapping for six separate sage-grouse populations in northwest Colorado was updated as part of the project, including the Parachute-Piceance Roan population. That region, located in northern Garfield and southern Rio Blanco counties, remains home to substantial oil and gas reserves, states the press release.

The revised maps have better identified terrain that those working on the plan say is not suitable for sage-grouse habitation.

Funding for the project came from in-kind contributions from individual local governments, AGNC, CPW and grant funds awarded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Conservation Colorado Western Slope Director Luke Schafer said he has not yet seen the county’s revisions, but he will be looking at what alternations the AGNC made from the previous iteration in 2015 and how those changes coincide with the protections and conservation efforts that were part of the plan.

He said the 2015 plan reflected the input of many conservationists and government officials across Colorado, and that it was one of collaboration and compromise. While he had several objections with the initial plan, he hopes that all the parties are able to finalize a conservation plan to ensure the recovery of the greater sage-grouse species, which he said remains Conservation Colorado’s ultimate goal in the mapping.

He admitted he was a bit puzzled by the county commissioners’ initial objection to the plan, as the majority of the federal minerals in the area have already been leased.

He said the big question will be if their alternations sway too far in promoting energy development interests.

azorn@citizentelegram.com


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