DOW shoots for release of land use review policy in a month |

DOW shoots for release of land use review policy in a month

Post Independent photo/Jim Noelker

At least two Western Slope counties are questioning the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s lack of comment on some land use applications, but the Division director said he hopes to address those concerns through a new policy in 30 days.”I have a team working on it,” said DOW director Russell George. “Garfield County, La Plata County, Pitkin County are some of the hot spots.”For years, DOW provided timely comments to counties about proposed land use applications. Those comments have dropped off dramatically in recent months.”We’ve been getting them, but it’s really slow,” said La Plata County planning director Nancy Lauro.Comments from the DOW have resulted in changes to development projects, such as at Spring Ridge II outside Glenwood Springs, where building envelopes were moved to accommodate migration corridors.On Monday, the Garfield County Commissioners instructed staff to write a letter to the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the Division of Wildlife, to clarify its comment policy.”We do not have the expertise in wildlife issues, and DOW is the best available resource for that type of input,” said Garfield County planner Mark Bean.Lauro said not all developers are sensitive to wildlife issues. Without DOW input, it’s more difficult to make developers design their projects in a wildlife sensitive way, Lauro said.In an April 15 letter to George, La Plata County said its code allows referral agencies, such as the DOW, a 21-day review period for most development projects. If comments are not received within 21 days, the county assumes the DOW has no comment.George, a Rifle native appointed by Gov. Bill Owens three years ago, said most development comments from local DOW officials are now reviewed in Denver before being passed back to counties.”If the comment is in writing, I want a supervisor to review it,” George said. “I’m reviewing the chain of command, and that’s probably causing some confusion.”George said a more detailed review process would reduce the number of county planning “flaps” the DOW is sometimes caught in. One of those flaps occurred two years ago, when the DOW issued what appeared to be conflicting comments regarding eagles in a Front Range development.A better internal review process could have avoided the confusion. “We like to avoid flaps,” George said. “We don’t want to be drawn into polarizing battles.”George said his team of DOW staffers is working on a new policy to give to wildlife managers on comment guidelines. He said the policy will probably have a library of comments for reoccurring issues.”Advice on bears is almost always the same,” George said.Those library comments will most likely be passed from local DOW offices directly to county offices.More complicated comments will most likely be reviewed in Denver, before being sent to county planning departments.”Those will take more time,” George said.George said the new comment policy will also:-Standardize the DOW’s comment process statewide. “That’s just good government,” George said.-Save staff time, which is already stretched thin. “Everyone has more to do than they can get done,” George said.Colorado Wildlife Commission member Tom Burke, a Grand Junction contractor, said he agrees with the new policy George is creating.”He’s trying to set a standard, so each county gets the same level of expertise the DOW has to offer,” Burke said. “He’s trying to make the policy better, to make it more efficient and understandable.”George said the new policy is separate from the Division’s policy regarding comments on issues relating to federal lands.”I’ll always look at those,” George said.Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext.

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