Garfield County chimes in on federal sage grouse study |

Garfield County chimes in on federal sage grouse study

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A federal study aimed at protecting the greater sage grouse in parts of northwest Colorado fails to consider local economic concerns related to oil and gas and other natural resource development, according to Garfield County commissioners.

The Garfield Board of County Commissioners on Monday OK’d a letter to be sent to U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials regarding the agency’s environmental impact statement concerning the greater sage grouse habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a 2015 deadline to decide whether to propose the bird for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The BLM, at the direction of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, is currently taking comments from various agencies and the public regarding possible management of human activities that might affect the bird’s habitat.

However, the process is excluding some of the key stakeholders in the issue, Garfield County’s letter states.

In particular, oil and gas industry representatives fear the protections could hinder oil and gas development in the protected areas.

Commissioners agreed, and pointed out in their letter that the impacts would go beyond the energy industry to affect grazing, recreation and other use of natural resources.

“The county agrees and appreciates the desire by the BLM to implement actions in order to avoid the possible listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act,” the commissioners’ letter states. “However, the county cannot support the approach the BLM is suggesting … because it excludes participation from state or local government, private landowners, and other key stakeholders, including energy companies.”

The proposed protections would amount to “essentially a moratorium on energy development” in those areas, county building and planning director Fred Jarman said in presenting the draft letter at Monday’s BOCC meeting.

“We also question the need for yet another regulatory effort related to the sage grouse, when there are already numerous other efforts in place at the state and local level,” Jarman said.

The county was party to a 2008 plan developed by what was then the Colorado Division of Wildlife in conjunction with local governments, private landowners and environmental groups. Known as the “Parachute-Piceance-Roan Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Plan,” that effort led to a variety of conservation measures to protect the bird’s habitat, the county’s letter points out.

Regarding the latest BLM proposal, “This approach excludes other viable alternatives to habitat management and only proposes a very restrictive ‘no surface occupancy’ alternative,” the county’s letter states.

One of the alternatives before the BLM to minimize impacts on the sage grouse is to keep surface disturbances to one per square mile. Surface disturbance would also be limited to 3 percent of an area identified for habitat protection.

Such an approach “cannot be considered without more fully understanding its practical and socio-economic impact on the county and other [northwest Colorado] communities,” the county’s letter continues.

“More simply put, this approach will result in a virtual moratorium on energy development, severely impacting the economy of the county and northwest Colorado, and further exacerbating an already economically depressed and challenged area,” the letter states.

The county also suggests that the public comment period be extended another 60 days beyond the current March 23 deadline, in order to allow more public and industry input on the issue.

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