Garfield County weighs in on sage-grouse plan draft |

Garfield County weighs in on sage-grouse plan draft

Garfield County is reaching out to Gov. John Hickenlooper providing its input on the proposed Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Resource Management Plan amendments.

A letter sent to the governor earlier this week addressed several of the county commissioners’ concerns over what they view as “critical errors” in some of the scientific reports the plan relied upon. The letters also refer to inappropriate “no surface occupancy” restrictions being considered, according to a county press release.

The county’s comments were filed with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as well.

“I primarily see us having issues with no surface occupancy within 4 miles of a lek,” said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, referring to the term used for the mating grounds for the bird.

The commissioners want to ensure that land-management decisions affecting Garfield County’s economy, agricultural heritage, and the viability of communities, include accurate scientific reports, and input from local experts, the letter states.

The BOCC’s main concern is a proposed NSO restriction of 4 miles around greater sage-grouse leks, with the possibility of waivers, exceptions and modifications to be granted by the state director.

The county has long contended that this would be highly problematic as applied to the terrain in the Parachute-Piceance-Roan region, which is home to greater sage-grouse in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.

“The terrain in this area varies radically over short distances, including steep slopes, deep canyons, sage brush, ridges, non-habitat and dark timber, all of which naturally fragment the birds’ habitat,” the county says in its letter.

The BOCC felt the reports being used in the draft plan do not consider the complex landscape in Garfield County when determining what areas are actually greater sage-grouse habitat.

The county also felt plan amendments continue to ignore shortcomings in reports from the National Technical Team; Conservation Objectives Team; the U.S. Geological Survey Monograph and more. These reports include reliance on outdated studies, and don’t factor in the unique landscape of Garfield County.

The county suggested an alternative of 1-mile NSOs, and controlled surface occupancy at 2 to 4 miles, with the possibility of waivers, modifications and exceptions, on a case-by-case basis, that more accurately addresses the unique landscape of Garfield County.

According to the county, approval of such waivers should be made at the local level by those familiar with the area, and not at the state level.

The county letter noted that the draft’s proposed density and disturbance caps violate valid, existing land-use rights, and are not based on scientific evidence.

Livestock grazing also was improperly listed as a threat to greater-sage-grouse habitat, the county also contends. “References to grazing should be struck from the draft plan altogether, due to a lack of scientific backing,” the letter states.

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