Garfield County’s greater sage-grouse debate continues into new year
January 7, 2019
Garfield County's commissioners are beginning 2019 by discussing and voicing their concerns over ongoing federal efforts to protect a regional bird species that for several years now has struggled to get off the ground.
On Monday, county commissioners signed a letter protesting specific amendments to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's greater sage-grouse plan. Their concerns stemmed from language surrounding waivers and modifications, as well as the implementation of refined habitat mapping.
Conservation of the greater sage-grouse habitat began several years ago when the BLM, state wildlife officials, oil and gas interests, ranchers and others throughout Colorado and neighboring states started discussing how to best restore the bird species' population after years of decline.
While approval and implementation of a new plan has been a lengthy process, in the past the commissioners have voiced their concerns about the science being used, as well as praised the revisions to the habitat mapping they contributed to in November 2018.
“With these comments in here, it gives us the ability to come back and challenge this if we need to.”
— Tom Jankovsky, Garfield County commissioner
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Garfield County Deputy Manager Fred Jarman, who has taken lead on the issue for the county, said Monday that the hope is to draft a plan that is better than the initial 2015 plan.
"I'm happy to say that, in the current draft, there are some critical improvements from the 2015 plan," he added.
In the protest letter, Garfield County urged the BLM to use the refined habitat mapping that county and wildlife officials worked on in the fall.
"We urge the BLM to adopt these habitat maps as the most current and accurate representation of Colorado habitat based on the best available and reproducible science," the letter states.
While a refined habitat mapping in the region was undertaken by the BLM and other agencies, the local county commissioners have consistently said they did not feel it reflected the bird's actual habitat in Garfield County. That area is limited to a segment of the county in the upper reaches of Parachute Creek along the Rio Blanco County line, which is also where much of the county's oil and gas exploration and production occurs.
The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, 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, 2018, meeting, identifies terrain that is not suitable for sage-grouse habitation. The county maintains the plan better allows for new development opportunities in natural gas production.
Another area of concern for Commissioner Mike Samson was the harvesting of the bird, which he did not feel was properly addressed in the plan.
Over 11,932 greater sage-grouse birds were harvested in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Nevada and California, according to the protest letter. The county urged BLM to consider that when describing the range of impacts to the species.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky voiced his concerns over waivers and modifications in the plan, as he felt the language needed a little revision.
"We'd like to see that language change…" he said. "I think with this new plan we are in a good position.
"With these comments in here, it gives us the ability to come back and challenge this if we need to," he added.
The commissioners approved their protest letter unanimously on Monday.
Moffat and Mesa counties also both submitted protest letters, in which they reference Garfield County's protest, Jarman said.