GarCo objects to BLM sage-grouse plan

Garfield County commissioners Monday ratified their formal comments regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s forthcoming plan to protect the greater sage-grouse in Western states, amid growing concern that the directive is being driven by Washington politics.

“Despite our sincere efforts to coordinate with the BLM and participate as a cooperating agency in this process, it is evident our comments, local plans and peer-reviewed best available science provided to the BLM over the last three years have been summarily dismissed,” the county states in comments submitted to the BLM last week.

May 13 was the deadline for cooperating agencies to submit their comments on the BLM’s proposed measures to protect the bird’s habitat.

Federal land managers are revising their resource plans related to the bird in 11 Western states in an effort to prevent the greater sage-grouse from being listed as endangered, which would bring with it even more strict protections.

But the measures now being proposed by the BLM are no better, said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who two weeks ago likened the positions coming out of Washington, D.C., on the issue to British rule over the colonies.

“The way this is being handled does make you feel like you’re a colony of the East Coast, where decisions are made by people far away,” Jankovsky said.

He reiterated Monday that he believes the provisions being contemplated by the BLM are a result of a “top-down” approach, rather than working with states and local jurisdictions that have developed their own management plans intended to protect the bird and allow ranching and energy development to occur.

Garfield County’s comments urge the BLM to take a close look at areas within the sage-grouse habitat and “why we’re different,” said Fred Jarman, the county’s community development director, who has taken the lead in working with consultants to map the county’s greater sage-grouse habitat.

That habitat area is much smaller than what the BLM has represented in its mapping.

“Our comments challenge the very foundation of the BLM’s findings,” Jarman said at the Monday county commissioners meeting. “Their proposal is still very inconsistent with your position.”

The BLM’s identified general habitat for the bird covers a large swath of northwestern Garfield County north of Parachute. However, the county has argued that, because of the topography of that area, the bird’s actual habitat is much smaller.

That area is also home to numerous oil and gas leases, which the county is concerned would not be allowed to be developed under the broad protection measures being proposed.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, have welcomed the more stringent protections as the best way to ensure the bird is not listed.

The BLM is slated to finalize the grouse management plan this summer, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is up against a Sept. 30 deadline to determine whether the bird should be listed.

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