Garfield County protests sage-grouse protection plan |

Garfield County protests sage-grouse protection plan

Garfield County has filed a formal protest with the federal government over its plans to protect the habitat of the greater sage-grouse in northwest Colorado, including an energy-rich section of the county north of Parachute.

In addition, the county is seeking information through a Freedom of Information Act request in an attempt to understand the rationale behind the decision issued by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in late May.

The protest letter was filed June 25 on behalf of the county commissioners by the county’s contract legal counsel on federal land management issues, Holsinger Law LLC. Commissioners ratified the letter Monday on a unanimous vote.

It challenges the Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse management plan and final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that seeks to preserve habitat for the bird in 10 Western states.

In particular, the plan would affect energy development in Colorado and other states, requiring oil and gas wells to be clustered to lessen the disturbance on greater sage-grouse habitat. Drilling near breeding areas would be prohibited during mating season, and power lines would have to be moved away from prime habitat to avoid serving as perches for raptors that eat sage-grouse.

Garfield County says the plan fails to recognize habitat differences in the portion of Colorado where the broader protections are being sought. The plan also fails to take into consideration local and state conservation plans also aimed at protecting the bird’s habitat.

“That continues to be our strongest message,” said Fred Jarman, Garfield County’s community development director, who has spearheaded the county’s efforts over the past three years to convince the Bureau of Land Management to weigh local habitat mapping and other factors in its decision.

“The Garfield County habitat is very different from the national terrain,” Jarman said. “Our topography, bird population, habitat and natural fragmentation of that habitat is all very different.”

The protest letter asks the BLM and U.S. Forest Service to withdraw the FEIS, or to provide what’s called a “supplemental EIS” that would address Garfield County’s concerns.

According to the letter, “The scientifically unjustified measures imposed by the FEIS, including unnecessary management restrictions and closures, will have direct and irreversible negative impacts on public and private lands in Garfield County.”

Said County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky at the Monday meeting, “What’s at risk is $200 million in potential property tax revenues.”

The affected lands “are 100 percent leased,” Jankovsky said, and that includes not only oil and gas leases but agricultural and recreational uses as well.

The area also holds $16 billion worth of natural gas reserves, he noted.

“We need to be able to allow access to those reserves, and be able to protect the bird on the tops of the ridges where the sage brush habitat is,” Jankovksy said, indicating the reserves can be reached by horizontal drilling from below without disturbing the ridge top surface.

Meanwhile, the FOIA request is an attempt to access all written and electronic correspondence from the two federal agencies related to the greater sage-grouse planning efforts that weren’t provided to Garfield County and other cooperating agencies during the EIS process.

Jarman said the county wants to better understand the discussion that took place that led to the greater sage-grouse decision, and why some of that was not vetted through the cooperating agency process.

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