Gov. Hickenlooper offers to work with region on sage-grouse |

Gov. Hickenlooper offers to work with region on sage-grouse

RIFLE — Gov. John Hickenlooper expressed a willingness Monday to work with northwestern Colorado representatives to come up with a compromise solution for protecting the greater sage-grouse without severely impacting the region’s economy.

“We do have a real disagreement on some of the science being used in looking at the historic habitat of the sage-grouse, and how it has diminished over time,” Hickenlooper said before members of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) and area business leaders at a special meeting in Rifle.

The Democratic governor recounted a “heated conversation” with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe on that very topic, and criticized the proposal being put forward by the Bureau of Land Management to protect the bird’s habitat on federal lands.

“The solution that has been proposed is not appropriate,” Hickenlooper said of a preferred alternative contained in the BLM’s draft environmental analysis on the sage-grouse issue.

The proposal being considered is a compromise between environmental groups and multiple-use proponents but still includes strict limits on surface uses within the identified “priority habitat.”

Some of those measures could have a significant impact not only on development of mineral leases but grazing and other types of lease activities.

Garfield County has spent more than $200,000 to have consultants come up with an alternative plan that identifies a much smaller habitat range for the bird northwest of Parachute and into Rio Blanco County.

Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson, who chairs the AGNC board, asked if Hickenlooper would be willing to designate a “point person” from the state to work with northwest Colorado leaders in developing an alternative solution.

In addition to exploring that option, Hickenlooper said he also wants to work with other western governors to come up with a framework to deal with the federal government on the sage-grouse and other threatened species.

The greater sage-grouse has been proposed for the federal Endangered Species List if an appropriate protection plan cannot be found.

Garfield County commissioners are scheduled to consider formal comments to the BLM regarding the sage-grouse plan at a special meeting today starting at 8 a.m. in Glenwood Springs.

Hickenlooper also addressed the debate over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” after voters in three Front Range cities approved ballot measures earlier this month banning the controversial process used to extract natural gas within their jurisdictions.

“This is my global plan to make sure everybody hates me a little bit,” he said of criticism from anti-fracking activists and members of his own party on the issue.

However, the right of mineral rights owners to extract oil and gas is protected under the so-called “split estate” provisions of the state constitution, he said.

Under that provision, any type of short- or long-term ban on fracking would constitute a taking, Hickenlooper said.

“That’s why we’re in a lawsuit today suing one of those municipalities,” he said. “It’s a taking, and we can’t delegate that to local governments.

“Yes, we have to hold ourself to a higher environmental standard,” Hickenlooper said. “But we also have got to protect people’s rights to access those resources.”

The governor also fielded a range of questions on other topics ranging from a statewide water plan to new proposals for air quality controls at the Monday meeting, which was part of a Western Slope swing that included stops in Naturita and Craig.

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