Regional grouse mapping effort under way
RIFLE — “Historic” was the word used at a recent meeting to kick off of an effort by local governments in northwest Colorado and the state’s wildlife agency to better map the habitat of the greater sage-grouse.
The hope is that the new habitat mapping will be considered by the Bureau of Land Management, which along with the U.S. Forest Service is responsible for constructing land-use plans intended to conserve the bird’s habitat.
In Colorado, those plans rely on data provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and government officials — citing a desire to balance conservation with development — have argued that the mapping is too broad in identifying habitat.
CPW officials previously said that the map, which used the best available science at the time, was provided at the request of the BLM, and that it was unclear that the map would be tied to firm regulations.
Limitations attached to CPW’s map state that the information on the maps “should not replace field studies necessary for more localized planning efforts.”
After learning last fall of the BLM’s willingness to possibly alter habitat mapping as new data becomes available, the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado started collecting money to spearhead more detailed habitat mapping.
AGNC obtained a $380,000 Department of Local Affairs grant in December, according to Bonnie Petersen, executive director of AGNC. It awarded a contract in February to Olsson and Associates, which will work in close consultation with CPW on developing the modeling for the mapping.
Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Grand and Jackson counties are all on board with the effort, and in some cases, contributed matching funds, as did private businesses.
The collaborative approach between CPW and local governments is a monumental partnership that will benefit more than just the grouse, Bob Broscheid, CPW director, said over the phone during a meeting in Rifle last Thursday.
“(CPW) is all in on this effort. We are in,” Broscheid said, while cautioning that there will be “bumps in the road.”
“It won’t be easy. There will be ups and downs.”
Regardless, he called the unofficial “kickoff” last Thursday a historic event that will lead to better planning and conservation of the bird.
John Swartout, rural policy and outreach director for Gov. John Hickenlooper, echoed Broscheid’s comments, saying that the goal from the beginning was to use a science-driven approach to create a win-win outcome for protecting the greater sage-grouse.
If the characterization of the recent developments in northwest Colorado sounds familiar, it is because state and national officials used much of the same language last September when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the greater sage-grouse would not be granted protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
While Garfield County officials cheered that decision, they held out hope that more localized mapping could be used, such as alternative mapping by the county that took a finer-scale look at the terrain, and concluded the habitat areas were smaller than those identified in the mapping used by the BLM.
The effort by AGNC will look at six population sites in northwest Colorado. Olsson and Associates will use available data provided by CPW and conduct field work in certain areas to construct the maps.
“If we can better identify habitat then we can better identify conservation measures,” Petersen said on Tuesday.
AGNC, which has a memorandum of understanding with CPW, has already filed a request for available data from the agency.
Under the grant contract with DOLA, the anticipated completion date for the project is February 2017.
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