Study bolsters GarCo’s stance on sage-grouse |

Study bolsters GarCo’s stance on sage-grouse

A new peer-reviewed study critiquing methods used in determining species habitat seems to support Garfield County’s belief that mapping used for the greater sage-grouse in a pending Bureau of Land Management decision outlining new protections for the bird is flawed.

County commissioners on Monday offered as a supplement to their formal protest of the BLM plan a published paper by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Brian S. Cade which appeared in the scientific journal “Ecology.”

In the article, titled “Model Averaging and Muddled Multimodel Inference,” Cade singles out the modeling used in the environmental analysis for the sage-grouse.

“There is a growing recognition that we should not put too much analytical faith in any single model given the presence of reasonable competing models,” Cade writes.

“These model averaging issues are common in other ecological literature and ought to be discontinued if we are to make effective scientific contributions to ecological knowledge and conservation of natural resources,” he concludes.

Garfield County and other entities, including oil and gas interests, that have objected to the science used for the BLM study, have long said that the habitat for the greater sage-grouse in parts of northwestern Colorado has been overstated.

“This really hits home with what we have been talking about for three years,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

Garfield County has worked with its own team of consultants to develop alternative mapping that it believes is more accurate in determining the bird’s habitat and arriving at a conservation plan.

A formal Record of Decision from the BLM is expected any day, in advance of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision later this month whether to list the greater sage-grouse as an endangered species.

Garfield County has objected to the BLM’s intended plans to protect the bird’s habitat in the region, which includes an energy-rich area north of Parachute where several oil and gas leases already exist.

The plan would impact energy development in Colorado and other states by 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 has argued that the plan fails to recognize geological differences in the portion of Colorado where the broader protections are being sought, and doesn’t take into consideration local and state conservation plans that are already in place.

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