Grand County OKs gravel operations despite objections from DOW | SkyHiNews.com

Grand County OKs gravel operations despite objections from DOW

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado

Male greater sage grouse in the Williams Fork Valley may have to endure truck noise during their mating dances.

In a hearing that resulted in approval of a new County Road 3 gravel pit, the decision to allow operations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. went against the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s request to delay activity at the pit until 9 a.m. from March 15 to May 15. The DOW’s reason for the request was to accommodate the mating rituals of sage grouse.

A gathering of 20 to 30 birds considers the county’s new County Road 3 gravel pit location a secondary lek, or place to perform their unique mating struts designed to attract females during the spring breeding season.

The land encompassing the county’s other gravel pit in the area, scheduled to be reclaimed when the new pit starts operations, has historically been a primary lek for sage grouse. Grouse create allegiances to certain areas suited for their annual mating displays.

When spooked by noise or other disturbances, the birds temporary relocate to an alternate lek, such as where the county’s new gravel pit is located, according to the DOW.

“They have a very strong sight fidelity to go back to the same site,” said Area Wildlife Manager Lyle Sidener after the county decision on Tuesday. “Historical occurrence is, when the Blue Mesa Reservoir was built, when it was flooded that first year, sage grouse actually congregated on the ice over the site that used to be their lek.”

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The DOW plans to continue monitoring the birds closely to see if new gravel-pit hours result in impacts to populations. For the county’s original William’s Fork pit reclamation, the DOW offered to provide seed to the county appropriate to sage grouse habitat. The birds have inherited increased protections in western states in recent years due to reductions in populations.

“Every day continual disturbances may cause them to disband,” Sidener said.

The county has pointed out there are other gravel pits in the area that don’t have hour restrictions.

In cooperation with the DOW, the county’s other pit delayed truck traffic and crushing until 9:30 a.m. to accommodate sage grouse, but county road and bridge officials said the delay in operations disrupted productivity and hijacked a large part of the spring when material is most needed to improve roads, before mag chloride is applied.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when the DOW asks for something, we have done it. But occasionally, just as the DOW has to take issue with us occasionally, occasionally we have to say that 1 percent of the time, we can’t work with you, but 99 percent we’re in lock step with you,” said County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran.

“I don’t think this is going to be real critical,” said County Commissioner Nancy Stuart.

Even so, county officials invited the DOW to comment on the special use and pit hours of operation any time it has new information on the sage grouse behavior in that area. The DOW has been monitoring the Williams Fork lek sites for the past 20 years.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@skyhidailynews.com.

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