‘Colorado Alternative’ works to prevent listing of sage grouse | SkyHiNews.com

‘Colorado Alternative’ works to prevent listing of sage grouse

This week, Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to file official state comment on a controversial management plan for greater sage-grouse preservation. Depleted habitat is pushing the bird into a possible endangered species listing, which could spell trouble for rural economies in the northwest portions of the state.

Although Gov. Hickenlooper initially was going to file state comments on a Bureau of Land Management habitat management study in early December, uproar from northwest counties prompted him to seek local input. He appointed John Swartout, former head of the Great Outdoors Colorado conservation committee, to the task.

Swartout has spent the subsequent weeks traveling the region, listening to comments and concerns of local stakeholders. Last week, he spoke with Grand County commissioners during their board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7.

“They’ve got fairly decent populations of the sage-grouse (in Grand County), so they’ve obviously been doing things right,” Swartout said.

The Bureau of Land Management evaluated greater sage-grouse habitat in the state, which extends into Grand County, in an effort to create a management plan that would prevent an endangered listing by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Several northwest counties took issue with the BLM’s habitat mapping, worrying it could impact local industry like agriculture and resource extraction.

Some county officials, including Grand County commissioners, contracted their own habitat studies, saying the BLM delineating was too broad. The county’s local study evaluated habitat on a finer scale, and considered variables like slope and elevation.

“One of the things the commissioners said is every piece of ground isn’t the same, and shouldn’t be treated the same,” Swartout said. “I couldn’t agree more.”

After collecting input from commissioners, agricultural producers and other concerned stakeholders in the region, the governor’s comments will go to officials at BLM. BLM officials will take all comments into consideration when shaping the management plan it submits to U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The idea is to prevent the bird from an endangered species listing through adequate management.

Swartout said the localized input will help the state offer unique perspectives to federal agencies.

“Unlike some other states in the West, Colorado has taken a leadership role in these things, coming up with solutions that were better for the species and better for industries and local governments,” he said. “We have a track record, we’re good at it.”

As examples, Swartout pointed to mountain plover on the Front Range and the Gunnison sage-grouse found south of the Colorado River. In both cases, local state agencies, private land owners and other stakeholders worked together to both protect the birds without thwarting local industries, he said. The mountain plover avoided an endangered species listing. A decision on the Gunnison sage-grouse, like the greater sage-grouse in the northwest, has yet to be made.

Both Swartout and county officials emphasized their unified goal of balancing species protection with the nuances of local economies. Grand County assistant manager Ed Moyer called these coordinated comments between the governor and northwest counties the “Colorado Alternative.”

“Every county is different, it’s not having this one-size-fits-all plan,” Moyer said. “It’s more of an adaptive management approach. That’s what our local Colorado wildlife folks have been doing in Middle Park for the last 10 or 15 years.”

Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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