Group submits sage grouse plan to FWS

Ramifications are great for Moffat County if bird is listed as endangered

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The Moffat County sage grouse working group has submitted a sage grouse management plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while the federal agency investigates whether the bird needs protection by the Endangered Species Act.

Although the draft is not final, the group hopes Fish and Wildlife takes its efforts into consideration while working through the 12-month process of deciding whether a listing is warranted for the greater sage grouse.

"My hope is we can submit a plan that shows the Fish and Wildlife Service we are aware and we have a plan in place," said Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton, who is a member of the working group.

The group hopes to resubmit the plan once it is finalized, Hampton said.

The 70-page draft describes the willingness of energy companies that are active in Moffat County to minimize their effects on sage grouse habitat. Great Divide and Lay have been hot spots for gas production in Moffat County during the past year, and both areas also are prime sage grouse habitat.

The plan also calls for ranchers holding grazing permits to change the time-frame in which they graze a known sage grouse area.

Hampton hopes the sage grouse plan will be as successful as an endangered fish plan he worked on several years ago. That plan was designed to preserve the cultural uses of the Yampa River while supporting the recovery effort of the four species of endangered fish that live there. It was submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service while they considered listing the fish, and much of the plan was adopted in the Yampa Valley.

If the greater sage grouse is listed, the ramifications for Moffat County could be drastic, Hampton said.

Ground disturbances, such as road maintenance, oil or gas drilling, or coal mining could be restricted or prohibited. The use of herbicides or pesticides could be prohibited during nesting or brooding seasons, a move that could harm ranchers whose crops could be affected by Mormon crickets. Ranchers' grazing rights could be restricted, as well.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife opposes an endangered species listing for the greater sage grouse, preferring to manage the bird on a local and state level rather than a federal level, DOW officials have said.

"The DOW could implement this plan and allow land users to be a part of this without devastating impacts ... on our economy," Hampton said.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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