County's fire plan in jeopardy

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— Implementing the county fire management plan is one of the highest priorities of the county's Natural Resources Department.

The problem is finding the manpower to do it.

The Moffat County Land Use Board continued to develop priorities for the Natural Resources Department at a meeting Tuesday evening.

After the county cut one of the department's two positions, Jeff Comstock, natural resources director, has been unable to continue the work alone.

Hiring a part-time employee was the board's first choice for completing the work Comstock doesn't have time to do.

A part-time employee would work on the fire plan, the sage grouse plan, assist with the Browns Park grazing plan and with the Dinosaur livestock plan. "If we don't have this part-time position, my assumption is the fire plan will be put on the shelf," said Commissioner Marianna Raftop-oulos.

The position could be funded through $15,000 in county money, a grant of $2,500 to $5,000 promised by the Nature Conservancy, and $10,000 in BLM money that is earmarked for project implementation. Comstock said the BLM money could be used for personnel if the BLM granted permission.

The fire plan was listed as the fourth priority on the board's prioritization list, behind the Northwest Colorado Stewardship, a sage grouse plan and oil and gas development. Commissioner Les Hampton pointed out that the fire plan could be the first priority during firing season and the last in December.

Implementing the fire plan requires someone to educate the community about the plan and someone to work closely with the Bureau of Land Management and private landowners in the summer months doing field control work.

Ann Franklin, the resource specialist whose job was eliminated to balance the 2004 budget, would have filled both of these roles.

Board members explored options ranging from having the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agents complete the agent aspect of the plan to having Sheriff's Deputy Tim Jantz complete the field control work.

Jantz played a key role in developing the plan, said Steve Hinkemeyer, board member.

Nate Balstad, extension service director, has said his office could legally perform the education work while working for CSU, but he didn't commit to doing the work, said Comstock.

Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said no one has yet approached him about using a deputy to help implement the fire plan. And even if someone did approach him, Grinstead said it is not an idea he is prepared to embrace.

"At this point in time, given our manpower and business, I would oppose it," Grinstead said.

Comstock's first priority will be to the Northwest Colorado Stewardship, a collaboration of federal agencies, county representatives and citizens dedicated to land use planning with a focus on areas such as Vermillion Basin.

Comstock's work with the stewardship will absorb about 25 percent of his time.

Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is close to listing the greater sage grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the Land Use Board decided to bump developing a greater sage grouse plan up the priority list, "based on the threat of listing," Hinkemeyer said.

Sage grouse planning is the Natural Resources Department's second priority.

Comstock's work with oil and gas companies would also remain a high priority, just ahead of the fire plan.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at

rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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