BLM unveils sage grouse conservation plan

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The U.S. Bureau of Land Management released its strategy for conserving sage grouse on public lands this week.

Although much of Moffat County is greater sage grouse habitat, John Husband, director of the BLM Little Snake Field Office, doesn't expect the plan to change his office's management practices.

"The national conservation strategy reinforces and lends some priority to efforts we're already involved in," Husband said.

The purpose of the conservation strategy is to guide actions for conserving sage grouse and their habitats.

The strategy includes four goals: to improve management effectiveness for addressing conservation needs of sage grouse, prioritize habitat maintenance and restoration, expand partnerships and research that support effective management of sage grouse habitat, and ensure adequate leadership and resources are available to continue ongoing sage grouse conservation efforts.

The Little Snake Field Office has worked with mines, grazing permit holders and the Colorado Division of Wildlife to manage sage grouse habitat in Moffat County, Husband said.

The plan could support the work the local field office has been doing.

"I would hope this indicates strength in priority in funding," he said.

When the BLM released a draft of the strategy for public comment last year, members of the Northwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council voiced concern that the strategy didn't take state, regional and local efforts to conserve sage grouse into account.

The final strategy places a definite emphasis on working groups, Husband said.

The Moffat County sage grouse working group should complete its plan soon, Brad Petch, a DOW sage grouse biologist, said last week. Members have worked on the plan for eight years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered or threatened species by the end of December.

Husband didn't know how a decision to list the greater sage grouse would affect the BLM's conservation strategy.

The potential listing has created controversy among environmentalists and energy developers throughout the West.

Earlier this week, the Partnership for the West, an alliance of representatives of the coal, timber, and oil and gas industries, and local, state and federal government, including Moffat County, formally challenged the scientific data environmentalists submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service for use in the sage grouse review.

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