Commission endorses letter contesting Sage Grouse EIS

Northwest Colorado officials sign letter demanding more local consideration

In other action …

During a special meeting Monday, the Moffat County Commission:

• Approved, 3-0, a $46,251 bid from Wenger Garage Door Service to replace eight overhead doors at the road and bridge department shop.

• Heard a private road takeover request from Jessie Rowley.

• Heard road and bridge department monthly reports.

• Approved, 3-0, a stipulation agreement with Tarango, Inc.

• Heard a Bureau of Land Management update.

• Approved, 3-0, the Villard/Rhodes property replat in Western Knolls.

• Approved, 3-0, the construction of two Cingular wireless towers in Moffat County.

• Approved, 3-0, a request from the Hurd family to construct a second dwelling on their property.

Quotable

“We’ve got a bird here that they claim isn’t being protected. We’re still hunting this bird, there’s still hunting season on it. Before you go to all of these drastic measures (as outlined in the NTT report) maybe you should stop hunting it. I think that would be a pretty logical first step.”

— Shawn Bolton, Rio Blanco County commissioner, about the Greater Sage Grouse conservation debate in northwest Colorado

Officials in northwest Colorado have joined forces against the Bureau of Land Management over Greater Sage Grouse conservation.

On Monday Jeff Comstock, Moffat County natural resources director, presented a letter to the commission for approval contesting the BLM’s forthcoming Greater Sage Grouse draft environmental impact statement.

The letter, endorsed by county commissioners in Moffat, Routt, Garfield, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties, and the heads of the Douglas Creek and White River conservation districts, raises concerns about the BLM’s inconsideration of local input in regards to Greater Sage Grouse conservation.

The undersigned northwest Colorado governments have been participating in regular cooperating agency meetings hosted by local BLM officials about environmental protections for the Greater Sage Grouse since May.

But elected officials in northwest Colorado do not believe the BLM is taking into consideration the views of local governments as mandated by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, specifically in regards to the balance of Sage Grouse conservation with social and economic growth in northwest Colorado.

Shawn Bolton, a Rio Blanco County commissioner, said he believes the lack of consideration of local governments means the BLM has already made its decision on Sage Grouse conservation as outlined in a National Technical Team report the federal agency provided.

“The biggest thing we disagree with is this NTT report is that it pedestals this bird above all other uses on public lands,” Bolton said. “Public lands are for multiple use, not for one specific use.”

In the letter addressed to Helen Hankins, the BLM’s state director in Colorado, local officials argue the agency’s Washington, D.C., office has ignored years of planning by local and state governments in favor of President Barack Obama and his administration’s preference for an “extreme conservation-oriented alternative.”

If the federal government gets its way, local elected officials believe extreme Sage Grouse conservation measures would have dire consequences on current oil and natural gas development, recreational opportunities and grazing resources in northwest Colorado.

As in Moffat County, the BLM manages a significant portion of the landscape in Rio Blanco County, Bolton said.

Seventy-five percent of Rio Blanco County is public land.

“The federal government controls everything that we do including our economic development through their management of these lands, and we just have to sit back and take it,” Bolton said. “We’re not trying to disregard this bird, we just believe a lot of steps can be taken before we go this far.”

An obvious alternative to the BLM’s call for all out conservation could be different management practices, Bolton said.

“We’ve got a bird here that they claim isn’t being protected. We’re still hunting this bird, there’s still hunting season on it,” he said. “Before you go to all of these drastic measures (as outlined in the NTT report) maybe you should stop hunting it. I think that would be a pretty logical first step.”

When called for comment Thursday Steven Hall, spokesman for BLM Colorado, said the agency had little response to the letter.

“We certainly appreciate the input from local government and we will take a look at their concerns,” he said.

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