Local leaders lobby governor about sage grouse

Hickenlooper says he supports protection, economic balance

Quotable...

“The governor assured us he’s right on top of everything and said he agreed with us that he didn’t want to sacrifice the economy of this area (northwest Colorado) for a bird. He wants to balance them both and we urged him to protect the economy as well as the bird side-by-side. He agreed with that.”

Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock about a greater sage-grouse meeting with Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Representatives from northwest Colorado last week traveled to Denver to meet with Gov. John Hickenlooper to discuss the future of the greater sage-grouse.

Among those who made the trip were T. Wright Dickinson, of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association; Tom Gray, of the State Land Board; Rick Thompson, senior manager at Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association’s Craig Station; Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock, who represented Club 20; and Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers, who represented the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado in addition to Moffat County.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently is considering the greater sage-grouse for endangered species designation across its 16-state range that encompasses parts of Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and California.

Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not scheduled to issue a final decision until 2016, it has tasked the Bureau of Land Management to compile and release this spring recommendations for greater sage-grouse designation and a subsequent conservation management plan.

The BLM proposal will undergo a one-year review before issuing its final plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May 2014.

Among the data being considered by the BLM is the National Technical Team report, which Mathers described as being one-sided.

“It’s based purely on science and hardcore extremism — this is what’s going to happen to save this bird,” Mathers said. “That report we don’t agree with because it would cut out our economy. It just stops everything that would cause any land disturbance like grazing and oil and gas activity.”

In addition to the NTT report the BLM also is considering data from what has been labeled as the Colorado Alternative.

The Colorado Alternative, Comstock said, is the result of a collaboration among cooperating state agencies that “takes the NTT report and makes it work in the real world.”

What Comstock means is unlike the NTT report, which fails to take into consideration the social and economic impacts of broad stroke action, the Colorado Alternative attempts to strike a balance for greater sage-grouse protection without sacrificing industrial activity vital to northwest Colorado economies.

Both the NTT report and the Colorado Alternative, in addition to a summary of federal and private action taken in Colorado to protect greater sage-grouse, are featured in a 1,000-page document called the Colorado Package, which is available online at Gov. Hickenlooper’s web site.

But it is not yet clear which report the BLM will favor when it releases its draft proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this year.

And because Hickenlooper has not been vocal about the subject of late the representatives from northwest Colorado wanted to lobby the governor to support the Colorado Alternative when it comes time for him to comment.

Hickenlooper was elected in June 2012 co-chairman of the Western Governors’ Association and beginning in April also will co-chair an 11-state sage-grouse task force, Mathers said.

“The governor assured us he’s right on top of everything and said he agreed with us that he didn’t want to sacrifice the economy of this area (northwest Colorado) for a bird,” Comstock said. “He wants to balance them both and we urged him to protect the economy as well as the bird side-by-side. He agreed with that.”

Though both Comstock and Mathers said they walked away from the meeting thinking Hickenlooper would be in favor of a balanced approach to greater sage-grouse protection Eric Brown, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Hickenlooper has not yet made up his mind.

“As the BLM is still working on this NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) work and the alternatives, we do not yet have an official position,” Brown said in an email. “Suffice it to say that we hope the BLM will take into account the work that Colorado is doing and tailors a regulatory approach that works for the state.”

Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com

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