Sage grouse considered for endangered list |

Sage grouse considered for endangered list

Moffat County Commission requests more information from DOW

Brian Smith

The greater sage grouse, a bird some consider to be a symbolic and rare bird of the West, soon could be classified as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to announce its determination by Feb. 26 of whether the sage grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission approved, 3-0, a letter to request clarification about where the Colorado Division of Wildlife stands on protection for the sage grouse.

The DOW has provided data to Fish and Wildlife regarding the issue.

Fish and Wildlife will make one of three determinations: that the sage grouse listing should be warranted, warranted but precluded, or unwarranted.

A warranted but precluded recommendation would mean Fish and Wildlife recognizes the sage grouse as an endangered species, but either there are significant efforts in place already to protect the species, or it should be placed on a list of other animals warranting protection sorted by priority.

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If the sage grouse is warranted to be an endangered species, control of population management will shift from the state to federal level.

"We strongly believe that management of species is far more effective at the state level than at the federal level," DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said. "We have worked diligently with statewide and local working groups to develop management plans for greater sage grouse that we believe are effective in addressing those populations."

The letter from the commission also asks the DOW to clarify whether they "are advocating for the protection from the ESA for a distinct population such as the one in Moffat County," which is reportedly thriving, "or the entire range of the greater sage grouse," which includes about 13 states.

According to the Colorado Environmental Coalition, the sage grouse is gone from nearly half of its original range.

Although studies are ongoing, past over-hunting and human development factors such as oil and gas developments, grazing from other animals and residential housing have threatened the once abundant bird, the CEC contends.

The sage grouse is a highly-specialized bird that is primarily dependent on a sage brush diet and an eco-system that is shrinking, said Luke Schafer, CEC northwest campaign coordinator.

Schafer contends that conservation can co-exist with land development.

"We have to figure out unique ways to preserve this bird while also continuing responsible development of oil, gas and other perceived conflicts," he said. "We know where the bottom lines lie, but we have to use ingenuity and common sense. We all have a responsibility to be part of the recovery."

Fish and Wildlife has estimated that some sage grouse populations have declined between 69 and 99 percent from historic levels.

About two-thirds of the Colorado greater sage grouse population resides in Moffat County, Schafer said.

In other news

At its Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission also:

• Approved, 3-0, a warrant resolution totaling $662,649.73 for February.

• Approved, 3-0, to waive preferential rights to purchase certain assets and minerals being sold to the Foundation Energy Fund from Pioneer Natural Resources.

• Approved, 3-0, to adopt revised bylaws of the Moffat County Tourism Association but struck the line reading “the commission may also appoint up to two alternates.”

• Approved, 3-0, to renew a lease with Visual Lease for services presented by the assessor’s office.

• Approved, 3-0, to switch the classification of land owned by Cindi Crabtree from vacant land with a minor structure to residential.

• Heard an update from Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Soos on past meetings, current issues and bylaws.

• Discussed Friday’s State of the County event in which commissioner Audrey Danner will be speaking. Danner encouraged the audience to attend.

• Heard from Bob McConnell, of Steamboat Springs, who introduced himself to the commission as a candidate for the Third Congressional District.

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