Hickenlooper: ‘Very close’ to avoiding sage-grouse listing

Gary Harmon/The Daily Sentinel

— The debate over the greater sage-grouse is gaining intensity as a May 29 deadline looms for a federal agency to complete plans for the bird, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday.

“We’re not playing chicken, but we are pushing back against each other pretty hard,” Hickenlooper told the members of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado about discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Colorado.

Eleven states stand to be affected by a listing of the bird as threatened or endangered.

The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado was one of the first Colorado organizations to criticize the potential listing of the bird, saying that a listing would endanger the region’s energy economy.

If the bird is listed, “All of Moffat County is out of business,” Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe told Hickenlooper.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last year visited Moffat County to see measures being taken to preserve the grouse. She supervises the Bureau of Land Management, which is adjusting resource plans in each of the affected states in hopes of circumventing a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to list it.

The Interior Department has said it wants to reach the point that the Fish and Wildlife Service can find that no listing is warranted. Much of that decision lies with the way the BLM manages its lands and both agencies report to Jewell.

“We are very, very close to avoiding a listing altogether,” Hickenlooper said, noting that he spoke to Jewell 10 days ago.

Finding that the bird should not be listed is Jewell’s goal, Hickenlooper said.

“I believe her. I don’t think she’s posturing.”

Hickenlooper supported the filing of a suit against the agency when it listed the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened, but declined to say whether he would do the same if the greater sage-grouse is listed.

Colorado already has sued the service after it listed the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened. Environmental organizations also sued the agency, contending that the Gunnison sage-grouse is in dire straits and should be listed as endangered.

Sage grouse weren’t the only things on the minds of county commissioners from the northwest corner of he state.

A federal court ruling requiring the Office of Surface Mining to address issues pertaining to Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Colowyo Mine is causing concern in Moffat County, Commissioner John Kinkaid said.

The mine employs 220 people “and they don’t know if they’re going to have jobs in 120 days,” Kinkaid said, asking whether Hickenlooper would step in with the federal agency as well as seek an appeal of the judge’s ruling.

“Yes,” Hickenlooper said.

The governor today is in Grand Junction to sign legislation intended to encourage economic development in distressed areas of the state, an effort carried by Mesa County legislators.

Gary Harmon is a reporter for The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction.

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