Our View: Greater sage grouse concerns elevated | CraigDailyPress.com

Our View: Greater sage grouse concerns elevated

The recent announcement that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will list the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act is a huge concern to Colorado and Moffat County officials — and for a good reason.

For the past few years, Moffat County, its neighboring counties and 10 other states have worked long and hard hours to protect the greater sage grouse habitat while watching what might happen to the Gunnison sage grouse.

To be clear, the Gunnison sage grouse is a different species from the greater sage grouse. The Gunnison grouse resides in Southwest Colorado and Southeast Utah with a population of about 5,000.

The greater sage grouse live in 11 states — including Colorado — with a population between 200,000 and 500,000. The bird's habitat is on oil and gas rich lands, and if the bird is listed, the possibility of future energy play could shrink as fast as a balloon that loses its air.

To quantify the issue, Moffat County sits on billions of dollars of natural gas that could be negatively affected if sage grouse gets listed or if restrictions are too tight.

Specifically, Moffat County has nearly 73,000 billion cubic feet of natural gas throughout its region. That equates to $254 billion in reserve, which breaks down to $13 billion in tax revenue split between Moffat County School District, the college, the county, city of Craig and more, according to research compiled by Moffat County commissioners.

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If all that natural gas were extracted — unlikely, but a point the county has highlighted to outline the economic ramifications — it also would equal $16 billion in state taxes from royalties, commissioners have said.

The greater grouse habitat percentage in Moffat County totals 75 percent, which is more than any other county in Colorado, making it easy to see why this is such a big deal for our area.

Fear is permeating through Colorado and other Western states that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is a branch of the federal government, could list the greater sage grouse now that the Gunnison sage grouse has been listed.

Yet conservation efforts currently are in place statewide to protect the bird and its habitat. The federal government needs to stop overstepping its boundaries and let the 11 Western states where the greater sage grouse resides handle conservation efforts.

Moffat County officials closely have been watching what's been happening with the greater grouse for some time now.

The Bureau of Land Management in Colorado currently is evaluating the bird's habitat to ensure that sage grouse continues to multiply so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't list the bird as endangered.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are poised to make a decision about the greater sage grouse by September 2015, and hopefully the federal government will see the improved habitat and population that's already taken place.

We want the bird to remain healthy and happy, as it provides great tourism opportunities during mating season. It's also a popular bird to hunt.

We believe this can be achieved on a state level, without the help of the feds.

Editorial board:

Renee Campbell — newspaper representative

Noelle Leavitt Riley — newspaper representative

Sheli Steele — newspaper representative

Shannon Moore — community representative

Bob Mueller — community representative