Randy Looper: Sage grouse concerns
As owner of the Elk Run Inn, I am concerned about the fate of the Greater Sage Grouse, whose habitat includes sagebrush lands here in northwest Colorado and 10 other western states and two Canadian provinces. This bird is a hot topic for discussion in Washington D.C. and among our Colorado elected officials — who all agree that conserving the bird and its habitat is a priority. It’s not clear, however, that they understand how tied our local economy is to the fate of the bird and the sagebrush it calls home.
As the owner of a small motel in Craig, a large portion of my business comes from visitors drawn by the animals that depend on the area’s sagebrush habitat. In the fall, we cater to hunters visiting our part of the state who are drawn by the elk, mule deer and pronghorn. These animals thrive in this area because of our healthy sagebrush habitat. In the spring, we see a steady stream of guests who come to northwest Colorado to view the greater sage grouse and their unique mating dance at their lek.
This last spring, Conservation Colorado hosted and filmed a tour at the lek that you can view at youtube.com/watch?v=bnrmezazm68&feature=youtu.be that highlights why sagebrush conservation matters to our area. Our local economy benefits from the revenue generated by the people across the world that come to northwest Colorado to watch sage grouse. Studies show that visitors to the BLM sagebrush lands in the 11 western states with greater sage grouse habitat spent approximately $623 million within 50 miles of the recreation sites in 2013.
As small, locally owned businesses in Moffat Country, I feel strongly that it is in the best interest of the sage grouse and our economy in Colorado to develop a balanced use of the bird’s habitat on public lands to ensure hunting and other recreation can continue for years to come. The best scenario for the recovery of Greater Sage Grouse is strong collaboration by communities, industry, state and federal agencies to avoid the need for federal intervention. I encourage Governor Hickenlooper, Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet, the BLM and other stakeholders to implement measures that deliver on those needs.
Access to outdoor recreation is critical for Moffat County and throughout the state, but the time to act is now to protect the bird’s habitat and our local economies. What we don’t need is more delays in fixing the issue. What we need is for our politicians to get out of the way and let the stakeholders do the job they are already doing.
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The Lower and Central Yampa River Basin, which include Craig, Hayde, Rangely, Dinosaur and Meeker, will be under a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service starting at 6 a.m. Thursday.