Wednesday, September 27, 2000
Hayden The almost two years of work a local group has spent on developing a conservation plan for northwest Colorado Columbian sharp-tailed grouse will not be a waste of time.
At the end of the week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide not to add the bird to the endangered species list, said Terry Ireland, a biologist for the fish and wildlife service.
"We expect the decision to put the bird on the list to not be warranted," Ireland said. "The decision is not final, but that is what we expect."
Ireland told the news to the Northwest Colorado Columbian Sharp-Tailed Work Group during a meeting Tuesday night.
The information came on the same night the group presented its members with a first draft of its conservation plan for the bird.
Ireland expects the decision to be finalized when the federal service releases its decision by the end of this week or early next week, he said.
"The decision was supposed to be made on Oct. 1," Ireland said. "Since it falls on a Sunday, look for the decision to be released Friday, Monday or Tuesday."
Officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not be reached for comment to confirm Ireland's statements.
If the bird appears on the list, the group would have to start its work over, said Cathy Neelan, the project facilitator.
"They could be doing all this work to start over," she said. "If it becomes an endangered species, we would go back and develop a recovery plan."
However, Ireland does not expect for that to occur. Two factors should keep the grouse off of the endangered list, he said.
"The decline of the habitat is not as great as it appears," he said. "There is a stronghold in Colorado and Wyoming. Because of these strongholds, we feel it is not warranted to place the bird on the list."
The second factor is that there are already measures being taken to protect the bird, he said.
"There are programs in place that can maintain and increase populations," he said, referring to the Conservation Reserve Program.
According to the program, the government pays farmers to not farm portions of their land. The government also pays farmers to plant grass, which is an attractive habitat for grouse.
The Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed the grouse's endangered status after receiving a petition filed by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Ireland said.
With the expected decision, the local sharp-tailed grouse work group's conservation plan becomes vital to maintain the bird, said Rick Hoffman, a wildlife researcher for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
For the past two months, Hoffman wrote the group's 71-page draft. He compiled the information from the group's work, which began in January 1999.
The work group consists of residents, farmers, conservation groups, private industry and local, state and federal officials.
"Their decision makes this plan even more important," Hoffman said. "This bird is in dire straits. We need to complete the plan and be to able to demonstrate we are going to implement the plan."
Hoffman handed out the first draft of the plan to about 20 members of the work group who attended for the meeting.
"I feel good about the plan," he said. "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is a massive document, and it was a massive undertaking to put this together."
The plan maps out methods of conserving the grouse populations in the northwest part of the state that are compatible with existing and future land uses, he said.
The plan offers conservation tips relating to hunting, recreational activity, habitat harassment, roads, power lines, predation, genetics, disease and parasites and range expansion.
Brad Petch, a habitat biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife and member of the group, is impressed so far with the draft.
"From what I see so far, it is a comprehensive and well-thought-out plan," Petch said.
The group will have about a month to read the draft and make any recommended changes to Hoffman.
"There is a lot of information in the draft," Hoffman said. "The group is probably going to need some time to read through it and digest it."
Neelan is hopeful the group can make any necessary changes to the draft at its next meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at Hayden Town Hall, 178 W. Jefferson Ave.
"It is a pretty straightforward document," she said. "Hopefully, we can gather comments and revise the document in October to produce a second draft.
"I would like to call the second draft the final one."
Hoffman expects the conservation plan will be ready to submit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the first of the year.
"Two years is a reasonable period of time to develop and submit this plan," he said.
Hoffman also believes that because the work group is diverse, the plan will be accepted by the public.
"This is not a wildlife plan," he said. "It is a community plan. We have stockholders that have helped develop this plan. They have a vested interest. A plan is more likely to be implemented if people have a vested interest."
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