Liza Rossi, Colorado Division of Wildlife conservation biologist, left, discusses the Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan. Sherry Sampson, center, Moffat County Libraries assistant director, listens alongside Jean Stetson, a local county landowner, who worked on the plan since 1996.

Photo by Collin Smith

Liza Rossi, Colorado Division of Wildlife conservation biologist, left, discusses the Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan. Sherry Sampson, center, Moffat County Libraries assistant director, listens alongside Jean Stetson, a local county landowner, who worked on the plan since 1996.

Sage-Grouse plan to prevent endangered listing

Federal classification could have consequences for landowners, businesses

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At a glance

• The Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan is ready for public view at the Moffat County Libraries in Craig, Maybell and Dinosaur, the Moffat County Courthouse, the Meeker Public Library, the Hayden Public Library, the Bureau of Land Management Little Snake Office in Craig and the BLM White River Office in Meeker.

• Complying with the plan is completely voluntary and includes consensus compromises among working group partners such as private residents, energy companies and government officials.

• Partners see the plan as a way to persuade U.S. Fish and Wildlife to not put greater sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List, which they say would have negative consequences for landowners and businesses.

— When Jean Stetson sat down with the Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Working Group in 1996, she didn't expect to sit there for 12 years.

But, she said she's glad she withstood the marathon negotiations. The voluntary Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan that came out of the Working Group is an important - potentially vital - tool for the area.

It could stave off a U.S. Fish and Wildlife move to put sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List. A federal decision would take any local cooperation out of the equation, she said.

"I think (sage-grouse) can be best managed at the state level," Stetson said. "I like to think we can get more done with cooperation than a heavy hammer."

The Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan is a voluntary collection of strategies to mitigate negative effects on sage-grouse populations and sage habitats, which provide home and food for a variety of species.

Copies of the plan - along with a shorter executive summary - are available across Moffat County, as well as Meeker and Hayden. A petition of support also is available at each location.

The Working Group included private residents, energy industry officials and government representatives from Moffat County, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies.

The plan's suggestions offer voluntary compromises for ranchers, farmers, government and industrial companies to develop land with an eye toward the bird, once known to flourish in Moffat County.

In recent years, DOW conservation biologist Liza Rossi said, sage-grouse populations have been successful in terms of population targets set by the local Working Group.

"In the past several years, since we've really ramped up our monitoring," Rossi said, "the population is doing really well."

There also are state and federal greater sage-grouse conservation plans, DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said.

However, state and federal plans also are voluntary and neither trump local plans, he said.

"The goal of the state plan is to lay out all the information about sage-grouse," he said. "It's a toolbox, and the different local plans can pick out the options that best suit their areas."

Hampton agreed that collaborative state processes will work better for all stakeholders - private landowners, government and businesses.

In February, however, U.S. Fish and Wildlife was mandated by a court order to reinvestigate whether greater sage-grouse need to be listed as endangered, according to a Fish and Wildlife press release.

The release states a federal court overturned the agency's 2005 decision to not list greater sage-grouse as endangered.

The overturned decision was not a result of political interference by Julie MacDonald, former U.S. Department of the Interior assistant deputy secretary, said Diane Katzenberger, Fish and Wildlife spokesperson. MacDonald resigned amid speculation she used political ideology to keep certain species from being listed as endangered.

The agency is investigating an endangered listing for sage-grouse because of new research data.

"The fact is, since the 2005 finding, there has been a lot of new scientific research" into greater sage-grouse, Katzenberger said. "Now that we have that information, (Fish and Wildlife) is obligated to review it."

The DOW does not want to see sage-grouse on the endangered species list, Hampton said.

"The DOW believes that state management is the best thing that can happen opposed to a federal listing," he said. "Ultimately, a federal listing will impact private landowners, cattle grazers and has the potential to impact the energy industry."

Hampton, Stetson and Rossi encouraged everyone in the county to look at the plan and sign its support petition.

"The goal of the local plan is really to get people to understand and buyin," Hampton said. "If people aren't willing to commit voluntarily and help out, there's always that risk a species will end up getting listed by the" Department of the Interior.

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