Northwest Colorado’s native grouse
The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse once occupied 20 counties in Colorado. The native bird now is found in only three: Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco. Routt County provides some of the best habitat available for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.
Steamboat Springs The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have released a draft resource management plan and environmental impact statement for greater sage grouse in Northwest Colorado.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until 2015 to determine whether to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
“We want to see an effective plan that safeguards the best remaining habitat and is based on science and not politics,” Megan Mueller, senior conservation biologist for Rocky Mountain Wild, said in a news release. “We look forward to reviewing the plan and hope that BLM has made the changes wildlife biologists agree are necessary to restore sage grouse before the bird needs to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.”
The Northwest Colorado environmental impact statement is one of 15 being done across the West to provide additional measures to protect habitat on public lands and possibly preclude listing the native bird, according to a news release. The BLM manages 46 percent of greater sage grouse habitat in Colorado. The plan would not bind private land.
“Real conservation measures need to be made to save the grouse in Northwest Colorado,” Wes McStay, a Moffat County rancher and member of BLM’s Northwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council, said in a news release. “My family has protected grouse habitat on our lands so the next generation can enjoy this wonderful bird. BLM needs to ensure that others are required to do the same on our public lands.”
The release of the plan starts the 90-day public comment period, and the full report is available online. Public meetings will be held during October in Craig and Walden, which both have greater sage grouse leks in the vicinity. The meeting in Craig is set for 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at The Memorial Hospital. The Walden meeting will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Wattenburg Community Center.
According to the news release, four alternatives are outlined in the plan:
• Alternative A: Continue the current management direction under existing planning documents for all five field offices involved in the planning effort, plus the Routt National Forest.
• Alternative B: Analyze management actions outlined in the National Technical Team’s report. Conservation measures under Alternative B are focused primarily on priority habitat areas that have the highest conservation value to maintaining or increasing greater sage grouse populations. These conservation measures include such protections as right of way exclusions and a fluid mineral leasing closure.
• Alternative C: Analyze management recommendations submitted by conservation groups for protection and conservation of greater sage grouse and its habitat at the range-wide level. Conservation measures under Alternative C include creating an Area of Critical Environmental Concern that would include all preliminary priority habitat and a grazing closure over all designated habitat in the planning area.
• Alternative D: Incorporate local adjustments to the National Technical Team's report that were developed with cooperating agencies. The purpose is to provide a balanced level of protection, restoration, enhancement and use of resources and services to meet ongoing programs and land uses. Conservation measures under Alternative D are focused on both preliminary priority habitat and all designated habitat.
The release states that Alternative D is the BLM’s preferred option but notes that the final decision could be a mix of the alternatives.
“This is an opportunity for BLM to take a more holistic view of the landscape of Northwest Colorado to ensure that the special places and amazing wildlife resources that attract so many people to this region continue to drive our local economies into the future,” Soren Jespersen, of The Wilderness Society, said in a news release.
The BLM and the Forest Service will issue separate decisions by Sept. 30, 2014, according to the release.
David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the BLM, said it’s possible the two entities issue decisions that favor slightly different alternatives or versions of an alternative.
The next step, Boyd said, is to find a proposed alternative “that very often contains a blend of alternatives or elements within a range of alternatives.”
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com