Kent Vertrees: Prevent grouse listing
December 22, 2014
As an adjunct college professor who teaches students in an outdoor classroom near Dinosaur, I am closely following the fate of greater sage grouse.
As the longtime manager of a local business, Steamboat Powdercats, I recognize that a healthy sagebrush habitat is an important driver for our local recreation dependent economy, as well as the iconic bird.
In September 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act — an outcome that no one wants because it would adversely impact recreation, local economies and energy development here in Colorado and in the 10 other states that make up the bird's habitat.
In the wake of the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened, many in Routt County are concerned the greater sage grouse could follow suit. Although both birds have populations that are compromised significantly, they are different species with very different challenges.
Greater sage grouse still occupy 56 percent of their historic range and are found across 11 Western states, while Gunnison sage grouse occupy only 7 percent of their historic range and are limited to a small part of western Colorado and eastern Utah. While we all want to see both species increase their populations and thrive in a healthy habitat, we cannot afford the impacts of a federal listing of the greater sage grouse.
The $1 billion outdoor recreation economy from Bureau of Land Management sagebrush lands would be compromised severely. Colorado hunters alone spend $460 million each year and depend on healthy sagebrush lands for elk, mule deer and many other species according to a 2011 Fish and Wildlife Service survey.
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Fortunately, there is still ample time to protect our local economies and prevent a listing of the greater sage grouse. The time is now for strong leadership from the state of Colorado and collaboration by stakeholders to find conservation solutions to prevent a listing in September 2015 and retain access to outdoor recreation and energy development opportunities.