In Final Hours, Coloradans Work To Avert ‘Threatened’ Ruling on BirdSource: Fuel Fix | 10 November 2014
Just a few days are left until the Obama administration decides whether the Gunnison Sage-Grouse should be classified as a threatened species, a ruling that could thwart energy development in the bird’s Colorado and Utah habitat.
But county and state officials working to head off a listing say time may have already run out.
“We have every indication that they are going to list it,” said John Swartout, a senior policy adviser in the office of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We are having some last-minute conversations and seeing if we can avert that.”
Hickenlooper has joined officials in Gunnison County, Colorado, and other stakeholders in making personal pleas to the Interior Department and its Fish and Wildlife Service, asking the agency to effectively reward conservation efforts, land-use regulations, and some $50 million in investments intended to protect the grouse.
Those voluntary efforts are now protecting 90% of the private land in the core habitat for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, which is especially sensitive to disturbances during its showy, strutting courtship rituals each spring.
That core population in and around Gunnison County is now stabilized and climbing in number, after a devastating drought a decade ago. But the “satellite population,” scattered in small numbers across 10 Colorado counties and one in Utah, is more vulnerable and not faring as well.
State and local officials are pleading with the Fish and Wildlife Service to decide an Endangered Species Act listing is “not warranted” for the bird, ahead of a court-mandated Nov. 12 deadline.
“We feel we have met the threshold as far as conservation efforts and things we are doing: programs in place and land-use regulations, and, especially, the involvement we have with private property owners,” said Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck. “It’s been a challenge to have Fish and Wildlife fully comprehend all of the programs we’re doing at the local level.”