The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will host a meeting in Dove Creek, CO on Thursday, August 7 to discuss the future of the Gunnison sage grouse. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Dove Creek High School.
The BLM offices in southwest Colorado plan to draft amendments to their management plans in order to assist in the efforts to protect the Gunnison sage grouse.
Connie Clementson, the field office manager for the BLM Tres Rios office, said “We will be updating all of our plans that have Gunnison sage grouse habitat. It is a range-wide plan to get consistency between districts on mitigating impacts to the bird.”
“The BLM is doing everything it can do to see it is not listed,” Clementson said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife, a separate federal agency whose reach can extend to federal, state and private lands, is considering a proposal that could designate the bird as an endangered species and create 1.7 million acres of protected habitat in Colorado and Utah.
A decision on the proposal is expected to be announced in November, 2014.
The Gunnison sage grouse has a population in the thousands, with a handful of birds on isolated leks, or breeding grounds, in San Juan County. The bird resides only in seven counties in Colorado and San Juan County, UT.
A preliminary plan, released 20 months ago, designated primarily private ground in San Juan County as potential protected habitat.
The full acreage under consideration in San Juan County amounts to roughly 30 percent of the total private land in the county.
The amount of BLM land under consideration for protected habitat in San Juan County is negligible.
Lawsuits filed by environmental agencies resulted in a federal court settlement which is pressuring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as endangered. If the grouse is listed as endangered and habitat designated, additional permits would be required for any structure, use or project that occurrs within a certain distance from the habitat.
The amendments to the BLM management plans are expected to further protect the grouse in order to avoid the necessity of listing the species as endangered.
In addition, recent federal legislation, championed by Colorado Representative Scott Tipton, requires federal agencies to use local and state statistics when determining policies protecting wildlife.
Requiring the use of local statistics is designed to give the US Fish and Wildlife Service a more specific understanding of what is causing population decline and whether the decline is dramatic enough to require action.
Local officials have been concerned for many reasons, including the fact that the proposed designation states that the encroachment of civilization is the main threat to the Gunnison sage grouse.
In San Juan County, the grouse are located on isolated areas that have seen a significant decrease in human use over the prior decades rather than an “encroachment of civilization”.
The upcoming meeting in Dove Creek will involve an open forum that gives citizens the opportunity to voice their opinion on the matter.