Two Commission letters on sage grouse

by Trudy De Angelis
Numerous questions to the San Juan County omission were posed by Shawn Welch on April 1. Welch is the attorney hired by the county to look into the legal aspects of the Gunnison sage grouse habitat designation. 
Welch’s letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife comments on the lack of an economic analysis and a National Environment Policy Act document. He states that U.S. Fish and Wildlife did not properly designate the proposed area in San Juan County. 
The area proposed as protected habitat includes an airport, crop land and dwellings. Welch said that the benefits to the sage grouse are outweighed by the detrimental impact on more than 400 land owners. His letter includes photos of the area.
Another letter, drafted by the County staff, questions the impact of the designation on many private landowners. The acreage involved is approximately 96 percent privately owned, with more than 400 landowners. 
Most of the historical habitat identified in the designation has not hosted sage grouse in decades, if ever. The sagebrush and other plants critical to the sage grouse are gone and what does remain of the historical land is fragmented by roads, homes, fences and more. 
Seventy percent of the proposed land is agricultural land or is covered by juniper trees. Drought and predators have taken their toll on the small population of sage grouse on San Juan County. 
The letter states that listing the designated habitat is not the way to go and asks that landowners be allowed to continue to work with a local group, which will be more effective than federal control. 
This proposed designation is viewed as a take-over of private property rights. Both letters are signed by the Commission and will be sent to the Fish and Wildlife Department.
San Juan County Administrator Rick Bailey said that San Juan County programs rank superior in a Senior Citizen review completed by the state. San Juan County gets the least amount of state dollars for the Senior Citizen program but is always at the top of list for effective use of funds. 
The commission signed a resolution on House Bill 148 (Transfer of Public Lands) and a memo of understanding with the Navajo Department of Transportation (NDOT) dealing with relations between NDOT and the San Juan County Road Department.
Monte Wells approached the Commission with concerns about Indian Creek. There has been a lot of heavy equipment working in the area, and he sees more tables and fire pits. 
He has asked for the original documents on the decision to make these changes in Indian Creek, but the BLM has not been forthcoming in his request for the National Environment Policy Act document. 
The county was not even consulted by the BLM when these first meetings were held. Wells feels that eventually there will be a pay station to get into Indian Creek and that the BLM is setting up a recreation area for climbers. 
Commissioner Phil Lyman commented that he had heard complaints from people at the Easter Jeep Safari about other recent road closures.
Bids are in for the Eastland fire station. It will be awarded to CC Construction Company of Hanksville for $99,169.
Gail Darcy requested a building permit for a storage shed in Spanish Valley.

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