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County faults BLM sage grouse study

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The commissioners have recently issued 17 specific comments critical of the BLM's work on Gunnison sage grouse.

In addition to the 17 specific points addressed in the BoCC's Sept. 24 comment letter, the county commissioners have expressed their strong disappointment with the agency's procedures in creating its Gunnison sage grouse Rangewide Resource Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement.

In creating the EIS document, the BoCC says that BLM has shunned knowledgeable input that it should have sought out.

In its comment letter to Lori Armstrong, Gunnison sage grouse project manager, the board of commissioners stated, "It was very disconcerting to the Delta BoCC that the BLM has agreed to the five-mile lek [i.e. sage grouse nesting site] buffer with no input from the cooperating agencies, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the 11-county group. This agreement is not what was indicated would happen when all parties signed the [memorandum of understanding] as cooperating agencies."

It is normal practice for the BLM to enlist the Delta County Commissioners as a "cooperating agency" in work on issues that affect the local jurisdiction.

The BoCC's letter continues, "This is just one more example of the deficiencies in the entire [EIS] process and puts into question if a quality product is possible."

In closing, the commissioners urge the BLM to be more responsive and accountable to the county when seeking its official cooperation: "The Delta BoCC urges the BLM to allow for sufficient time to review the referenced buffer document and its potential incorporation in the EIS."

In response to a DCI request for comment on the commissioners' input, Uncompahgre Field Office Manager Barb Sharrow e-mail the following: "The BLM appreciates the public's and cooperating agencies' willingness to provide comments on the [GSG} EIS. These comments have led to changes in the document, and we look forward to working with our cooperators as we move forward.

The 17 specific comments that the commissioners made on the Gunnison sage grouse document include objections to the use of vague language; pointing out misstatements; outright disagreements with statements in the BLM document; statements that are not scientific, that are over-generalizations, or that lack needed caveats or qualifications; and, other issues.

Delta County is one of 11 counties in Colorado and Utah that will be significantly impacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's threatened species status for the Gunnison Sage Grouse. The 11-county group has worked for years to help improve habitat for the bird, including on private lands, in hopes of avoiding heavy federal involvement and regulation enforced on private lands and affecting local economies where populations of the Gunnison sage grouse exist, or are asserted by federal lands and wildlife managers to have existed at some time in the past.

The Board of County Commissioners also recently submitted a number of comments noting deficiencies of methodology, fact finding, and conclusions in the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office's North Delta grazing permits preliminary environmental study.

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Commissioners, sage grouse
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