Delta County Commissioners have gone on record in opposition to endangered species (ES) listing for the Gunnison sage grouse.
The county was joined in opposition by almost a dozen other Western Slope county governments, by State Rep. Don Coram, by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, at a public hearing in Montrose on Nov. 20.
All three county commissioners addressed the issue to a panel of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials. The commissioners' position is an endorsement of some two decades of local government and private landowner work and $30 million spent on habitat conservation and species recovery for the bird.
The FWS has determined on two separate occasions (2006 and 2010) that the Gunnison sage grouse was "not warranted for listing" as an endangered species. But on both occasions, the decision was overturned by a lawsuit or the threat of one. The current FWS listing proposal for the bird is part of an agreement with national environmental groups to avoid legal action.
The parade of opponents to listing challenged the FWS officials at several points to show how federal ES status for the bird would improve its prospects for survival. The panel (composed of Patty Gelatt, Western Colorado supervisor; Nicole Alt, deputy assistant regional director; Susan Linner, Colorado field supervisor; and Charlie Sharp, biologist) was at pains to answer that question, and to answer other questions they were asked.
The FWS officials said that an as yet undeveloped "recovery plan" for the Gunnison sage grouse, along with increased federal regulation on 1.7 million acres of "critical habitat," would comprise the centerpiece of federal action. But they also acknowledged the plan would be based on history and science provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife which strongly opposes the feds' plan for endangered species listing.
Renzo Delpiccolo of CPW said that Governor Hickenlooper's office, "strongly believes" that the bird is not warranted for ES listing. Doing so would be "a powerful statement against conservation efforts" and would remove incentives for private conservation efforts. State wildlife officials believe the FWS listing proposal is using faulty science, he said.
Delta County Commissioner Doug Atchley stated the Delta BoCC "firmly opposes endangered listing of the Gunnison sage grouse." He said that local, on-the-ground efforts are more effective than the federal recovery plan which would feature extensive "consultations among federal agencies."
Commissioner Mark Roeber told the federal officials, "Endangered species listing under the Endangered Species Act is the wrong approach."
Commissioner Bruce Hovde said that a federal ES listing "is not warranted and would hurt (local) conservation efforts."
Several speakers at the Montrose public hearing noted the Gunnison sage grouse does not qualify for endangered status because it is not threatened with extinction in "all or a significant portion of its range." Colorado Parks and Wildlife says 79 percent of the bird's habitat is already protected and that the species is "secure in the foreseeable future" due to the local efforts.
Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck said 88 percent of the bird's rangewide population is not threatened, even by FWS standards.
An aide to Tipton said the FWS has compiled a poor record of species recovery. Out of more than 2,000 ES listings, only 28 have recovered, said Christian Reece. She added Tipton's office will work against FWS pursuit of an ES listing for the bird.
If the FWS decides this coming March to list the bird, 1.7 million acres of Western Slope land, both public and private, designated as "critical habitat," will come under increased federal regulation. But the critical habitat component of the FWS listing plan is full of holes, officials were told.
Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett said over 10,000 acres of her county designated as critical habitat for the bird hasn't had a Gunnison sage grouse siting in 60 years. "Threats (to the bird) don't exist there and it hasn't existed in west Ouray County for many decades," Padgett said.
A resident of Ouray county asked if "ground truthing," or on-the-ground surveys, had been conducted to verify the FWS map lines of critical habitat. Linner of the FWS replied some limited truthing had been done. "We should talk about that off-line," she added and did not respond further during the public session.
More criticism of the FWS listing proposal was aimed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service itself.
Coram said the agency "is destroying trust built over 20 years," that the agency has broken its promises, and that FWS has "betrayed the trust of individuals who have worked so hard to preserve this species." The agency made — and then broke — a promise that private conservation efforts would stay a federal ES listing, he said.
Tipton's aide said an ES listing would "wreak havoc on business and ranching, kill jobs, and raise energy rates for consumers."
Speaking from her experience as a Delta county landowner involved with Gunnison Sage grouse conservation efforts from the beginning, Robbie LeValley of Crawford said the agency has been inconsistent in dealing with landowners.
The agency has continually "moved the goal posts" by changing the population targets, she said.
She noted the FWS has shifted the focus of recovery from the stable majority population in the Gunnison Basin to small, satellite populations which, it was also stated, comprise only 12 percent of the total 4,621 birds on the range.
The FWS officials also held public hearings last week in Gunnison and Cortez. The agency is expected to issue its decision on listing the bird in March.blog comments powered by Disqus