BLM Picks Craig for Colorado Hearing on Sage Grouse Plans
CRAIG, Colo. – The Bureau of Land Management Wednesday in Craig is taking public comments on potential changes to sage grouse habitat protection plans finalized in 2015.
The Trump administration's efforts could pave the way for more oil and gas development.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has warned against making changes and says the move would put any future collaborations between states at risk.
Ken Rait, a project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts, says the current plans already give states flexibility for development.
"The 2015 plans were developed with specific state needs in mind and actually provide specific provisions requested by the various states,” he points out. “And so, the original plans were actually quite flexible."
Rait says the decade-long efforts to make sure the iconic bird known for its mating dance stayed off the endangered species list brought together governors, ranchers, industry and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, and argues the results struck a good balance between multi-use development and conservation.
The Western Energy Alliance has since complained that the plans overestimated the impacts on habitat from oil and gas production.
Matt Holloran, a leading sage grouse scientist with the Fort Collins-based firm Operational Conservation, and 16 other scientists last month, submitted a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing concern about the agency's decision to review the plan.
He says the grouse's habitat is also critical for ranchers to graze their animals.
"The science took into account things like the response of the species to gas development,” Holloran stresses. “The science supports the habitat objectives and the approach taken to managing livestock grazing. The science supports the identification of critical habitats."
Biologists estimate the sage grouse population has declined by close to 95 percent from historic levels because of loss of habitat.
The bird's fate also is considered to be linked to 350 other species, including elk, pronghorn and golden eagle.
The BLM's only hearing scheduled for Colorado starts at 5 p.m. at the Clarion Inn on Highway 13 in Craig.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.