County provides input on BLM greater sage-grouse draft management plan amendments

Board of County Commissioners want local issues heard at state and federal level

July 26, 2018

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO –Garfield County has submitted a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper, as well as filed formal comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), providing local input on the Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Resource Management Plan amendments. In assessing the draft plan, the county has concerns over “critical errors” in some scientific reports being relied upon, as well as inappropriate “no surface occupancy” (NSO) restrictions under consideration.

The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) wants to ensure that land-management decisions affecting Garfield County’s economy, agricultural heritage, and the viability of communities, include accurate scientific reports, and input from local experts. Direction from federal land-use plan amendments (LUPAs) continue to ignore shortcomings in reports from the National Technical Team; Conservation Objectives Team; the U.S. Geological Survey Monograph and more. These reports include reliance on outdated studies, and don’t factor in the unique landscape of Garfield County.

The BOCC’s main concern is a proposed NSO restriction of four miles around greater sage-grouse leks, which are mating grounds, with the possibility of waivers, exceptions and modifications to be granted by the state director. This is highly problematic as applied to the terrain in the Parachute-Piceance-Roan region, which is home to greater sage-grouse in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. The terrain in this area varies radically over short distances, including steep slopes, deep canyons, sage brush, ridges, non-habitat, and dark timber, all of which naturally fragment the birds’ habitat.

The reports being used in the draft plan do not consider the complex landscape in Garfield County when determining what areas are actually greater sage-grouse habitat.

“I primarily see us having issues with no surface occupancy within four miles of a lek,” said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.

The county has suggested an alternative of one-mile NSOs, and controlled surface occupancy at two to four miles with the possibility of waivers, modifications, and exceptions, on a case-by-case basis, that more accurately addresses the unique landscape of Garfield County. Approval of such waivers must be made at the local level, by those familiar with the area, and not at the state level.

The county letter noted that the draft’s proposed density and disturbance caps violate valid, existing land-use rights, and are not based on scientific evidence. Livestock grazing was also improperly listed as a threat to greater-sage-grouse habitat. References to grazing should be struck from the draft plan altogether, due to a lack of scientific backing, the letter states.

“Garfield County has taken a leadership role on this, and the other counties in northwest Colorado are very appreciative,” Commissioner Mike Samson added. “They support us and our leadership.”

Motions to send the formal letter and related formal comments to the governor’s office, passed unanimously, 3-0.