Garfield County amends Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan

New mapping better defines habitat, more recent research included in policies

November 18, 2021

Garfield County has approved a second amendment to its Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan, including an updated habitat map and the addition of new factors impacting populations in the Parachute, Piceance Basin, Roan Plateau (PPR) area.

The county worked with the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC), Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), and the Bureau of Land management (BLM) to refine and update the habitat maps to best reflect the unique, varied terrain in the PPR region, which is 77 percent privately owned land. The new maps, which have been adopted by CPW and the federal government, cover 89,743 acres of priority habitat and 95,772 acres of general habitat, providing more protection for the bird than in prior maps.

“The purpose of the plan is to accurately identify greater sage-grouse habitat in the county, as well as to provide private and public land-owners with land-management principles, policies, incentives, and best-management practices based on the best available science that is tailored to fit Garfield County’s unique landscape for the betterment of the species,” said Garfield County Deputy County Manager Fred Jarman to the Board of County Commissioners. “This update takes the newly adopted maps and places them in the county’s plan.”

Dr. Rob Roy Ramey II, owner of Wildlife Science International, Inc., told the board that the mapping is essential to ensure that conservation efforts are focused in the proper areas. He added that by preserving the birds, you eliminate the need for an “endangered” listing for the greater sage-grouse.

“You can prioritize your habitat protection, protect the highest quality habitat, and it helps us to understand how sage-grouse populations fluctuate in response to regional changes in climate in a seven- to 10-year cycle,” he said. “These populations fluctuate with that. All this combined help increase the effectiveness of our actions.”

More recent scientific papers, reports and dissertations have expanded on greater sage-grouse biology and best conservation efforts. The BOCC’s discussion addressed predators, such as ravens, that impact sage-grouse populations in the area.

“Here you have a sage-grouse population that is low-density, and you have a lot of ravens preying upon it,” said Dr. Ramey.

First created in 2013, the county’s plan serves as a guide for the BLM and CPW in future amendments to those agencies’ sage-grouse plans in northwest Colorado. The county’s plan relies on coordination with state and federal agencies, which are obligated to ensure their conservation efforts are in step with the county’s guidance as required under Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976.

“One of the things put in the county’s plan is that it needs to be continually updated as the best available science is updated,” Jarman said. “Newer studies provide newer information.”

The amendment was approved unanimously, 3-0.

“There was a big change between these maps and there was a lot of give and take in the process,” added Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “This is a good plan. It’s strong and something we can lean back on.”