Sage grouse regulations draw praise, protest | VailDaily.com

Sage grouse regulations draw praise, protest

New federal regulations are aimed at recovery for the greater sage grouse, but could also cost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars for the West's oil and gas industry. Eagle County is at the southern end of the greater sage grouse range.

EAGLE COUNTY — New federal regulations could put the greater sage grouse on the road to recovery, but it could cost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.

The Obama administration's plans aim to conserve the bird's habitat, but limit oil and natural gas drilling.

Eagle County is at the southern edge of the greater sage grouse range.

Jobs and money

"The economic impact of sage-grouse restrictions on just the oil and natural gas industry will be between 9,170 and 18,250 jobs and $2.4 billion to $4.8 billion of annual economic impact across Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming," said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at Western Energy Alliance.

Sgamma said oil and natural gas companies have committed to several hundred conservation measures to protect the sage grouse and its sensitive habitat, while advocating a state-based approach, instead of over-arching federal regulations.

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Conservation Colorado executive director Pete Maysmith said the regulations put the greater sage grouse on the path to a hopefully speedy rehabilitation.

"The plans represent a level of unprecedented cooperation and collaboration between the federal, state and local governments, and other stakeholders to conserve one of the West's most iconic species and one of America's most overlooked and important ecosystems," Maysmith said.

Not so, says Rep. Scott Tipton, whose Colorado 3rd Congressional District includes the western half of Eagle County. He introduced a bill allowing states to handle their own sage grouse recovery efforts, in lieu of an Endangered Species Act listing.

"These federal plans take steps away from successful local preservation efforts and toward a less effective ESA listing, and may even jeopardize voluntary local efforts from moving forward because of the prospects of increased federal interference that are now virtually guaranteed," Tipton said.

Protest period

Thursday's announcement opens a 30-day protest period for people who've been involved all along. The final decision is expected by the end of July.

"It's part of a west-wide effort to protect sage grouse habitat," said David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the BLM Northwest Colorado District

In Colorado, the most imminent threat is from oil and gas development, Boyd said.

Fire is also a concern, so they're looking at ways to manage fire so there's less impact on sage grouse, Boyd said.

"Human life and safety is still No. 1, but sage grouse and habitat move up the list," Boyd said.

There's not an immediate change to livestock grazing or other uses. Grazing permits are renewed every 10 years. When they are renewed, they'll take a look at how to protect sage grouse habitat, Boyd said.

If you're doing something now — things such as motorcycling and mountain biking — chances are you'll be able to keep doing it, Boyd said.

"Some surface disturbing activities will get a closer look — building a new road, utility habitats and how close you can be to sage brush habitats and breeding areas will get extra scrutiny," Boyd said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court order to decide by the end of September of this year whether the sage grouse will be listed as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2010 that the greater sage grouse warranted listing under the Endangered Species Act. However, it was kept off the list at the time by higher priority species.

"We want more protections for the bird, more protections for the habitat and to keep the bird off that list," Boyd said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

What the regs do

Three main objectives:

To minimize new surface disturbance,

Improve existing sagebrush habitat

Reduce the threat of rangeland fire to sagebrush habitat.

Affects more than 100 million acres across 11 Western states

Includes 15 final Environmental Impact Statements from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

The EIS’s have been more than three years in the making, involving collaboration from local, state and federal agencies.

Source: U.S. Forest Service. Bureau of Land Management

The cost

Between 9,170 and 18,250 jobs.

$2.4 billion to $4.8 billion annual economic impact across Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming

Source: Western Energy Alliance