Action plan is six months away
The county’s plan to maintain the basin’s Gunnison sage grouse population has been approved after two years in the works.
A final public hearing was held on the Gunnison Sage Grouse Strategic Plan on Tuesday, February 17, and only one member of the public, a representative from the West Elk coal mine, attended the meeting.
After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2005 that the Gunnison sage grouse population was healthy enough that listing it as an endangered species wasn’t necessary, the county went to work on protections of its own.
The majority of sage grouse habitat is on federally owned land while about 31 percent of the habitat is on private land. To coordinate the efforts of federal wildlife managers and private landowners, the county envisioned a strategic plan that would address all viable concerns and define a path to maintaining the species.
The goals of the plan are to preserve the Gunnison sage grouse, limit habitat disruption to current activities, provide education about the plan and take steps to preclude the need to list the Gunnison sage grouse as a federally endangered species.
Some local groups, including the High Country Citizens’ Alliance, expressed concern over the last goal. In a letter to the BOCC and strategic committee, HCCA asked that the goal of preclusion of a federal listing be removed from the plan, or include the letter with the plan so the comments can be viewed.
County wildlife coordinator Jim Cochran says the committee decided to leave the goal in because the “preclusion to list requires things that are positive for the species and the goal of the plan is to implement an effective strategy that does positive things for the species.”
The next step for the committee is to devise an action plan that will include more input from stakeholders in the Gunnison sage grouse protection effort, like ranchers and land managers. That plan will be ready for review in August.