Sunday, August 25, 2019

Briefs: Gunnison County

Sage grouse recovery plan stumble

Two of the county commissioners have recently reported back to one another during meetings that they are concerned about the sage grouse recovery process. Commissioner Jonathan Houck travelled to Delta for a public recovery planning meeting earlier this spring, and said on May 14, “It was difficult.” There is a species assessment and collaborative action plan under way, but Houck said there appeared to be little progress. “I didn’t hear a clear pathway for what that looks like. I shared with them that they don’t have a lot of success with, ‘trust us, we will come back with this later,’” he said.

Commissioner Roland Mason asked more about the endangered species recovery plan that is supposed to be done in October. “It will be a draft, driven by a settlement of our lawsuit,” said Houck, referring to the county’s efforts to dispute the federal ruling to maintain the sage grouse’s endangered species designation.

The county’s expansive sagebrush is a vital nesting habitat for the bird, and the county has pursued having greater control of how it manages the lands with which local experts are familiar, rather than land management by federal agencies from afar.

“The appearance of this to me is that the recovery plan is being handled out of the Denver office, rather than the one in Delta … My editorial is that the expertise has left,” said Houck.

“I heard, ‘We don’t have a lot of resources, we don’t have any money, and we are going to need the community’s involvement. And now we are going to go plan this behind closed doors,’” continued Houck. “Which is a non starter for me. It’s hard to feel hopeful when everyone had been dismissed.”

Mason then reported on May 21 after attending a local sage grouse meeting last week. “The recovery plan was updated. Some folks were there from the meeting in Delta. The push for local involvement was mentioned, but the day afterward, there was a closed door meeting that did not include any of the local players,” said Mason.

“What amazed me is how much energy and effort and money are going into this,” said Mason.

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