Sage grouse recovery plan raises concerns

Commissioners frustrated with lack of collaboration

By Katherine Nettles

Two of the Gunnison county commissioners have 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 underway, 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.

Gunnison 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. The long standing experts are with [the department of] wildlife,” said Houck. He later explained that in the long and storied issue of sage grouse, “many of the folks who were a part of this work have retired, left the work, left office, etc.”

Houck told the other commissioners that he was frustrated with the Delta meeting.  “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,’” he said, “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 the previous 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,” he said.

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

Houck said a meeting with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to discuss the recovery plan would take place sometime this month.

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