Public Comment Period for Sage Grouse Designation Extended
by Gus Jarvis
Mar 07, 2013 | 1190 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print

MONTROSE – Officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will extend the public comment period regarding listing the Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Western Colorado Supervisor Patty Gelatt indicated on Wednesday that the federal agency would extend the comment period, scheduled to end March 12, by three weeks, to April 2.

The decision comes after local and national lawmakers requested more time.

On Monday, the Montrose Board of County Commissioners asked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Daniel Ashe for an extension of the public comment period by 60 days.

According to their letter, the recommendation to list the species under the Endangered Species Act, due for release by Fish and Wildlife at the end of September 2012, was delayed until January 2013. “This shortened the normal period of decisionmaking to less than nine months, which given the gravity of the decision puts an undue burden on impacted counties and communities, ” the letter signed by all three commissioners stated. “The proposed endangered listing will significantly impact counties, federal and state agencies and communities. The opportunity to provide substantive comments take time; therefore the request for an additional 60 days is requested.”

The commissioners join a list of U.S. lawmakers also requesting the comment period to be extended. On March 1, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) announced that he is being joined by U.S. senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and U.S. representatives Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) in a bipartisan push to gather more public input on the proposed designation.

In a letter to Fish and Wildlife Prairie-Mountain Region Director Noreen Walsh, the lawmakers from Colorado and Utah wrote in a joint letter, that the “proposal has engendered great interest and concern among several communities we represent. We feel that on any proposal with implications of this magnitude, the federal government should strive for maximum participation.”

The lawmakers have heard from energy producers, farmers and other constituents about their concerns with proposal.

Officials with the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced early this year that evidence suggests the Gunnison sage grouse is in danger of extinction. The ground-nesting bird now occupies only 7 percent of its historic range. Fish and Wildlife officials believe there are approximately 5,000 breeding birds remaining in various sagebrush habitats in and around the Gunnison Basin and southeastern Utah.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service is required to propose potential critical habitat and, for the Gunnison sage grouse, 1.7 million acres of critical habitat has been proposed. If the listing is finalized, any potential critical habitat designation will include a full analysis of economic impact (including the impact on jobs), and will strive, to the extent permitted by law, to avoid unnecessary burdens and costs on states, tribes, localities, and the private sector.

Because of the significance of the listing and the vast number of acres of land it would cover, the Montrose commissioners and the federal lawmakers are requesting that Fish and Wildlife hold a public hearing in Gunnison.

“As serious as this is, we are doing everything we can to deal with it,” Commissioner Gary Ellis said Tuesday.

Bureau of Land Management Uncompahgre Field Office Manager Barb Sharrow told the commissioners there are 190,447 acres of proposed critical habitat on lands managed by the Uncompahgre Field Office, and that researchers have updated Gunnison sage grouse counting protocols. Instead of arriving early in the morning, they now  camp and count, which has improved their accuracy.

Ellis expressed dismay that something so simple could change sage grouse population numbers. “I get offended when you do that kind of work and it disputes their numbers,” Ellis said.

Comments can be submitted electronically at regulations.gov. In the Keyword box, enter Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2012–0108, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document

Type heading, check on the Proposed Rules link to locate the document. Anyone can submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!” Comments can also be submitted by mail addressed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R6–ES–2012–0108; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

For more information about the Gunnison sage-grouse and copies of each proposal, fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/birds/gunnisonsagegrouse.



gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com

Twitter: @Gus_Jarvis

Comments
(0)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet