Timothy V. Corrigan: Saving the sage grouse

On April 22, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner introduced a bill into the United States Senate that would preclude the United States Fish and Wildlife Service from exercising its responsibility to make a decision whether to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act for the next six years.

In 2010, the USFWS listed the GSG as “warranted but precluded” under the ESA. The USFWS is currently under a court order to make a final decision by Sept. 30.

GSG populations that were once in the millions have plummeted over the last several decades and are estimated to be as low as 200,000 to 500,000 birds across its 11-state habitat. GSG populations are estimated to have declined by 30 percent in just the past 30 years. Human activity is the primary cause for this population crash, and if this trend continues, the bird will ultimately face extinction.

I can understand the fears that landowners, mineral producers and local governments have if the GSG is listed. The restrictions that might be implemented could inflict economic harm on many Western communities. There are legitimate concerns about how the federal government would administer a listing and how long it might take to delist the bird.

Fortunately, a wide array of stakeholders including federal, state and local governments, as well as industry and conservation groups, have worked in concert to implement common sense strategies to insure the bird’s survival. Efforts like those of the Natural Resources Conservation Service via its Sage Grouse Initiative have placed more than 450,000 acres of GSG habitat into conservation easements and include voluntary efforts by private landowners to preserve and enhance GSG habitat.

Here in Routt County, we have a master plan to evaluate land use applications for habitat impacts and a voter-approved mill levy that has raised more than $20 million to protect, in cooperation with other partners, more than 40,000 acres of land including significant areas of GSG habitat. The Bureau of Land Management has been updating its resource management plans in Colorado and across the West to provide additional protections for GSG.

I think the USFWS will look favorably upon these efforts and those of other states and decide that a listing is not warranted. It would be a tragedy if the momentum toward effective and sustainable habitat protection for the GSG is effectively stalled by this misguided bill.

What incentive would these groups have to continue their conservation efforts if the threat of a listing is removed or are told their efforts won’t be allowed to succeed? Ironically, this legislation would preclude a decision to not list the GSG.

Gardner’s bill purports to provide an additional six years to allow ongoing conservation efforts time to show positive results in GSG populations. Instead, it is a thinly-veiled effort to “kick the can down the road” and allow inappropriate development activities to continue without the measures necessary to protect the GSG. Six years is too long to wait and find out if conservation efforts are adequate to protect this bird.

I understand that preserving our endangered species involves trade-offs. The question is, can we balance economic activity with protection of our environment and wildlife? These two goals are not mutually exclusive. We can take the steps necessary to protect this bird and do so in a manner that will not hurt our economy.

Although I am a member of the Routt County Board of County Commissioners, these comments are my personal opinion and may not reflect the opinions of my fellow commissioners.

Timothy V. Corrigan

Routt County commissioner

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.