Environment, Original Report, Uncategorized

Hickenlooper 'Sage-Grouse' appointment spurs 'cautious optimism' from rural conservatives

The search for a state-based solution to the potential listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse to the list of endangered species has a new advocate, according to Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid.

According to Kinkaid, Gov. John Hickenlooper has appointed John Swartout to lead the effort to push back against the addition of the sage-grouse to the list of protected species under the Endangered Species Act.

The sage-grouse, whose habitat includes Moffat County and surrounding environs in Northwest Colorado, “warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act,” according to the Fish and Wildlife Service in an April 2013 update.

“However, the Service has determined that proposing the species for protection is precluded by the need to take action on other species facing more immediate and severe extinction threats,” the agency said. As a “candidate” for ESA protection, the sage-grouse’s status will receive an annual review.

Hickenlooper has co-chaired a task force since early 2012, partnered with other nine other western governors and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, to seek alternatives to adding the sage-grouse to the ESA protected list.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead hailed the 2012 effort, calling it an effort “to create a state-led plan that will balance conservation of the sage-grouse with development and job creation.”

Swartout will continue that effort and report directly to the governor, Kinkaid said. Swartout had previously served on Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign staff and more recently on public policy for the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts.

Swartout supported a 2013 resolution–HJR13-1024–that opposed the designation of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, a separate but related species, under the ESA.

The appointment will bolster efforts to build a state-based alternative to a formal action under the ESA by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Such a declaration would affect Moffat, Rio Blanco, and Garfield Counties, Kinkaid said.

“We want a solution that will work–that will save the birds and still maintain our economy,” Kinkaid concluded. He pointed to potential lost revenues to local schools from property taxes as well as the state and federal government in the form of revenues from natural resource development, including natural gas.

Kinkaid also indicated that proposed transmission lines from wind power sources in Wyoming that would likely pass through Moffat County could draw to an immediate halt if the sage-grouse became a fully listed species. That power is headed as far away as Nevada and California.

However, Kinkaid expressed optimism at the governor’s actions, including a visit by Hickenlooper last week to Craig, Colorado.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re making progress,” Kinkaid said. “The governor has decided to make fighting for our economy and the state’s economy a priority.”

Swartout’s appointment to Hickenlooper’s administration represented a real effort to “shepherd this through the process and make sure we get a Colorado solution to the problem, and not just a cookie-cutter solution that won’t work,” according to Kinkaid.

“I understand the balancing act and how difficult it is between extraction industries and our environment,” Hickenlooper said during his stop in Craig. Understanding the “dynamics” of the communities in question were a top priority, the governor continued.

As chair of the Western Governors Association, Hickenlooper also maintained that a concerted effort on the sage-grouse issue will provide a more compelling rebuttal to any potential action proposed by the federal government.

Having governors from both parties united will allow the states to “be very blunt to the federal government–we want to use science-based issues,” Hickenlooper said, saying his team pushed back against early drafts on the sage-grouse, based on a different interpretation of the facts surrounding the species.

“We think we’ll have a real impact, having Republicans and Democrats addressing this at the same time,” Hickenlooper said.

“It’s a tough battle. The people that make these decision in Washington don’t have a lot of experience out here on the ground. So, our job–one of the reasons I’m out here–is to be able, when I go back there, to say, ‘this isn’t just something I read in a book,'” Hickenlooper declared.

Hickenlooper discusses the sage-grouse last week in Craig, Colorado:

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Photo credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region / Foter.com / CC BY

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