Hickenlooper Urges BLM Not to Overreach on Sage Grouse Protections

Published April 11, 2014

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is siding with Centennial State ranchers and energy and natural resource producers, urging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management not to impose unnecessary land-use restrictions to protect sage grouse. Hickenlooper explained his position in a letter sent to BLM Northwestern District Manager Jim Cagney.

Environmental activist groups are urging the federal government to prevent conventional energy and natural resource production on millions of acres of federal lands in the western United States. Large national environmental activist groups largely support wind turbine development on the federal lands, though regional and local environmentalist groups frequently oppose wind turbines. Scientists disagree on whether the sage grouse needs special protection, but BLM is moving forward with land use restrictions on conventional energy and natural resource production, nonetheless.

Colorado Submits Own Plan
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, urged BLM to allow Colorado state officials to implement their own sage grouse protections of federal land in the state.

“This letter serves as the Colorado state alternative, and we ask for your consideration as you move forward with developing a final plan. It is our hope that a management alternative can be developed that both safeguards the economic engine of northwestern Colorado and protects the [greater sage grouse] sufficiently to preclude a listing under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Hickenlooper wrote.

“Since 2000, the State of Colorado has spent over $40 million on conservation efforts for the [greater sage grouse] species. These expenditures include conservation planning and implementation, land protection, population and habitat monitoring, habitat treatments, restoration, research, and communications,” Hickenlooper explained. “Since 2004, [Colorado Parks and Wildlife] state wildlife managers have protected more than 74,000 acres of [greater sage grouse] habitat, primarily through conservation easements. About 24,000 additional acres are managed by other conservation interests such as The Nature Conservancy and Cattleman’s Land Trust.”

Regional Economy in Peril
BLM land-use restrictions would apply to some of the most energy-abundant lands in the United States. At risk are more than 22,000 high-paying oil and natural gas production jobs that annually generate nearly $5 billion in economic activity in Colorado. The state’s agriculture and ranching sectors would also suffer under over-aggressive sage grouse protections.

“We must keep the local context of this conservation challenge foremost in our minds. The communities of northwestern Colorado rely on access and productivity associated with public lands for their livelihood.… Ranching and energy development are the two most important economic drivers in the region,” wrote Hickenlooper.

“Grazing has not been identified as a primary threat to the stability of the species,” Hickenlooper observed, “and we must be vigilant that none of the conservation measures have unintended negative consequences for agriculture.”

H. Sterling Burnett, an energy and environment consultant based in Dallas, Texas, agrees BLM sage grouse restrictions would devastate the regional economy.

“Unfortunately, the Endangered Species Act does not allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to balance the economic costs of habitat protection against the harm to the sage grouse. Under the ESA, species protection is the only thing that matters—any harm to economic development, property rights, etc., takes a distant second place,” explained Burnett.

Land-Use Hypocrisy
“The hypocritical way the Obama Administration enforces the ESA with wind and solar, or other ‘green energy’ projects, already violates the law by granting exemptions to wind farms, which kill eagles and condors; and solar power plants, which kill the desert tortoise. Where oil and gas are concerned, however, the administration is concerned about saving sage grouse habitat,” said Burnett.

Michael Sandoval, an energy policy analyst at the Independence Institute in Denver, says the issue is causing growing concern among state legislators.

“They’re extremely concerned about losing state and local control over development here in the state. Once the sage grouse is listed as either endangered or threatened, it inflicts a death by a 1,000 cuts from a whole host of federal agencies: the EPA, BLM, Department of the Interior, etc.,” said Sandoval.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.