Large group grouses at sage grouse hearing
Feb 13, 2013 | 10516 views | 2 2 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two initiatives may have a significant impact on land use in large portions of San Juan County.  The proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument (red) would increase protction of 1.4 million acres of public land, while proposed critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse (blue) would restrict use on 145,000 acres of mostly private land.
Two initiatives may have a significant impact on land use in large portions of San Juan County. The proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument (red) would increase protction of 1.4 million acres of public land, while proposed critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse (blue) would restrict use on 145,000 acres of mostly private land.
Large group grouses at sage grouse hearing
More than 200 people crowded into the Monticello High School auditorium on February 7 for a public hearing on the proposed designation of endangered species status for the small population of Gunnision Sage Grouse in San Juan County.

Representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service faced a mostly hostile but mostly respectful crowd. They were there to explain the rationale behind the proposed designation and how it may affect the area.

Two rules are proposed: one would designate the bird as an endangered species and the other would designation large swaths of land as critical habitat.

San Juan County Planner Nick Sandberg explained that challenging the designation as an endangered species may be difficult because it is part of the settlement of a lawsuit.

Sandberg added that challenging the designation of critical habitat may be the best approach for local landowners.

Sandberg said that the comment should not be emotional and should focus on specific and identifiable impacts on the land and on the threat to the livelihood of area residents.

Pleading that the responses should be non-emotional may be very difficult in what has become a very emotional issue.

The frustration that many local landowners feel over the ongoing public lands battles quickly turns into rage over this designation, because it impacts primarily private land.

Approximately 95 percent of the critical habitat proposed for San Juan County is on private land. At roughly 140,000 acres, this represents an estimated 35 percent of the total private land in the entire county.

The impact on private land is significant since more than 92 percent of the land in San Juan County is owned by the state or federal government, leaving just eight percent of the total land mass as private ground.

A US Fish and Wildlife spokesperson told the crowd that a significant portion of the critical habitat under consideration has not had the sage grouse on it for many years.

Many local residents fear that designating such a large swath of private ground will be devastating to the local economy and to the tax base.

In addition to impacts on the agricultural communities, the development of oil and gas resources, wind power resources and other uses of private land could be threatened by the designations.

Over the past ten years, local landowners and organizations, working with state and federal groups, have worked to protect the sage grouse and avoid a federal designation. The working groups have expended significant effort and money to stop the loss of the birds, to little effect.

The group reports that they made progress for several years, but a series of factors, including Mother Nature, have combined to hinder the effort. Despite the best efforts of man, they state that Mother Nature has continued to decimate a bird that has proven to be ill equipped to survive in the modern world.

The US Fish and Wildlife lists a host of factors that threaten the bird, but state that the principle threat is “habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation due primarily to residential, exurban, and commercial development and associated infrastructure such as roads and power lines.”

The reality is that there has been little new activity in the area in recent years. Roads have not been improved or expanded, fences have not changed and agricultural efforts have been minimal.

Local experts state that areas north and east of Monticello were once heavily farmed and grazed and the sage grouse were doing fine. At the current time, there is very little, if any, farming and ranching in the area and the number of sage grouse is diminishing.

The Natural Resources Conservation Services, (NRCS) reports that a significant portion of the land proposed as protected habitat is currently in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). In San Juan County, there are 34,800 acres of agriculture land in the CRP program, with approximately half of the total CRP acreage located in the critical habitat area.

CRP, a federal program which encourages landowners to leave agriculture land fallow, also requires that the land be maintained for agricultural use at some level. Sagebrush and grass habitat is ideal for the sage grouse.

The US Fish and Wildlife initially did not plan a meeting in Monticello. It was added later at the request of San Juan County.

At a similar meeting in Dove Creek, CO in January, federal agents from Homeland Security, dressed in tactical gear and carrying weapons, were in attendance.

San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge reports that while the federal agents were in Monticello on February 7, they were not in attendance at the meeting.

San Juan County Commission Phil Lyman conducted the meeting. In his opening remarks, Lyman said, “This is a volatile topic, I believe we all realize to some extent what is at stake. Anytime the federal government takes action which impacts private property rights, it is of serious concern.”

Lyman plead that area residents submit written comments on the proposal, adding, “We need to flood their office with written comments.” 
Comments-icon Post a Comment
February 17, 2013
UN Agenda 21 by any other name is still UN Agenda 21.

It's purpose is to incrementally eliminate private property and force all the peasants into high-rise containment facilities on the East and West Coasts.
February 13, 2013
I was unable to attend the meeting, but would like to submit written comments on the proposal. There seems to be a lot of rumors of potential impact, but in order to submit effective and knowledgeable comments, it would be nice to have some more specific information. Maybe the SJR could do an article on the potential impact that private land owners may be facing if the designation is passed. Specifically, the impact upon residential owners, farmers, ranchers, hunters and trappers. Thank you!
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