BLM draft would help protect sage grouse

Public meeting scheduled Aug. 7 in Dove Creek

This April 2014 photo provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows a Gunnison Sage Grouse with tail feathers fanned near Gunnison.

The BLM Tres Rios office is drafting amendments to its management plan to improve protection of the Gunnison sage grouse habitat.

The move is part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife recommendation to adopt additional conservation measures for the rare ground bird. Just 5,000 birds remain on public lands in Dolores, San Miguel, and Gunnison counties, and also in southeast Utah.

The USFW has agreed to delay its decision until November on whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. In the meantime, 11 BLM field offices have been instructed to identify additional land-management tools for protecting the bird's current and potential habitat, said Connie Clementson, Tres Rios field office manager.

"We will be updating all of our plans that have Gunnison sage grouse habitat," Clementson said. "It is a range-wide plan to get consistency between districts on mitigating impacts to the bird."

Proposed critical habitat areas have not been identified in Montezuma County, and the bird is not thought to currently exist within the county. However, potential Gunnison sage grouse habitat does exist on BLM lands within the northern part of Montezuma county.

Public comment on adopting conservation measures will be heard during a scoping process associated with a required Environmental Impact Statement, slated for completion in 2016.

Four public meetings will be held the first week of August, one in Denver and three in southwest Colorado.

Regionally, the meetings will be held: In Gunnison, Aug. 5 at 6 p.m. at the fairgrounds; in Montrose, Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express; and in Dove Creek, Aug. 7, at 6 p.m. at the Dove Creek Community Center, 403 W. 7th St.

"The BLM is doing everything it can do to see it is not listed," Clementson said.

Gunnison sage grouse require a variety of habitats including large expanses of sagebrush with a diversity of grasses and forbs as well as healthy wetland and riparian ecosystems. Those same areas are used for livestock grazing and the oil-and-gas industry.