Threatens Lawsuit if Endangered Listing Becomes a Reality
MONTROSE – The Montrose Board of County Commissioners came out vehemently opposed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s proposed endangered species listing for the Gunnison sage grouse on Monday by saying the agency’s population numbers are based on flawed science and that if the listing does occur, a potentially expensive lawsuit could be on the horizon.
In January, Fish and Wildlife proposed listing the Gunnison sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act because its population evidence suggests the species is in danger of extinction. Along with that proposed listing, the agency also proposed 1.7 million acres in western Colorado and eastern Utah be designated critical habitat needed to increase the bird’s numbers.
On Monday, the commissioners unanimously approved their comments on the proposed listing that will be submitted to Fish and Wildlife just before the close of public comment on Tuesday. In addition to concerns about what the listing may mean for the economy in the region, the commissioners said they don’t believe Fish and Wildlife population statistics are accurate. Montrose County Government Affairs Director Jon Waschbusch gave a brief summary of the county’s comments before they were approved.
“The primary issue is that the Gunnison sage grouse population is stable and does not appear to be in danger of extinction,” Waschbusch said, adding that 88.3 percent of the species lives in the Gunnison Basin. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Waschbusch said, that Gunnison Basin population “is stable and increasing.”
“In light of that population stability, the Fish and Wildlife assessments are overstated,” he said.
Waschbusch said there are other concerns that Fish and Wildlife understated in its proposed listing, including the economic impact it could have on counties in the region. In the West End, there is an actively permitted uranium mine and the U.S. Department of Energy is working to expand its uranium leasing program in the area.
“Clearly it will have an impact on an area that contains less than 4 percent of the species total population,” Waschbusch said.
Commissioner David White then added that economic vitality “doesn’t seem to be on the top of their list.”
The commissioners each offered comments on the proposed listing, ranging from complaints about federal government overreach to suggested benefits to the bird becoming extinct.
“For me it’s a great example of why I am very suspicious of the federal government and anything they propose,” Commissioner Gary Ellis said. “I question the motive on this. It seems like they have their minds made up and may be using flawed science.
“At the end of the day,” Ellis continued, “if we are not successful, we may have to start talking lawsuit.”
White said when he saw a map overlay of where the potential critical habitat will be, it was right on top of where oil and gas leases are located.
“It’s a perfect match,” White said. “It almost makes one wonder what the motivations are.”
Ron Henderson suggested that the Gunnison sage grouse could be an “origin of a new flu?”
“Maybe we should get rid of them because of that,” Henderson said, adding that there are other species of animals and plants that could be potentially listed and they too will devastate the economy of the region. “The greater sage grouse was also on the list. That could be very devastating, and it affects our friends in Garfield and Route counties.”
Montrose joins Ouray County in opposing the listing in the region, while San Miguel County offered comments that suggest the listing may not go far enough to save the species.
Over the past several weeks, 11 counties, including Delta, Montrose, San Miguel, Ouray, and Gunnison counties have agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding that intends to “ensure that reasonable and adequate work is being conducted, and shall continue to be conducted to reach the goal of increasing the current abundance, viability and vitality of Gunnison sage grouse and their habitat,” according to the document.