Focus Is to Keep Regulation at Local Level Rather Than Federal
MONTROSE – Aiming to protect the Gunnison sage grouse at the local level, the Montrose Board of County Commissioners is considering new land use regulations designed to mitigate possible development impacts on the beleaguered species of bird that may be listed as an Endangered Species.
Despite a new set of land use regulations for the Gunnison sage grouse (titled “1041 Regulations”) before them, the commissioners decided to continue the hearing until Sept. 16.
This gives an opportunity for comment from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and for more public comment, as well.
“The purpose of these regulations is to provide local protection to the Gunnison sage grouse in Gunnison sage grouse habitat,” Planning and Development Director Steve White told the board, before introducing the proposed regulations. “Montrose County is well aware that the Gunnison sage grouse is a candidate for being listed, and we are working with the federal government.
“The state Parks and Wildlife trying to find a solution to this issue prior to the listing,” White added.
The proposed regulations will feature a Gunnison sage grouse occupied habitat map, based on Colorado Parks and Wildlife data. New developments – including any special use permits, planned unit developments, new structures and subdivisions located within that sage grouse occupation zone – would go through additional county review, to ascertain how the beleaguered birds may be affected by the development, and what measures of mitigation would be required, before the development moved forward.
“Part of this process will be sending a review to the state for their opinion, as well as the county hiring our own expert to look at the property,” White said. “We are trying to find a way to address impacts and allow them to move forward with their request in the Land Use Department. We hope that in most cases there would be an opportunity for mitigation.”
Ever since January of this year, when U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposed listing the Gunnison sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species, the board has voiced frustration about what that listing could mean for property owners. Along with the proposed listing, Fish and Wildlife has also proposed that 1.7 million acres of land be designated critical habitat to facilitate growth in the Gunnison sage grouse population.
Besides threatening to sue the federal agency if the species is listed as endangered, the commissioners have entered into a memorandum of understanding with 10 other counties in western Colorado and eastern Utah, pledging to work together to increase the species population. White said on Monday the proposed new land use regulations are in line with that agreement.
“The county did enter into that MOU last March, and this is part of creating regulations related to that MOU showing a good faith effort,” White said.
White voiced confidence that the county can better protect the bird than can the feds. “We feel that locally we can address this much better than what the feds could do. We are hoping that this proves to the federal government that we can do this locally,” he said, of the county’s coming maneuvers. “The focus is to keep local control,” he said, “and not state or federal control.”
While none of the three commissioners voiced approval or disapproval of the county’s new proposed regulations, Commissioner Gary Ellis asked White if the regulations pass – and the species is then listed as endangered – could the county decided to remove the regulations, at a later date.
White said regulations could be revoked, if the species is listed as endangered.
Should the species be listed deemed endangered by the federal agency, White said he would want to revisit the county regulations, if they have been implemented.
“If keeping the regulations in place will benefit the species, maybe it might be moved off the threatened list as some point,” White said. “We ought to have that discussion.”
Richard Harding was the only county resident speaking at Monday’s public hearing. Pronouncing himself a “victim” of the Endangered Species Act, Harding said that if the Gunnison sage grouse is ultimately listed as endangered, the county needs to make sure it holds the federal government’s feet to the fire, to make sure it keeps up its end of the bargain.
A decision on the sage grouse by Fish and Wildlife was expected in late September, but that agency decided to postpone its decision until March 31, 2014.
To view the county’s proposed land use regulations for mitigating the impact of future development on the Gunnison sage grouse, visit the county’s website at co.montrose.co.us/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=361.