MONTROSE – The Montrose Board of County Commissioners on Monday continued the public hearing on land use regulations drafted to protect the Gunnison sage-grouse in Montrose County for a second time, with final review of proposed land use regulations drafted to protect the Gunnison sage-grouse anticipated on Oct. 21.
The proposed set of land use regulations, titled 1041 Regulations, aims to protect the Gunnison sage grouse and its habitat at the local level. If adopted by the commissioners, new development in the county – including any special use permits, planned unit developments, subdivisions and new structures that are located within an adopted sage grouse map – must go through an additional county review process. If the species could be affected by the development, the regulations will determine what measures of mitigation are needed before that development moves forward.
The 1041 Regulations went before the commissioners last month for the first time, but was continued until Monday, Sept. 16, to allow for more input from both Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the general public. On Monday, the commissioners decided to continue the hearing once again, to allow even more public input on the new regulations.
“We still feel like there is some opportunity to make changes, with comments we are hearing from the public,” county Planning and Development Director Steve White said on Monday. “There have been some additional comments brought in, and we feel like it would be appropriate to continue this at least one more time. We have made some changes, and we want to make sure the public sees those changes.”
Since the August hearing, White said staff have incorporated “numerous comments” from the public into the current draft of the regulations, and “one major” change has been made based on comments from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This change, White said, adds a “pre-conference meeting” to proposed development review that allows staff to vet the development site for Gunnison sage-grouse concerns before approval.
County resident Janice Wheeler, who lives near the site where a gravel pit has been proposed, questioned whether the new regulations go far enough in protecting both the species and its its habitat.
“It looks to me like you are protecting the birds, but not necessarily the habitat that houses those birds,” Wheeler said. “I think that would be a huge mistake under the conditions with the feds.”
White responded that the county uses a CPW sage-grouse habitat map in the proposed regulations process, rather than the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife map, and that the CPW regulations are designed to protect both the bird and its habitat.
“The purpose of these regulations is to mitigate the issues that might affect the habitat or the species, so we are looking at both,” White said. “We are using a map that came from the state, not the map that came from the federal government. The state did a better job of really vetting out the areas of interest and the state map is much more defined. We feel this serves both issues of the habitat and the bird.”
Ever since U.S.F.W. proposed listing the Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species act in January, the commissioners have voiced concern about what an endangered listing might mean for property-owners. Along with the proposed listing, Fish and Wildlife has proposed that 1.7 million acres of land be designated critical habitat, to help the species’ population grow.
The commissioners 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, and say the proposed new land use regulations are in line with that agreement.