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Oregon, Colorado Act on Greater Sage Grouse Protections

In advance of a much-anticipated federal Interior Department announcement due Tuesday, governors in Oregon and Colorado last week issued executive orders to upgrade conservation efforts for the greater sage grouse.

While a potential listing decision under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is imminent, the states have maintained individually and through the Western Governors Association (WGA) that they are better able to oversee dwindling greater sage grouse habitat than are federal regulators (see Daily GPI, May 19).

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is scheduled to gather Tuesday morning in Commerce City, CO, with conservation groups, federal and state officials, including governors from Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Nevada, and others to announce the long-anticipated federal decision on the greater sage-grouse. It is assumed it will include a high level of collaboration with the states, given the governors' scheduled attendance.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has directed all of her state agencies to carry out the state conservation actions in its plan to protect the bird and its habitat.

Separately, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, in partnership with conservation groups and oil/gas industry representatives, has requested recognition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to establish the Colorado Habitat Exchange, which would initially be focused on the greater sage grouse.

By the end of a 30-day comment period on a proposed sage grouse plan, BLM had received 40 protests (see Shale Daily, June 30).

Earlier this year, Hickenlooper issued an executive order (D 2015-004) directing state agencies to conserve the greater sage-grouse. The order directed the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to work with stakeholders to launch the habitat exchange as a mitigation option for companies impacting greater sage-grouse habitat. Recognition by the USFWS and BLM provides certainty to program participants.

The exchange is designed to engage ranchers in voluntary conservation efforts by offering financial incentives to create, maintain and improve habitat on their property. Landowners earn conservation credits for the activities that they can sell to industry to compensate for development, such as roads, oil/gas facilities, and other infrastructure that impacts species and habitat.

“It’s inspiring to see Colorado ranchers, conservationists and business leaders coming together to put forth a solution for this iconic bird,” Hickenlooper said. The exchange should create a new market for voluntary conservation that will help protect the greater sage grouse and sustain Colorado’s energy and agriculture economies, he said.

“Either way that Tuesday's decision falls, the Colorado Habitat Exchange sets a strong precedent for conservation, both in Colorado and nationwide,” said Eric Holst, associate vice president of working lands at Environmental Defense Fund. “Through collaboration, innovation and robust science, this program will unlock the vast untapped potential of Western working lands to work also for wildlife. It sends a clear signal to federal agencies and to the 10 other sage-grouse states.”

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