Colorado has released a draft statewide plan aimed at preserving the sage grouse population in the state, while Wyoming has lifted its seasonal restrictions designed to protect the sage grouse.

The draft plan seeks to conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitats in Colorado by coordinating the efforts of state agencies that are already in progress and local groups, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW). In developing its proposal, the DOW said it received assistance from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as a number of sage grouse working groups.

"It is important that we have consistent goals in mind as we work at the local level to protect sage grouse habitat," said Brad Petch, senior wildlife conservation biologist for DOW in northwest Colorado. "The statewide plan identifies broad goals and acts as a bridge between local plans and the national sage grouse conservation strategy."

It was not immediately known how significantly the proposed sage grouse plan, which would limit or prohibit disturbance within 0.6 miles of the bird's mating area, would impact oil and natural gas drilling operations in Colorado.

Sage grouse, chicken-like birds, are found in areas where sagebrush is abundant. The sagebrush provides food and cover for the birds, according to the DOW. Sage brush provides the entire diet for the sage grouse during the winter months.

The sage grouse is listed as a species of concern in Colorado, but it was not found warranted for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, the DOW said. The Colorado sage grouse plan is available for public comment through July 31 on the DOW website at http://wildlife.state.co.us.

Meanwhile, in Wyoming, producers got some welcome news as the seasonal sage grouse restrictions that have limited coalbed methane drilling in northeast Wyoming's Power River Basin for more than three months were lifted.

The restrictions, which went into effect in March, prevented producers from drilling within two miles of a sage grouse lek, or mating area. The restrictions were lifted last Friday, a BLM spokeswoman said.

"This is very good news [for producers] because now we can commence more drilling operations in the area," said Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

The sage grouse limitations, along with constrained pipeline capacity out of the region, have significantly depressed natural gas prices in the area, he noted. On Friday, gas at the Cheyenne Hub was priced at $2.61/MMBtu, far below gas traded at the Henry Hub in Louisiana ($7.58/MMBtu). Gas at the Cheyenne Hub fell to as low as 49 cents/MMBtu earlier this month (see Daily GPI, June 14).

"Producers start to wonder if they want to drill more wells at those prices," Hinchey said. He expects the problem to be alleviated when part of the mammoth Rockies Express Pipeline goes into service (either later this year or in early 2008), giving producers access to eastern markets.

Also, "if we get a pretty good winter, you're going to evaporate that price differential [between the Cheyenne and Henry Hubs] pretty quick," Hinchey told NGI.

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