Colorado governor grouses about grouse bias

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DENVER — An example of the tension between Western Democrats and the Obama administration surfaced Monday when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told a rural audience that Washington bureaucrats are pushing a “slanted version” of the sage-grouse issue to political decision-makers.

Mr. Hickenlooper, a Democrat running for re-election in 2014, said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is receiving one-sided advice from staff at the Fish and Wildlife Service over the issue of whether to place the Gunnison sage grouse on the endangered-species list.

“She has an open mind, right, she’s not well-versed in this issue, and she recognizes that,” said Mr. Hickenlooper at a town-hall meeting at the Moffat County Fairgrounds in Craig, Colo. “What she’s hearing the first time is from her staff at Fish and Wildlife, and I think she gets a slanted version.”

He quickly added, “My job is to make sure that she gets — I shouldn’t say a slanted version on the other side — let’s just say a better version — how’s that? — but a balanced version so she hears both sides of the story.”

Those living in rural Colorado and Utah are alarmed over a Fish and Wildlife proposal to list the Gunnison sage grouse and designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. The comment period was reopened Nov. 4 and ends Dec. 2.

Mr. Hickenlooper said he would invite Ms. Jewell to visit a ranch in northwest Colorado so that she could see how ranchers are working to protect the species.

Rural residents worry about the proposed listing’s impact on ranching, farming and oil-and-gas development. Several people commenting at the town hall said the agency has failed to take into account the role of predators like coyotes in reducing the sage grouse’s numbers.

Ms. Jewell assumed office in April, replacing former Colorado Sen. Kenneth L. Salazar, who served as Interior secretary during President Obama’s first term.

“I’ll try to get Sally Jewell — she doesn’t understand this issue, when I talked to her about it, she understood what I was saying, but she said, ‘I can’t commit to anything yet, I’ve got to hear both sides, I’ve got to work on it,’” said Mr. Hickenlooper. “Reading and hearing in Washington is not the same as going somewhere and seeing what someone’s invested over a long period of time to improve habitat.”

The Colorado governor’s visit to Craig comes as he faces criticism from rural residents over his signing of bills earlier this year doubling the renewable-energy mandate on rural communities and limiting access to firearms and ammunition.

About 200 locals attended the town-hall meeting, which was broadcast live by KRAI-FM radio.

Faced with shaky poll numbers as he enters an election year, the governor is holding town-hall meetings as part of a “lean in and listen” tour in reaction to what critics have dubbed “the war on rural Colorado.”

“Some of my senior staff said, ‘You know, you’re not real popular out there right now. You’d be a lot smarter not to go out there,’” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “I spent 16 years in the restaurant business, and the one thing I learned is that when people aren’t happy, there’s no benefit by just sitting there, letting them be unhappy.”

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