- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) - Take to the air on a flight path leading from Grand Junction toward Gateway, and one thing becomes apparent.

Humans are mostly just visitors to the landscape that lies below.

“This is some wild country back here,” Bruce Gordon, president and executive director of the Aspen-based EcoFlight conservation group, said while piloting a recent overflight of land primarily administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

Such lands are drawing attention in the agency’s ongoing revision of its resource management plan.

The agency’s preferred alternative in its draft plan identifies 11 proposed “wildlife emphasis areas” where the agency seeks to put a priority on habitat protection across 170,500 total acres. The goal is to protect animals including sage grouse, cutthroat trout, pronghorn, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and kit fox.

No such areas exist under the existing management plan, although the agency has been identifying and protecting wildlife in the past in certain areas through the imposition of stipulations on activities, said BLM spokesman David Boyd. Lands such as ones it has designated as areas of critical environmental concern, or is managing to protect wilderness characteristics, also may have important protected habitat.

The concept of specifically identifying areas for wildlife protection is gaining steam within the region, and Boyd said it helps land managers and the public focus on habitat where the agency is proposing protective measures, and see how those proposed protections vary by alternatives being considered.

These are not formal designations, and they have been described in different ways in different plans. The 1999 plan for what’s now the Colorado River Valley Field Office, headquartered in Silt, identified wildlife seclusion areas. The BLM Kremmling Field Office’s final management plan proposal refers to wildlife core areas.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said that however the BLM chooses to refer to areas where it wants to protect habitat in its plans, the industry is less concerned about the semantics and more concerned about the specific rules that might be attached.

He said he thinks that by and large, energy companies have shown through various big-game studies they have been involved in that their work to protect sage grouse and others means that they have an interest in protecting wildlife.

Where they would be concerned is when stipulations are subjective, anecdotal, not based on science, and cost-prohibitive, he said.

The BLM has said its authority is based on a 2008 Interior Board of Land Appeals ruling in a Wyoming case involving post-lease restrictions including increased buffer zones to protect greater sage-grouse.

The BLM is relying on the authority in its proposed White River Field Office plan because it would impose seasonal timing limits on surface disturbances on all lands, including leased acreage not already subject to those limits. That would set up the ability to waive the timing limits when companies agree to restrictions on how much acreage they disturb at a given time.


Information from: The Daily Sentinel, https://www.gjsentinel.com

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