- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

CRAIG, Colo. (AP) - Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday that federal officials want to hear from Colorado farmers and ranchers on their efforts to protect sage grouse as federal land managers consider ways to preserve the bird’s habitat.

Jewell and Gov. John Hickenlooper toured the Bord Gulch Ranch in Moffat County in northwestern Colorado to see owner Ray Owens’ preservation efforts, The Craig Daily Press reported (https://tinyurl.com/kncejlv ).

Jewell said the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want suggestions from Colorado as the BLM evaluates sage grouse habitat in 11 states.

“People really respect and want to learn from the people who work the land,” she said.

After the ranch tour, Jewell met with elected officials, including all three Moffat County commissioners, which was not open to the media.

Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he thought the meeting was public, but Eric Brown, a spokesman for Hickenlooper, said Jewell’s staff wanted it to be private.

“Secretary Jewell’s office decided the meeting should be closed to press to help foster an open and frank discussion,” he said.

The BLM must present its recommendation by September to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency evaluating whether the bird should be on the endangered species list.

Seventy-five percent of Moffat County would be affected if the sage grouse is declared an endangered species.

Hickenlooper is trying to persuade the BLM to change its plan for protecting the sage grouse.

Last week, he protested a proposal to set limits on the amount of land that could be disturbed based on the amount of bird habitat. He said protections should still allow ranching and energy development to thrive in northwestern Colorado.

During Tuesday’s tour of the ranch, Hickenlooper said about Owens’ preservation efforts: “I think we are creating a new model of how to preserve species. We’re modeling for all the other ranchers and farmers in the west. There are solutions. This isn’t hopeless.”

The bird’s population is stable enough that it likely would avoid being listed as endangered, barring a “major catastrophe,” said Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

But the bird could still be listed as a threatened species, which would bring regulations that affect private landowners and other businesses.

Jewell and Hickenlooper also met with oil and gas industry representatives in Denver on Tuesday to talk about reducing methane emissions.

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