Bird Feathers…Paying for our governments mistakes with the Gunnison sage grouse

The Gunnison Sage Grouse newest Federal listing handed down by a Federal Judge recently is ridiculous considering all this county has done to insure the birds’ survival. The Strategic Committee, Stockgrowers , County Government and Federal agencies have done a tremendous amount to protect that bird and have increased the numbers 10-fold in the last 20 some years. Of late, the efforts here have been punished for other regional populations that were dwindling while ours was flourishing and now we are being punished for not doing enough to control development, as in zero development.

I hate to tell them there was a flock of sage “chickens” in every yard when I was growing up and as they repopulate now it is the ranch yards they are moving to. They feel safest there from natural predators and can get out of the wind around haystacks and buildings.

I lamented the decline of the sage grouse long before they were even mentioned as being in peril…when Blue Mesa took acres and acres of their range, starving thousands of them and when people were taking full bag limits in the late ’80’s even though the populations were decreasing, and lastly people hunting them with dogs, a hugely unfair advantage over a bird you can almost catch on foot, but this recent ruling is a swing too far the other way in my view and will hamper solar development here to name but one unintended consequence of the ruling.

The only thing holding the water in the Gunnison Basin and protecting it from front range waste are the ranches and this recent decision is shortsightedly going to put in peril the only thing keeping the wildlife protected; irrigated land and dedicated landowners that helped the bird in the first place. Many ranching permittee’s push cattle into the higher terrain each year in a progressive move from the domestic pastures to the high country. Will they be able under this new listing to move cattle across the sage brush lands or graze there in the fall? As we saw this year, rainfall is precarious in the west, so it forced ranchers to shorten their public land grazing, which in turn will cause them to need additional feed to get through the winter months. If we don’t get snow this year, not only will the grouse suffer, but the ones who ultimately protect them.

The real kicker for me is the Bureau of Reclamation who flooded thousands of acres of habitat with Blue Mesa reservoir and disturbed downstream habitat with other projects associated with that, never came through on their contract of a like habitat replacement. Of course, at that time sage grouse was far from their minds because there were thousands upon thousands of them. The BoR were to exchange fish habitat to replace the world class fishing that was once here. In hindsight Gunnison County should have demanded habitat replacement when the bird first showed signs of decline, but alas, that is water under the bridge so to speak. The bird has seen increased habitat from local landowners who are at this time being kicked in the gut for their efforts.

That leads me to say, that Gunnison County has bent over backwards to appease Fish and Wildlife and here we are. Not one of the national environmental groups that lobbied for this recent conclusion ever, ever came to the table to help solve the various issues that surrounded the push to get the bird back on its’ feet.

So, they got their way through massive funding and we have people holding properties in the sage that may be worthless now. Most of those owners were willing to do what they could to appease the situation for the recovery of the bird, so now they are going to be told they can’t use their property perhaps? The entire south end of the county was sage grouse habitat and mind you all the way north to CB South. Now what? If we had had one tenth of the dollars spent to buy this listing, the bird would have more land than 10,000 birds could utilized.

I grew up in the middle of Gunnison County and care about all the wildlife and our way of life too. I don’t like all the growth either, but I do think landowners have accepted the fact that they live with wildlife and protecting the grouse is important to many. I challenge the Wild Earth Guardians to come here and help build up drainage’s for the birds and get up before dawn on -20 degree mornings to count the birds that come to the leks. To my knowledge not one of them have participated to help the bird. The only hands on they have had for this effort is a wallet and a pen to fight for the listing.

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