The Endangered Species Act is a valuable tool in wildlife preservation, but it can be a blunt instrument, too, with sometimes stark economic consequences for those living in a habitat area.
Hence Gov. John Hickenlooper's lively interest of late in management of the greater sage grouse in northwestern Colorado. Not only is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service considering the sage grouse for protection under the act, but the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Managment has proposed a management plan that state officials consider unduly restrictive in part.
It's no coincidence, in other words, that the governor spent Tuesday with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and that both toured a Craig, Colo., ranch to witness what is already being done by committed landowners to protect the bird.
We're glad Hickenlooper is taking a personal interest in this issue, and only hope that he didn't wait too long to dive in.
As he explained to the BLM district manager in a letter dated last week, his agency “must accurately assess the socio-economic values that link people to the land in that area. Ranching and energy development are the most important economic drivers in the region; the final [resource plan] should propose an adaptive management approach that will conserve habitat for the [sage grouse] while continuing to allow those industries to thrive.”
There's really no reason what the governor is suggesting can't be achieved, since ranchers and energy firms have a clear interest in conserving habitat for the bird in order to avoid a listing.
It's also encouraging that the governor named John Swartout, former director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts and Great Outdoors Colorado, to spearhead the state's effort to forge a cooperative approach.
Swartout believes they can “work together on a plan that avoids the listing but does the best thing for the grouse.”
It's been done before for other species, and it can work with this one as well.