Gunnison sage-grouse

Gunnison sage-grouse are shown in this U.S. Fish and Wildife Service-provided photo. 

Citing redundancy, the Montrose County Commissioners on Wednesday formally repealed a 2013 resolution that had imposed certain restrictions on development within Gunnison sage-grouse habitat.

“The federal government has designated the grouse as a (threatened) species. So basically, everything was redundant. That’s why we did away with the old resolution,” Commissioner Keith Caddy said.

The Gunnison sage-grouse is found in pocket populations in Southwestern Colorado, including a small satellite group in eastern Montrose County. The largest population is in Gunnison County. The bird is also found in southeast Utah.

In 2013, partly in hopes of staving off a federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, Montrose County passed regulations for certain types of development occurring on property that fell within sage-grouse habitat.

These required landowners to obtain a development permit or statement of no significant impact before special use permits, zoning amendments, planned unit developments, subdivision of property and building permits for new structures could be allowed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ultimately listed the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened under the ESA, sparking litigation from counties and the state of Colorado. The plaintiffs contended local conservation efforts were sufficient to protect the bird, that due regard had not been paid to those efforts, and the government had not properly disclosed its scientific research or used the best available science to support the listing and accompanying habitat designation.

Environmental groups also sued, contending the bird should have been listed as endangered. Those plaintiffs backed off last May, in exchange for a federal species recovery plan with measurable criteria to be met within 30 months.

Last September, the U.S. District Court ruled the bird was properly listed and conservation efforts the state of Colorado cited weren’t sufficient.

“ … The (USFWS) decision to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened was not arbitrary and capricious,” U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello wrote in her decision.

“To the contrary, substantial evidence supports that the near extinction of the six satellite populations, coupled with the declining Gunnison Basin population, causes the entire species to face extinction ‘in the foreseeable future.’”

The original 2014 listing also designated 1.4 million acres in Colorado and Utah as critical habitat for the bird; Arguello’s ruling upheld those rules.

“That makes our regulations redundant and superseded by the federal rules of the federal government,” Assistant County Attorney Lane Thomasson said Wednesday.

The resolution repealing the county land use regulations for sage-grouse occupied territory states regulation of the grouse by Montrose and partner counties is no longer necessary.

Montrose County, in addition to the now-repealed 2013 sage-grouse related land regulations, also implemented a seasonal closure of C77 Road near Crawford to protect mating leks. This remains in effect until May 15.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

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