Will political meddling outweigh conservation science?
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — With only about 4,000 to 5,000 Gunnison sage-grouse left in a few population pockets in Utah and Colorado, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in January to list the birds as an endangered species. At the same time, the federal agency proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for the birds.
The announcement elicited a critical response from state wildlife officials and local stakeholders, who say they’ve developed locally based conservation plans that will help protect the birds.
Since then, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and other lawmakers have urged the USFWS to extend the public comment period on the listing and critical habitat proposals to give affected communities more time to weigh in on the federal plans.
This week, the agency said it will extend the comment period by three weeks and hold public hearings during a comment period for the economic analysis of the proposal. Bennet had asked for a 60-day extension, but regional USFWS officials said they’re under a tight timeline to complete the listing process.
“While the extension is not as long as we had hoped, I am pleased the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with us to ensure Coloradans have a chance to make their voices heard,” Bennet said. “This is an important issue in western Colorado, and we need to consider all of the implications before a final rule is determined. I encourage anyone who has input on the proposal to submit their feedback or attend a public hearing.”
The public comment period will now close on April 2, 2013. There will be a second opportunity to comment for the economic analysis for the proposed critical habitat, which is expected to occur in May. FWS will accept comments on all aspects of both rules during the second comment period. Public hearings are also planned with times and locations to be determined.
Filed under: Environment, biodiversity, endangered species, Colorado Tagged: | Colorado, endangered species, endangered species act, Michael Bennet, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Gunnison Sage Grouse