Habitat exchange could pay off for Colorado ranchers, developers — and, hopefully, sage grouse
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says a state program aimed at conserving sage-grouse habitat is ready for primetime. This week, the state sought formal recognition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the voluntary, market-based conservation plan.
“It’s inspiring to see Colorado ranchers, conservationists and business leaders coming together to put forth a solution for this iconic bird,” Hickenlooper said. “The Colorado Habitat Exchange will create a new market for voluntary conservation that will help protect the greater sage-grouse and sustain Colorado’s robust energy and agriculture economies.”
The Colorado Habitat Exchange offers financial incentives to create, maintain and improve habitat on private property. Landowners earn conservation credits for these activities, which they can sell to industry to compensate for development, such as roads, oil and gas facilities and other infrastructure that impact species and habitat.
“Either way the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision falls, the Colorado Habitat Exchange sets a strong precedent for conservation, both in Colorado and nationwide,” said Eric Holst, associate vice president of working lands at Environmental Defense Fund. “Through collaboration, innovation and robust science, this program will unlock the vast untapped potential of Western working lands to work also for wildlife.”
Recognition of the habitat exchange program as an effective conservation tool by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management would give participants some regulatory certaintly.
“The sooner we can get federal recognition of the Colorado Habitat Exchange, the sooner we will be able to unlock new opportunities for Colorado ranchers to make sage-grouse conservation a part of their business models,” said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “The habitat exchange is a win-win for sage-grouse and for ranchers, who are natural stewards of these vital working landscapes.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a Sept. 30 deadline to decide whether or not the greater sage-grouse requires protection under the Endangered Species Act.
“No one wants to see this bird on the Endangered Species List, and this program is our best chance of keeping the bird off the list, now and in the future,” Fankhauser said.