Plans to Protect Rare Colorado, Utah Birds May Limit Pipeline ROW

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DENVER (AP) — Federal land managers announced long-awaited plans to protect the rare Gunnison sage grouse, a bird found only in Colorado and Utah.

The Bureau of Land Management released a nearly 1,000-page document late Thursday proposing restrictions on energy development, roads and grazing.

The proposals include closing or limiting the use of some areas during the birds’ mating season, from mid-March to Mid-May, and during harsh winter weather. That could affect exploration for oil and gas, among other activities.

Other proposals include limits on the size of rights of way for utility lines and pipelines. Release of the plans opens a 90-day period for public comment. Final rules are expected next year.

Only about 5,000 Gunnison sage grouse remain in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. The bird was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. About 2,200 square miles in the two states are considered critical habitat.

Threatened status is less serious than endangered, which means a species is on the verge of extinction now and requires tighter restrictions.

The Gunnison grouse is related to the greater sage grouse, which is found across 11 Western states. Federal wildlife managers decided in September not to protect the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, but conservation restrictions are planned on public lands.

Like the greater sage grouse, the Gunnison grouse are ground-dwelling birds known for the males’ elaborate mating rituals, strutting or dancing to attract females. Greater sage grouse males can be up to 2 feet tall and weigh 5 pounds or more, but the Gunnison birds are about one-third smaller. Females of both species are smaller than males.

A Colorado official said it was too soon to comment on the specifics but that the state has been working closely with the Bureau of Land Management on developing the plan.

“It’s important that this plan is consistent with all the other efforts,” including plans to protect the greater sage grouse, said John Swartout, a policy adviser to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Swartout said he hadn’t had a chance to review the plan.

Utah officials were reviewing the report and had no immediate comment, said Kirsten Rappleye, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert.

Several environmentalists criticized the plan as inadequate. The protections for the Gunnison sage grouse are weaker than some plans for the greater sage grouse, even though the Gunnison bird is listed as threatened and the other is not, said Erik Molvar of WildEarth Guardians.

A spokeswoman for the Western Energy Alliance, an energy industry group, said officials were still reviewing the plan. But the spokeswoman, Kathleen Sgamma, said the federal government’s approach discourages conservation efforts by landowners and state and local government.

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