Last week the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced the adoption of a final plan for managing over 800,000 acres of public lands in southwestern Colorado. The plan, called the Tres Rios Resource Management plan, has been widely criticized by conservation groups and other stakeholders around the West. Groups contend that the plan fails to protect wildlife habitat and lacks measures to safeguard Gunnison sage-grouse, a bird recently protected as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
“BLM has a responsibility to protect habitat for all wildlife, including elk, deer, antelope, and the Gunnison sage-grouse. This preservation of biodiversity is critical for maintaining healthy ecosystems in the Rocky Mountain region. Instead, the BLM has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of wildlife and the public,” said Tehri Parker, executive director at Rocky Mountain Wild. “The BLM’s plan opens the door for unnecessary oil and gas development in some of the best remaining habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse.”
The BLM manages 42% of the habitat occupied by Gunnison sage-grouse. Lack of adequate safeguards for habitat on BLM lands contributed to the recent decision to grant Gunnison sage-grouse Endangered Species Act protection. Fewer than 5,000 Gunnison sage grouse remain in just seven isolated populations in southwestern Colorado. Two of these populations are located in the BLM’s Tres Rios Field Office. USFWS biologists have indicated that it is critical to adequately protect these populations in order to recover the species.
“The BLM missed an opportunity to put science-based protections in place for Gunnison sage-grouse that wildlife biologists agree are necessary to help recover the species,” said Megan Mueller, wildlife biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “This puts crucial habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse at risk and slows collaborative efforts to address threats so that the bird no longer needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act.”
Rocky Mountain Wild is calling on the BLM to use the amendment process to develop an effective, science-based plan that will address threats and help recover Gunnison sage-grouse.