Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today hailed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) among eleven counties in Colorado and Utah that lays the foundation for the region to continue to work together toward a solution for the appropriate protection of the Gunnison sage-grouse and its habitat.
The MOU ensures that county officials will continue their cooperative work to identify measures and strategies to help increase the viability and vitality of the sage-grouse.
"This agreement reinforces local efforts and cooperation to determine the best solution for Coloradans who live and work in the region," Bennet said. "These counties are committed to protecting the sage grouse and it's habitat in a way that allows the region's economy to thrive. We'll continue to work with them to ensure the Fish and Wildlife Service understands their commitment to pursuing an effective locally-based solution."
"Senator Bennet and his staff have been instrumental in convening the 11 counties and have worked diligently to assist us in telling our story of protecting the sage-grouse with local control," said Paula Swenson, chair of the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners. "The MOU is a critical step forward for the Western Slope, and we appreciate Senator Bennet's engagement and leadership on this issue."
"Montrose County is concerned because once the species is listed, this becomes a federal issue beyond the control of the locally affected areas," said Ron Henderson, chairman of the Montrose Board of County Commissioners. "We'd prefer to keep this issue within the reach of our constituents."
Bennet helped convene representatives from the 11 counties to discuss an acceptable local response to help stabilize the population of the Gunnison sage-grouse. The MOU follows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) announcement of its proposal to designate the Gunnison sage-grouse as an endangered species and to designate over 1.7 million acres of critical habitat in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. The proposal would affect farming, ranching, and other activities in the region.
A bipartisan delegation of lawmakers from Colorado and Utah, organized by Bennet, requested that the USFWS to extend the comment period on the proposal to ensure that the public had a sufficient amount of time to provide feedback. The comment period was extended until April 2, 2013.
Colorado counties signing the MOU include: Gunnison County, Saguache County, Dolores County, Montezuma County, Delta County, Montrose County, Hinsdale County, Mesa County, San Miguel County, and Ouray County. Utah's San Juan County also signed the agreement.