OURAY COUNTY: Board opposes Sage-grouse listing, designation


by Beecher Threatt
On Tuesday the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposing the listing of the Gunnison Sage-grouse as an endangered species and designation of its critical habitat in Ouray County. County Attorney Marti Whitmore drafted the six-page letter arguing that the service did not meet the statutory criteria for the listing and especially for designation of two small areas of the county.
The service's maps do not have sufficient detail for the county to determine the boundaries of the proposed designated habitat, according to the letter. Some of the land may be agricultural, and a habitat designation could limit crop production.

The letter states, "(T)he proposed designation of critical habitat in Ouray County is not based upon the best available science, is speculative, and will potentially have a major and detrimental impact on the economic drivers of Ouray County, tourism, farming and ranching, as well as limiting wildfire mitigation, affecting water development needed to provide adequate supplies of water in the county, and may usurp the authority of the county to maintain and improve county roads." In addition, the service has not complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
According to the proposed rules for designating Gunnison Sage-grouse habitat, some areas proposed for designation do not necessarily contain Sage-grouse, nor have any been observed there. Whitmore said that is true of the Ouray County areas. The rationale for designating those areas is that they may have once supported sagebrush and could be restored to that condition by removing pinion and juniper pines. Whitmore said eradicating other vegetation does not consider the value of that vegetation to other species.
The letter also expresses concern for the effect of the designation on recreational areas.
Ken Lipton, president of the board of Shavano Conservation District, appeared before the BOCC to register the district's opposition to the designation also.
Commissioner Lynn Padgett questioned whether the maps being used to determine Sage-grouse habitat were originally intended to locate sagebrush growth by satellite imaging. "It does not hold water to call the Colona area critical habitat based on that," Padgett said.
The board also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with nine other Colorado counties and a Utah county to work toward the goal of increasing the numbers and vitality of Gunnison Sage-grouse and its habitat. Whitmore will attend meetings under the MOU.
Also on Tuesday, county IT Manager Jeff Bockes presented a quote from a content management system company to assist in designing a new county website and to host the site.
"This deal is pretty hard to beat," Bockes told the commissioners.
The company, Civic Plus, is offering the county a discount on its services as a result of the county's ongoing IT relationship with the city of Montrose. The county's site would be a subsite of the Montrose website, but it would operate independently.
The county's site originates on a server in the courthouse basement. Bockes said the equipment is old, licenses need updating and the electricity cost for running the server is high.
The one time set up fee for Civic Plus would be $6500, with annual hosting cost of $1500. Padgett questioned the annual cost, as she thought it should be much lower. Bockes said the content management system would be constantly upgraded, resulting in additional functionality. A quality website could be developed using a content management system, he said.
"If we go with Civic Plus, I hope we are not limited to the type of site Montrose has," Padgett said. Other government sites showcased by Civic Plus on its website were more dynamic and gave a sense of the community. Bockes assured her the county could have a customizable look.
The quote, Bockes informed commissioners, is good only through Mar. 29. Unwilling to make a quick decision, commissioners asked Bockes to try to get an extension of the offer.
In other business Tuesday, the board:
--entered into a temporary contract with Public Health Director Cheryl Roberts to continue in that role, on a limited basis, until a new director is hired. Roberts recently resigned and her last official day is Apr. 4. County Administrator Connie Hunt is conducting interviews for the position on Mar. 28.
--agreed with a proposal by Social Services Director Allan Gerstle to restructure the on-call procedure for his department to respond to calls to investigate possible child abuse. Without dipping into county funds, but using some federal funds and collaborating with San Miguel County, Gerstle said he could use contract employees to supplement current staff coverage on weekends.
--authorized Whitmore to proceed with selling four different mineral interests held by the county as a result of nonpayment of taxes.