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Could sage grouse become county's avian overlord?

Sage grouse are not plentiful in Carbon County - and that could be a problem.
Kathleen Clarke and Alan Clark (on left) brief commissioners and staff on the sage grouse situation.

Sun Advocate associate editor

State warns human concerns could become 'subordinate' if bird gets endangered status

There are only about 600 sage grouse in Carbon County, with population pockets scattered in other parts of state. That low headcount has some scary implications for energy and industrial development. "Ominous" was the word used by Kathleen Clarke, the governor's Public Lands Policy Coordinator Tuesday.

Clarke was in town to brief - and be briefed by - county commissioners at a special meeting discuss what can be done to prevent the birds from being put on the endangered species list. If that should happen, "money doesn't matter, people don't matter, private property doesn't matter, only the species matters," she stated.

For that reason, she explained, Gov. Gary Herbert is looking at a plan to satisfy the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the state has a plan of its own to protect the grouse. Actually, it is more like 12 plans because the idea so far is to turn the management and implementation over to counties, with help from the state. That appears to be necessary in Utah because unlike Wyoming, which is one big sage grouse habitat, Utah's populations are dispersed.

For Carbon County it would mean that more than 40 percent of the county's land area could be included in something like a grouse protection zone. That was irksome to all three commissioners, particularly Mike Milovich.

While there are some who would say that grouse population decline is a result of fragmentation of habitat caused by development, Milovich is not among that number.

"The biggest problem is predation, and there's nothing on the state or federal level that addresses this," he declared. He was not happy with the concept of "locking up vast expanses of land that is not really conducive to sage grouse anyway."

Alan Clark, the Division of Wildlife Resources Assistant Director, agreed with the commissioner that ravens and red foxes take a heavy toll, especially the ravens because they eat eggs. DWR spent about $1 million to reduce the predator populations in places such as Strawberry Valley and Rich County and it worked.

So Milovich proposed that Kathleen Clarke take a suggestion back to the governor:

Work up a five year plan with a budget and apply the same strategies that worked in Strawberry and Rich County.

Without something that addresses the real causes of population decline, includes a strategy that has already proven to be successful and shows a financial commitment, "you can take any plan to the toilet and flush it," he concluded.

Clarke replied recommendations such as that were appreciated because the governor is beginning to draw up next year's budget.

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