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County's 'save the sage grouse' plan will get public hearing May 1

Sun Advocate associate editor

Proposed amendments to the county's master plan aimed at balancing sage grouse protection and human economic interests will be up for public comment at the May 1 county commission meeting.

On Tuesday, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to forward the suggested changes, and authorized staff to make small "tweaks" in the wording before the hearing if necessary.

The objective of both the state and county is to keep the birds off the federal list of endangered species. Such a listing would have drastic impacts on human activities such as mining and agriculture in areas deemed sage grouse habitat.

The Governor's Office has designed its own plan. Rex Sacco, the county's Director of Public Lands, told planning commissioners that the county's version is "80 percent consistent" with the goveror's proposals. Where the plan differs is only in the specifics that apply uniquely to Carbon, he said.

"The governor's plan calls for consistent populations numbers statewise and ours just explains how our county will do its part," he explained in an interview later.

Brad Crompton, a wildlife biologist with the Division of Wildlife Resources, advised planners at Tuesday's meeting that, although the county has a right to plan for its own interests, the proposed policy ought not be worded to give the impression that Carbon County disagrees with the statewide plan.

His reason was that if the federal land and wildlife agencies think the state plan is in dispute, the feds may decide to override it with one of their own.

Planning chairman Richard Tatton replied that his group had no intention of opposing the state, but that its function was to look after the interests of Carbon County.

Sacco said in a later interview that the county's proposed master plan changes stress that habitat protection and improvement are voluntary on private land, and also are more detailed on specific locations and threats to the birds.

He added that the county is also proposing "off-site" mitigation, such as purchasing birds to locate in habitats where there is no conflict between economic development and avian needs.

There are about 600 Greater Sage Grouse in Carbon County. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until 2015 to decide if the species is endangered.

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