Can the Utah state plan for Sage Grouse management succeed?

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Comment by Steve Erickson, Policy Administrator, Utah Audubon Council

 

This comment was sent by Steve Erickson to  the Morgan County Planning Commission, on behalf of the Utah Audubon Council.  In his comment, he outlines a number of reasons why 3,000 acres of land — which contain a Sage Grouse lek (breeding ground), with a second Sage Grouse lek very nearby — should not be re-designated as “Master Planned Community”  — a designation which could pave the way towards re-zoning and then development of the land. Unfortunately, the re-designation was passed on August 14, 2014 — however, the excellent points laid out by Steve Erickson and many others who sent in their comments, remain entirely valid. The Sage Grouse are a severely threatened species, and these points will need to be taken into account in the future, if the Sage Grouse in Utah are to have any chance of being protected and surviving. – Editor

 

August 14, 2012

 

Bill Cobabe, AICP

Zoning Administrator

Morgan County

 

sent via email

 

 

Re: Application 14.064

 

 

Dear Mr. Cobabe,

 

On behalf of the Utah Audubon Council, I wish to express to you and the Morgan County Planning Commission our concerns about impacts to the Greater Sage-Grouse lek on the property which may be rezoned as a Master Planned Community for development of Heritage Peak Resort.  Utah Audubon Council consists of the elected leadership of the four Utah Audubon Society’s, which have a combined statewide membership of roughly 2,000 Utahns.

 

We respect the private property rights of the land owners proposing this development and seeking this zoning change, and we likewise acknowledge the difficult balancing act and decision to be made by the Planning Commission, and ultimately, the County Commission.  With rights come responsibilities, in this case, the responsibility of the citizens of the State of Utah, through its agencies, to manage and preserve the wildlife in our environment.  We sincerely hope that, through this public process, these rights and responsibilities can be fairly apportioned, and that a resolution that both allows some reasonable property development – while preserving one of the premier sage-grouse leks and prime habitats in Utah – can be achieved.

 

Such an accommodation may not be possible, however.  Sage-grouse are extremely sensitive to noise and disturbances from construction and human activities and occupation.  The majority of the scientific research and literature, and proposed federal guidelines, suggest that sage-grouse need a 3.1 to 4 mile buffer from development if adverse impacts are to be avoided or sufficiently mitigated.  It appears that there may not be sufficient land area to maintain a large enough buffer on this site.  Past efforts to relocate sage-grouse, particularly a lek of this size and longevity, have not had good results with high bird mortality, and should be avoided.

 

The Utah State Plan for sage-grouse management depends upon voluntary efforts of private property owners to avoid or mitigate impacts to the bird and its habitat.  The decision in this instance may serve as a test case for whether or not the State Plan can succeed in maintaining and improving the status of the sage-grouse in Utah.  We hope and expect that the decision-makers will explore all options and opportunities to preserve this sage-grouse population and habitat, including a careful environmental impact analysis, and examination of financially feasible alternatives to the proposed development plan

 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Steve Erickson, Policy Advocate

Utah Audubon Council

 

Photo: © Silverpineranch | Dreamstime.com

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