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RBC I The White River and Douglas Creek conservation districts hosted a Natural Resource Tour in the Piceance Basin on Aug. 13, centering the focus on Greater Sage Grouse, excess feral horses and the numerous rules and regulations involved in the management of the public lands.
Forty-five tour participants, including elected officials, agency staff, college instructors and other interested public took home valuable experience and information that will help them make better-informed decisions in regards to natural resource management.
The theme of the day was the balancing act of managing the public lands and the challenges created by an overwhelming amount of laws, rules and regulations.
Dr. Tony Apa of Colorado Parks and Wildlife who has studied sage grouse for 25 years discussed the Greater Sage Grouse habitat requirements and the uniqueness of the Parachute-Piceance-Roan population of Greater Sage Grouse. He expressed the importance of managing the species at the local level because of the uniqueness of each population and the landscapes they utilize.
Apa noted that all the great cooperation that is ongoing with landowners, local governments, conservation groups and the state and federal agencies that would be lost if the Greater Sage Grouse is listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
White River Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangeland specialist Tyrell Turner noted that the Appropriate Management Level (AML) of horses in the Piceance East Douglas Herd Management Area (HMA) is 135 to 235 horses and that they estimate 350 horses within that area at this time. He also noted there are another 250 excess horses occupying areas in Rio Blanco County outside of the HMA.
Callie Hendrickson, the conservation districts’ executive director and National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board member, provided an overview of the challenges with the excess horses on a national scale.
There are approximately 50,000 horses grazing public lands in 10 Western states and another 50,000 in BLM holding facilities. These excess horses in holding facilities are costing taxpayers $46 million a year to feed and care for them.
At the national level, the BLM has decided to stop removing excess horses, except for emergencies, and therefore the total population of horse on the range will reach over 100,000 horses by 2018.
While it is easy to calculate the cost of maintaining the excess horses in holding facilities, it is much more difficult to calculate the environmental damage being caused by the excess horses that remain on the land.
Other discussions included the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and the excessive amount of rules and regulations the agencies are implementing on a monthly basis. It was explained that EAJA is being used to handicap the federal agencies by allowing special interest groups to sue the federal government and, in turn, get paid their legal costs in addition to a settlement if the litigant wins the case.
This “win” is often based on a simple technicality such as a missed deadline or a specific word that was or was not used.
Using the example of 7,468 pages of proposed rules and regulations recorded in the Federal Register just during the month of July 2014, it is simple to find a technicality to sue and win a case against the federal government because no one can keep up with all the rules and regulations handed down on a monthly basis.
Frustration was shared by all on how the EAJA is negatively impacting the management of the federal lands.
The highlight of the tour was a bear paying the group a visit on the top of Calamity Ridge while a Colorado Parks and Wildlife official was discussing Greater Sage Grouse and their habitat. The bear appeared to be unimpressed and went on about his way.