County commissioners found a sympathetic ear in U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton when they expressed concern Monday about a chicken-like bird that's been making headlines for over two months.
The Republican Congressman immediately brought up the Gunnison sage-grouse, and preempted many of the commissioners' concerns.
Tipton said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's "one-size-fits-all approach" is unsustainable.
The federal agency first proposed adding the bird to the endangered species list in January.
The grouse's population is estimated at 4,600 birds across seven landscapes in western Colorado and eastern Utah. If the bird receives an endangered listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will designate about 350,000 acres of Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan (Utah) counties as "critical habitat."
Local ranchers are up in arms about the grouse being granted an endangered status and fear efforts to protect the bird will infringe upon their property rights.
Tipton wants the federal agency to give each county a specific number the local bird population needs to reach in order to be classified as "recovered" and get taken off the endangered species list.
"We need measurable results," he said.
The commissioners asked Tipton what could be done about the grouse being listed as endangered.
Tipton said he recognizes that the sage-grouse is an issue for ranchers who depend on the bird's habitat to feed their cattle, and he wants state and local conservationists to be in charge of the effort.
The commissioners have leapt full bore into the sage grouse issue despite Montezuma County not having any critical habitat - it stops at the Dolores County line.
Commissioner Larry Don Suckla said their involvement is, in part, out of rural county solidarity - "we know how devastating this (listing) would be for our neighbors," he said - and in part because they are concerned about southward creep.
"The Farm Service Agency...is adding incentives to plant sage on new (Conservation Reserve Program) sign-ups in Montezuma County. That's a red flag," said commissioner Steve Chappell.
Suckla added: "We know how the government works. It always seems to expand."
The commissioners also brought up access to public lands, or as they see it, a lack thereof.
Tipton told a story about a veteran who used to fly-fish on public lands, but is disabled and can longer access the spot where he used to fish.
"Let's not forget the most vulnerable population of our society in getting access to some of these areas," Tipton said.
Tipton supported opening additional public lands so disabled individuals and older generations who have hunted and fished on the land for generations can access it.
"They have a lot more of an emotional tie than you might expect," he said.
In an interview with the Journal, Tipton said he plans to reintroduce two bills he sponsored last session, including a wildfire management bill that gives states and counties more control over mitigation. The other would allow small hydroelectric units in irrigation ditches to generate electricity.
He said he is hopeful both will pass, particularly as the state gears up for fire season.
Journal Staff Writer Luke Groskopf contributed to this story.