Hickenlooper tries to avoid sage grouse listing with executive order

Photo: Greater Sage Grouse
Pictured is a Greater Sage Grouse.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order Friday his office says will help protect the greater sage grouse.

The order allows farmers and ranchers to enroll in "habitat exchanges," where they would earn credits for improving grouse habitat. They could then sell the credits to companies seeking to offset their projects' impact on sage grouse habitat.

The governor and business interests hope by strengthening state efforts to protect the dwindling numbers of the greater sage grouse, they can persuade the federal government not to list the bird as endangered. A federal listing would impose strict development rules on 165 million acres of land across the West.

“We firmly believe that state-led efforts are the most effective way to protect and conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitat," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "Conversely, a decision by the federal government to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act would have a significant and detrimental economic impact to the state."

The Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, applauded the governor's order.

“The Colorado Habitat Exchange will unlock new opportunities for farmers and ranchers to make sage-grouse conservation a part of their business models,” said Eric Holst, senior director of working lands at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Hickenlooper's executive order also directs all state agencies to coordinate with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and requires the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to track oil and gas development in sensitive habitat areas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must release its decision by Sept. 30.