Colorado Seeks Federal Approval Of Sage Grouse Plan

<p>(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)</p>
<p>Pictured is a Greater Sage Grouse.</p>
Photo: Greater Sage Grouse
Pictured is a Greater Sage Grouse.

Colorado is asking the federal government to approve a key part of the state's effort to protect the greater sage grouse, a "habitat exchange" that would let oil companies and others offset damage to the bird's habitat by financing improvements elsewhere.

Eric Holst, associate vice president of Environmental Defense Fund's working lands program, helped shape the habitat exchange. He said the system would be similar to Airbnb.

“A habitat exchange allows farmers and ranchers to make their land available to harbor wildlife that are of particular importance and allows them to participate in a market and get compensated for that," Holst said. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management to recognize the exchange as a way to mitigate habitat damage.

Other states have proposed similar exchanges in hopes of keeping the sage grouse off the federally protected list, which would trigger tougher conservation rules.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is facing a court-ordered deadline at the end of this month to decide whether to protect the bird.

The service estimates 200,000 to 500,000 birds remain in 11 Western states.