Environmental Defense Fund,
Utah politicians are strenuously fighting to keep San Juan County's population of the Gunnison sage grouse from being named to the Endangered Species List. More than 90 percent of the birds' habitat occurs on private lands in the rural southeastern county, and the majority of that on acreage for farming and ranching.

SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution urging the U.S. Interior secretary to exempt San Juan County populations of Gunnison sage grouse from any possible listing under the Endangered Species Act was unanimously endorsed Tuesday by a legislative committee.

HCR7, sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, has already passed in the Utah House of Representatives on a 64-3 vote and will now be considered by the full Senate.

Noel's measure comes after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced earlier this year that the species was being considered for protections afforded via the Endangered Species Act.

Although the small, chicken-sized bird exists primarily in Colorado, some small populations live in San Juan County, where local officials and state biologists have been working to set aside land and put other conservation measures in place.

Noel's resolution notes that the federal designation would set aside 145,000 acres of protected critical habitat for the bird. More than 95 percent of the bird's habitat exists on private land. In San Juan County, which is 5.2 million acres, 84 percent of that is already controlled by some federal agency, mostly the Bureau of Land Management, Noel's resolution states.

If the habitat is set aside with the listing, Noel's measure predicts it would impact 35 percent of the private property base in the county, which is home to 758 farms and ranches that in 2007 produced goods worth more than $10 million.

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During the meeting of the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture Committee, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he was supportive of the measure because of its conciliatory tone.

"This is really how we are going to solve these problems — with an olive branch and not with a fist," he said.

According to the resolution, the Interior secretary has the discretion to exclude the listing in San Juan County based on the economic impact of such a designation.

Also Tuesday, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was joined by other members of Utah's congressional delegation in asking the federal government to extend the public comment period on the proposed listing of the Gunnison sage grouse.

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