The federal government has released plans to ease restrictions on oil and gas development near sage grouse habitat, including changes to Colorado's plan.
In 2015, the federal government implemented plans meant to protect the greater sage grouse — a large western bird — from extinction. The bird experienced a sharp population decline due to loss of habitat, especially from oil and gas development.
This week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced new plans for seven western states; those plans are now open to public comment.
David Boyd with the BLM said there are two major changes in Colorado. The 2015 plan banned all oil and gas development within a mile of sage grouse leks, which are key breeding areas. The proposed change scales back restrictions to allow directional drilling, while still prohibiting any development on the surface.
The new plan also makes it easier to get exemptions to the restrictions. In Garfield County, for example, some argue that natural landscape features provide protection for sage grouse, and that development could safely happen without compromising their habitat.
While there has been widespread concern from environmental organizations about changes across the country, Conservation Colorado released a statement saying the group is “cautiously optimistic that the changes to the Colorado BLM plan will not jeopardize the recovery of the species.”
The public can provide feedback on the draft until Aug. 2.