WASHINGTON, May 15, 2015 – In the race to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing for the greater sage-grouse, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has issued an executive order that gives farmers and ranchers the opportunity to get paid for their conservation efforts through a habitat exchange market.
The Colorado Habitat Exchange is a system akin to wetland mitigation banks or carbon credit markets. In essence, the program allocates credits to farmers and ranchers for the conservation benefits their lands provide. Those credits can then be sold to energy companies and other developers to offset their operations’ impact on the greater sage-grouse and its habitat.
“The governor’s endorsement of habitat exchanges brings us one step closer to achieving the results we need to ensure the sustained economic and environmental vitality of Colorado,” Eric Holst, senior director of working lands for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said in a press release following the issuance of the order.
This order “will unlock new opportunities for farmers and ranchers to make sage-grouse conservation a part of their business models,” Holst continued, and “can mitigate the risk of a listing decision in the future.”
The exchange was developed in partnership with EDF and several industry and state partners – including the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Colorado Department of Natural Resources – to restore and protect sage-grouse habitat across portions of the state’s 31.3 million acres of private working lands.
According to the EDF website, scientific experts will evaluate conservation efforts and assign them credit values. The credits can be purchased by oil and gas operators and land developers who may be required to meet compensatory mitigation requirements for development within the birds’ habitat.
The U.S. House of Representatives today, in its latest attempt at thwarting a threatened listing of the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, passed a bill that would bar such a listing for 10 years. An Army report warned that a listing of the grouse could restrict the use and size of training areas and limit future development.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month issued a decision not to pursue a threatened species listing for the grouse in California and Nevada. Since then, some conservation and sportsmen’s groups have expressed hope that a federal listing for the greater sage-grouse is avoidable, so long as conservation partnerships across the bird’s 11 Western state range continue leveraging resources for preservation of the bird’s sagebrush habitat.
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