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Defending 'Colorful Colorado' (and fighting Cory Gardner) 

City Sage

Editor's note: This story was updated April 29 to reflect that the Fish and Wildlife Service, not the EPA, will decide if the sage grouse gets an Endangered Species Act listing.

Last week, Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado introduced a bill mendaciously titled the "Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act."

In a press release, Gardner's office said that "The Act represents a continuation of Senator Gardner's long record of fighting for Colorado's environment and economy ... [it] would allow states to implement state-created conservation and management plans for the recovery of greater sage grouse in order to prevent a listing under the Endangered Species Act."

The bill has nothing to do with protecting sage grouse habitat. It's unashamedly aimed at preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the habitat and making life more difficult for resource-extraction companies.

The sage grouse is a beautiful and wondrous bird, but one whose survival depends upon large, unbroken and undeveloped tracts of sagebrush steppe. It's an umbrella species, meaning that measures to protect its habitat will also protect as many as 350 species that use sagebrush habitat and are of conservation concern.

"Unbroken and undeveloped" means that grouse habitat be off-limits to oil and gas development, which typically requires multiple drilling sites, extensive road networks and disruptive human presence.

In 2010, the EPA noted that the sage grouse was eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act, but deferred action. In settling lawsuits brought by environmental groups, the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to decide whether or not to list the bird by September 2015.

We're not talking about Preble's jumping mouse here, but about the survival of an animal that symbolizes Colorado and the American West. Under the deceptive cloak of local control, Gardner and his allies want to repurpose our state.

Forget "Colorful Colorado" — that's so 1950s! Forget "Rocky Mountain High" and all those pals around the campfire, smoking bad weed — so '70s!

Gardner and his allies want a new, thoroughly modern state. Motto: "Colorado, America's Energy Colony." The way to get there is simple — just ignore, nullify or get rid of all those arrogant, intrusive, job-killing federal regulators! How can they possibly have the temerity to enforce irrelevant statutes such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act?

All we have to do is take over Colorado's federal lands, kick out the feds, and turn loose the drillers, frackers, miners, timber companies and anyone else who wants to make a few bucks and create a few jobs.

As for the goddamn grouse, let's just have a 12-month, no-bag-limit grouse-hunting season.

Some of Gardner's GOP co-religionists in the Colorado state Senate are all for the land grab. Senate Bill 232, sponsored by Sen. Randy "The Mustache" Baumgardner and two Republican colleagues, was approved by the Agriculture Committee on a 5-4 partisan vote on April 23. The bill would establish a 15-member committee to study whether control of national public lands should be transferred to the state. Senate approval is likely, but it'll probably die in the Democrat-controlled House.

Conservation Colorado executive director Pete Maysmith has expressed his disgust at the bill, noting that "taking over control of America's public lands is unconstitutional and prohibitively expensive."

Maysmith's right, but Gardner & Baumgardner (sounds like a particularly sleazy personal-injury law firm, doesn't it?) won't be deterred.

The Republican position on public lands is simple: Proximity confers ownership. If you live in Colorado, you have "special rights" to Colorado public lands, same in Utah for those living in Utah, and so on.

Such a position is morally indefensible. Every American citizen has an undivided share in America's public lands. They are our lands — they are not there to be pillaged, polluted and abandoned by special interest groups.

As the naturalist and essayist Wendell Berry wrote in 1971, we ought to think as does "a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children."

Amen.

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