An ordinance aimed at keeping the Gunnison sage grouse or any other “non-native” animal species that might be listed federally as endangered or threatened from being introduced into Montezuma County was passed unanimously by the board of commissioners April 28.
The law forbids any “person, federal or State agency, corporation, or entity” from introducing any “non-native animal species that are listed or proposed for listing as threatened or endangered” into the county, “unless it is onto private property and containment within that private property is assured. . .”
It also states that no person or entity “shall knowingly or recklessly allow these animal species to migrate onto private land in Montezuma County. . .”
The commissioners have contended in the past that it would be up to them to determine at a public hearing whether any particular species should be defined as native or non-native if the issue arose.
Commissioner Steve Chappell has long maintained the Gunnison sage grouse (as opposed to other species of grouse) is not native to Montezuma County, and did so again at the hearing, flatly stating that “the Gunnison sage grouse was never here.”
This position conflicts directly with a statement provided to the Free Press by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Public Affairs Officer Steve Segin on May 2 after he had consulted with other agency officials. “We are unaware of any plans to re-introduce the Gunnison sage-grouse to Montezuma County,” Segin said in an e-mail. “However, Montezuma County is part of the historic range of the Gunnison sage grouse.”
Segin declined to comment on the ordinance in particular.
“The short answer is that we are at a critical point in our analysis and decision on Gunnison sage-grouse and don’t have anything to say about the ordinance,” he wrote, “but we will be releasing our determination in the near future and welcome any opportunity to work with local governments on the preservation of the species.”
The wildlife service is expected to make a decision in May on whether to list the sage grouse as endangered or threatened. The bird, whose total population numbers around 4,000, exists in scattered groups across western Colorado and southeastern Utah. The vast majority live in the Gunnison, Colo., area.
The county ordinance also provides that no one “shall knowingly or recklessly designate habitat, protected areas, or other similar designations, on private lands without express written approval from both Montezuma County and the private landowner.”
It says that any violation of this ordinance is a Class 2 misdemeanor and punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.
The ordinance passed with little discussion among the commissioners, who have frequently made known their opposition to the federal government imposing controls of nearly any type on local entities.
But that did not mean the birth of the new measure was accomplished without any wailing and gnashing of teeth, at a public hearing at which audience comment ranged far afield from the topic at hand – including another recounting of an alleged covert fish-stocking on McElmo Creek by Colorado Parks and Wildlife last year to a recitation of how and why international conspirators, apparently led by a secretive Swiss group, plan to take away all private property rights globally, as well as plans for a Chinese solar plant to be built on land that Nevada Sen. Harry Reed will obtain for them by further victimizing rancher Cliven Bundy.
Bundy, who has refused to pay fees for grazing his cattle on public land, took an armed stance against BLM agents who were trying to confiscate some of those cattle to cover his overdue fees until the BLM abandoned that approach. He was briefly championed by many right-wing politicians and talk-show hosts until he revealed himself to be an unapologetic racist.
The commissioners and their audience – many unaware of the Swiss and other threats to their personal liberties – heard supportive comments from a few locals including Chester Tozer and Sheldon Zwicker, McElmo Canyon ranchers.
Zwicker maintained he’d been lied to about the species of fish that was being dumped into McElmo Creek by the state wildlife agency from a bridge on his property, and expressed fears that Parks and Wildlife might covertly introduce Gunnison sage grouse into the county so it could eventually be declared a native species.
“If they’re planting the humpback chub, there’s no doubt they would plant the sage grouse too,” he said.
Tozer, who sarcastically referred to BLM law-enforcement officers as “pretend police,” read a lengthy letter from a retired BLM employee that was rife with accusations of mismanagement by the agency and lamented how much it had changed since he had worked there.
“The ESA [Endangered Species Act] has been used time after time to prevent multiple use,” Tozer quoted Jack Jones of Butte, Mt., as stating. Multiple use is the concept under which most federal public lands are dedicated to some combination of grazing, timbering, mineral extraction and recreation, as are most of those in the county.
Both Zwicker and Tozer applauded the commission’s tenacity in resisting federal mandates that clash with local interests.
Dexter Gill, emcee of the local 9-12 Project chapter, declared that public lands in fact “belong to the states and have been misappropriated by the federal government.”
Gill contended the Endangered Species Act had been enacted in 1973 for the sole purpose of creating means to “severely limit the use of public lands.”
Commission Chair Keenan Ertel eventually brought the focus of the discussion back to the matter being considered.
“Let’s try to stay on track concerning this ordinance.” he said.
No one in the audience spoke against passage of the ordinance, and the sole concern expressed was by a man who wanted to make sure he could keep importing a foreign bird – chukkas – he uses to train hunting dogs.
County Attorney John Baxter took pains to make it clear that the ordinance applied only to non-native species that are listed as endangered or threatened, and assured the man that non-native species of all animal types are allowed on private property as long as they are contained.
Commissioner Larry Don Suckla perhaps summed up the commission’s sentiment when he observed that, “As an elected official I feel I work for the taxpayer and not the government.”