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Compromise Possible in Morgan County Sage Grouse Dispute

Phil Douglass/Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
The Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)

Landowners won a decision from the Morgan County Planning Commission Thursday night. Conservation groups had asked them to protect a nesting area for the greater sage grouse. But it appears a compromise is already in the works.

The group of about 50 landowners wants to develop a new resort community near East Canyon Reservoir. They were asking the Morgan County Planning Commission to change the designation of their property on the county’s master land use plan from “Natural Resources and Recreation” to “Master Planned Community.”

But the land includes a lek – an area where sage grouse mate and nest in the spring. That prompted high school student RahulMukherjee to create a Facebook page to boost interest in the hearing. Last night, he says the hearing room was packed.

“We had a lot of conservation groups," Mukherjee says. "We had the DNR. We had Great Salt Lake Audobon and we had other people that expressed their concern for the sage grouse.”

After hearing dozens of speakers, the commission voted 4-2 to change the master land use plan. That’s just a recommendation. The Morgan County Council has the final say.

One potential compromise that’s being discussed by both sides is a conservation easement, which would compensate the landowners for protecting the nesting grounds.

That’s fine with Glen Burton, who’s one of the landowners. He says work on that has already begun.

“We met with the state people this morning," Burton tells KUER. "They’d like to get with us, form a, these various conservation groups, get a coalition together of property owners, conservation groups, the state, and put together a plan.”

Allison Jones with the Wild Utah Project says this is also the first opportunity to implement Utah’s new statewide conservation plan for the greater sage grouse.

Jones told KUER, “Let’s not make our plan look like a joke. Let’s get behind the governor and the legislature.  I think we just need to find some money.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. Jones says state action to protect the birds could help convince federal authorities not to take that step.

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