During the Morgan County Planning Commission public hearing regarding the Yaryca development Aug. 14, a third of the dissenters taking the microphone spoke out against Yaryca because of the impact it could have on the Greater sage grouse, a candidate for an endangered species designation.
The Greater Sage-Grouse is a large, chicken-like bird and the largest grouse species in North America. Its rangeis in the sagebrush country of the Western United States and southern Canada. They are known for their elaborate courtship rituals, where each spring males gather in leks to perform strutting displays for hours on end.
“Morgan is known among birders as a place where sage grouse gather. The sage grouse could be a flagship species for Morgan County,” said Morgan native Sarah Hoskinson. “The investors could use it to their advantage as far as public relations. Everyone should opne their minds to a different possibility. Morgan could have Greater Sage Grouse Days. Everyone can benefit and make money and the land could still be preserved for these amazing birds.”
Rahul Mukherjee said his high school came to the county four weeks ago to see the sage grouse, and he has heard many other schools do the same thing.
“Everyone tells me they came to Morgan County to see the sage grouse,” he said.
John Watkins comes from Cache Valley to witness the “magical experience” the sage grouse, or “fancy chickens” offer in Morgan County.
Glenda Cotter called witnessing the sage grouse nesting areas a “National Geographic experience.”
Mark Warmson, an East Canyon resident, said the sage grouse were considered sacred to the Indian people who once lived in Morgan County.
Many are worried that if the sage grouse do become an endangered species, the federal government would take over and direct future development of the land.
“Nobody here wants to have the federal government tell us how to use this land,” said Buz Marthaler, of Wildlife Rehab Center of Northern Utah. “We have lost all control if the population (of sage grouse) plummets.”
“Don’t play fast and loose with the Endangered Species Act,” said Allison Jones, director of the nonprofit Wild Utah Project. If landowners work with the state’s current conservation plan, the sage grouse could remain off the endangered species list. “I want to see Morgan County stand with the governor and keep this bird off the endangered species list.”
Such cooperation is voluntary, she said, but the state has a lot of money to offer as an incentive to land owners.
Yaryca land owner Glen Burton said he is aware of the sage grouse on the property, but that the current conservation plan “does not apply to private property” unless a formal agreement is entered into. Landowner cooperation is voluntary as the sage grouse “is not an endangered species yet,” Burton said.
“The plan offers an incentive-based program to appeal to the landowners to contribute to the conservation of the species,” he said, noting that relocating the birds may be an option.
Those speaking in favor of sage grouse at the hearing disagree, saying studies show relocating sage grouse habitat simply doesn’t work.