DOW stretched thin; site reviews suffer
SUMMIT COUNTY – Wildlife biologists with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) will no longer review all development sites for potential impacts on wildlife habitats.
The DOW is the only agency that reviews development proposals for wildlife impacts, but its biologists are too busy to review all proposals, especially sites that are five acres and smaller, said DOW spokesman Todd Malmsbury. In Summit County, between 10 and 125 residences could be built on five acres.
“Our officers are stretched so thin, plus we have vacancies we’re trying to fill. There’s still a tremendous amount of (development) activity going on in Colorado,” said Malmsbury, adding that some locations, especially the smaller development sites, do not need DOW comments.
Summit County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom said he recently learned of the new policy during a visit with longtime DOW wildlife biologist for Summit County, Tom Kroening.
Previously, Kroening would visit all development sites across the county before elected officials voted whether to approve a project. Kroening told developers and planners what impacts a development would have on wildlife, and often recommended mitigation efforts.
Depending on schedules, the DOW will still review in detail some development proposals larger than five acres.
Although the DOW will still receive all development proposals from local planning departments, biologists will merely glance at most projects, especially the smaller sites. It’s typically easy to tell whether any endangered species are on a site.
Most of the development proposals currently under review in Summit County are on less than five acres, Lindstrom said. Developers who want to build a project or change the zoning on properties must go through a review process. Planners review water supply, traffic impacts, zoning compatibility, affect on neighboring properties and a host of other issues.
“With the lower activity levels on construction, this will have less of an impact right now. Until activity picks up again, then it will have more of an impact,” Lindstrom said.
Summit County planners are currently reviewing six development proposals, said Jim Curnutte, director of county planning. To comply with Summit County master plan guidelines, the county requires comments from the DOW on every proposal.
“This decision really does go against our intent of that development code. Summit County really values our natural environment and the wildlife habitats which provide economic, environmental and aesthetic benefits to residents and visitors,” Curnutte said. “This idea of not getting professional analysis of wildlife habitat seems like a step in the wrong direction.”
Curnutte said he wonders whether the DOW regional manager will review a 15-residence proposal on seven acres. There are wetlands on the site.
Counties experiencing high growth rates several years ago began receiving “no comment” responses from the DOW on sites near urban and suburban areas. Many of the “no comment” sites were near existing development.
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