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Gunnison Sage-grouse Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection with More than 1.7 Million Acres of Critical Habitat

Habitat Loss, Degradation Threaten Species

Additional Contacts:

Megan Mueller, Rocky Mountain Wild ● 303-704-9760
Commissioner Joan May, San Miguel County ● 970-728-3844
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity ● 503-484-7495

Gunnison, CO - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to designate more than 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for the species. Conservation organizations first petitioned to protect the species in 2000.

“The Gunnison sage-grouse might finally get the protection it deserves,” said Mark Salvo, Wildlife Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Federal listing will buttress efforts to conserve the species.”

Gunnison sage-grouse are among the most imperiled species in the United States. Audubon has identified the bird as one of the ten most endangered in the country. The Endangered Species Coalition also declared Gunnison sage-grouse as one of the most imperiled species in the nation. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's status report, “The State of the Birds 2009,” found that western deserts and grasslands—home to Gunnison sage-grouse and other sensitive wildlife—are among the most degraded habitats in the country.

Local groups comprised of ranchers, developers, recreationists, land managers and conservationists have worked together and taken important steps towards conserving Gunnison sage-grouse by protecting and restoring habitat. The decision to protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act makes additional federal funding available so that local working groups can expand their efforts to put working farms and ranches under conservation easements and restore wildlife habitat to benefit Gunnison sage-grouse.

“The Gunnison sage-grouse is an important part of the web of the life in Western Colorado.  Endangered Species Act protection for sage-grouse will help protect not only this fascinating bird, but also habitat for other wildlife, including elk, deer and antelope,” said Megan Mueller, biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “We have a responsibility to leave the world a better place for future generations and that means being good stewards of the land and protecting habitat for all wildlife.”

The Gunnison sage-grouse is distinct from greater sage-grouse, identified by researchers as early as the 1970s and recognized as a new species by the American Ornithologists' Union in 2000. While its historic range may have included parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, the species now occurs only in eight small populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Gunnison sage-grouse have experienced significant declines from historic numbers and only about 4,000 breeding individuals remain.

“Gunnison sage grouse are finally getting the protection they desperately need to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.  “This unique and beautiful bird needs a safe haven from urban sprawl and urban sprawl and other threats.”

Biologists have found that safeguards must be put in place to protect more of the best remaining sage-grouse habitat, and that better stewardship is needed to restore habitat that has been degraded by poorly managed grazing, motorized recreation and other land uses.  

The Fish and Wildlife Service previously determined that Gunnison sage-grouse were not warranted for listing under the ESA in April 2006. However, upon further review, the agency agreed to promulgate a new listing decision in 2010. The Service then struck separate settlement agreements with WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity that scheduled either a proposed listing decision or “not warranted” determination for 2012, and a final decision by October 2013.  




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