Gunnison sage grouse decision postponed

Fish & Wildlife Service to consider more information

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Map courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a six month extension for a final decision on a proposed rule to provide Endangered Species Act protection for the Gunnison sage-grouse.

If given ESA protection, the ground bird will also be granted designated critical habitat areas in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Much of the critical habitat is on private land, potentially limiting landowner activities that might harm the bird or its habitat.

The Service is delaying action in response to additional scientific information recently received in public comments before making a final determination.

Public on the proposal is extended until Sept. 3, and a final decision on officially listing the bird onto the endangered species list is expected by March 31, 2014.

“We heard loud and clear from many people invested in Gunnison sage-grouse conservation that there is additional scientific information we should consider during our decision-making process,” said Noreen Walsh, USFW mountain region director. “In order to consider that information and make use of the best available science, we are extending the timeline on our final decision on how to best conserve this important sagebrush species.”

During the first public comment period, the Service received information indicating substantial disagreement regarding the interpretation of scientific literature, and sources that may not have been fully considered. This information includes Gunnison sage-grouse population trends, the scope of and effectiveness of Gunnison County’s regulatory mechanisms in addressing threats to Gunnison sage-grouse, projections about the extent of future residential development within the range of species, and what constitutes historical habitat and important current habitat for the species.

“There has been some substantial disagreement on population and critical habitat areas,” said Patty Gelatt, a supervisor for the USFW service. “People feel we overestimated population and misinterpreted what is historical habitat, so we extended the decision to consider these comments.”

Historic populations of the bird are estimated in the hundreds of thousands but have recently been reduced to some 4,600 birds. The survivors are in the neighborhood, living in seven locations totaling one million acres in western Colorado and eastern Utah. The majority of the birds live in the Gunnison Basin and have a stable population there, due in part to significant local government efforts.

Gelatt said that six satellite populations have been in decline in the past twelve years, including the Dove Creek/Monticello, Pinon Ridge (Grand Junction), San Miguel, Cimarron-Sims Mesa, Crawford, and Poncha Pass populations.

In 2001, there were 350 birds in the Dove Creek/Monticello region. That dropped to 162 birds in 2007, and declined again to 147 birds in 2012, according to the Service documents.

Details regarding the information the Service is seeking are available in the notice announcing this extension, which was published July 19 in the Federal Register. Copies of this notice and the proposed rules are on the internet at http://www.regulations.gove at Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2012-0108 for the proposed endangered status for Gunnison sage-grouse; or Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111 for the proposed designation of critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse. Copies of the extension notice and the proposed rules are also available at http://www/fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/birds/gunnisonsagegrouse/

Anyone wishing to submit comments may do so by one of the following methods:

1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov In the search box, enter the appropriate Docket No: Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2-12-0108 for the proposed endangered status for Gunnison sage-grouse; or Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111 for the proposed designation of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse. Then in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under Document Type Heading, check on the Proposed Rules link to locate the proposed rule. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”

2. By hard copy: For the proposed endangered status for Gunnison sage-grouse, submit by U.S. mail or hand delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203

The Service will post all coments on http://www.regulations.gov; this generally includes any personal information provided to the Service with the comments.