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Gunnison Sage-Grouse "gets the nod" from USFWS - now legally protected as threatened


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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The species, which was first recognized in 2000 (Young, J.R. et al. 2000), has never enjoyed protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act because that statute protects only species listed in the Conventions (treaties) between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, and Russia. The Phasianidae (grouse, ptarmigan, and turkeys) were not listed in those Conventions and were therefore not subject to federal protection.

About 5,000 Gunnison Sage-Grouse remain in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah.

"We believe the best science available points to the conclusion that the bird, while not facing extinction ... is still likely to face extinction in the future," said Dan Ashe, the agency's director. According to the official notice published by the USFWS, the Service originally proposed to list the species as ‘endangered’ under the ESA in January 2013, but efforts by the two states, tribes, local communities, private landowners and other stakeholders to conserve the species and its habitat have helped reduce the threats to the bird sufficiently to give it the more flexibly protected status of ‘threatened.’ The USFWS had hoped to for an extension of a court-ordered settlement deadline to allow more time for development of conservation commitments by counties and states agency must proceed with this listing and critical habitat designation. 

About 1.4 million acres will be designated as the species' critical habitat, Ashe said.  However, the USFWS will propose a 4(d) rule, which would tailor restrictions to only those that are necessary for the conservation of the species. Such a rule may exempt from ESA restrictions a number of ongoing activities, including properly managed livestock and ranching activities; routine agricultural practices on existing row crops, hay fields, and pastures; habitat improvement or protection projects conducted under the federal ‘Sage-Grouse Initiative’ or ‘Conservation Reserve Program’; and limited expansion of existing agricultural, residential and commercial facilities.

This proposed rule, if adopted, would be finalized in 2015.

 

Literature cited

Young, J.R., C.E. Braun, S.J. Oyler-McCance, J.W. Hupp, and T.W. Quinn. 2000. A new species of sage grouse (Phasianidae: Centrocercus) from southwestern Colorado. Wilson Bulletin 112(4);445-453.

 

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