Endangered Species Act Protection is Proposed for Gunnison Sage-Grouse

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Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its proposal to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and to provide 1.7 million acres of critical habitat in Colorado and Utah.

Read the proposed listing rule.

Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) has a more restricted range than the closely-related Greater sage-grouse (C. urophasianus), but both birds face the same threats from livestock grazing: livestock eat the plants that sage-grouse depend on and permanently alter sage-grouse habitat. The proposed ESA listing for the Gunnison sage-grouse describes the damaging effects livestock grazing has on the species, including enabling invasive species infestations, adding fences and other destructive infrastructure, directly trampling nests and causing nest abandonment, increasing predation and decreasing successful reproduction.

Under a settlement agreement with conservation groups, the FWS has until October 2013 to finalize its protection for the Gunnison sage-grouse. Unfortunately, that same agreement specifies that FWS can stall until 2015 to protect the Greater sage-grouse. It’s an unnecessary delay, and the Gunnison’s listing shows that the agency already knows how the ground-dwelling birds are harmed by actions in their habitats.

The proposed listing rule also describes the process by which the federal land management agencies evaluate livestock impacts– or not. As Western Watersheds Project well knows, insufficient and ineffective agency oversight is dooming these birds on the public lands that compose most of the species’ habitat. By relying on the agencies to do the right thing, we fear the FWS is placing a losing bet on the future of the sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem.

Allowing for the voluntary permanent retirement of public lands grazing permits is one way to ensure the sage-grouse will get the reprieve it needs from livestock. Western Watersheds Project will continue its work to encourage enabling legislation for the long-term protection of the sagebrush sea and its species across the West.

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