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For Immediate Release, January 10, 2013

Contacts:  Megan Mueller, Rocky Mountain Wild, (303) 704-9760
Mark Salvo, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 757-4221
Joan May, Commissioner, San Miguel County, (970) 728-3844
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Gunnison Sage Grouse Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection
With More Than 1.7 Million Acres of Critical Habitat

GUNNISON, Colo.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act 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. The National Audubon Society has identified the bird as one of the 10 most endangered in the country, and the Endangered Species Coalition declared Gunnison sage grouse as one of the nation’s most imperiled species. Interior Secretary 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 made up of ranchers, developers, recreationists, land managers and conservationists have worked together and taken important steps toward conserving the 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 the animals.

“The Gunnison sage grouse is an important part of the web of the life in western Colorado,” said Megan Mueller, biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “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. 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 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 determined in April 2006 that Gunnison sage grouse were not warranted for listing under the Act. 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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