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San Francisco Chronicle, January 12, 2013

UT officials disappointed with sage grouse plan

By Miyoko Sakashita

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah officials are disappointed with a federal proposal to protect the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah.

Only about 120 of the birds exist in Utah, where a conservation effort on their behalf has been under way since the mid-1990s in San Juan County.

Kevin Bunnell, wildlife section chief of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, told the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/13niSup ) that the state did everything it could to preclude a listing under the Endangered Species Act.

"We are never pleased to see a listing in this state because it takes management away from our state government and puts it in the hands of the federal government," he said. "It is hard to see how much more can be done than what has been done."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating 1.7 million acres in Colorado and Utah as critical habitat for the bird, saying the species is in danger of extinction. The designation sometimes, but not always, means restrictions on human activities on that land.

The vast majority of the acreage would be in Colorado, where fewer than 4,600 of the birds are believed to exist.

A range-wide conservation plan adopted by both Utah and Colorado has worked to set aside land for the bird.

In San Juan County, $1.2 million in state and federal funds has been spent on a conservation plan involving 32,667 acres. Ninety-five percent of the bird's habitat is located on private land in the county.

County commission Chairman Bruce Adams said he's worried about the listing's impacts on private landowners.

Biologists believe the bird has lost 90 percent of its historic habitat and now exists in only seven distinct populations.

Monitoring by Utah biologists from 1972 to 1999 — based on counts of breeding pairs in San Juan County — showed declines in populations by as much as 75 percent.

Habitat fragmentation spurred by increased roads and other human activity has been identified as a key factor compromising the bird's ability to survive.

"We are thrilled that the Gunnison sage grouse is finally getting the protection it needs to survive," said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton