For Immediate Release, May 5, 2014

Contact:  Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 504-5660
Travis Bruner, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290

Fish and Wildlife Service Seeks Another Delay in Protection for Gunnison Sage Grouse

WASHINGTON— Bowing to political pressure from oil and gas and other industries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today sought another delay in Endangered Species Act protection for the critically imperiled Gunnison sage grouse. This is the fourth delay in the listing process for the species that the agency has requested since a pair of listing settlement agreements were approved in 2011. The latest delay, proposed to last until November, is intended to allow additional time to issue a less-protective listing rule for the bird.

The Gunnison sage grouse is one of the most critically endangered birds in the United States. The Fish and Wildlife Service has acknowledged for over 14 years that the species is in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act, but did not begin the listing process until after it entered into a pair of settlement agreements with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians in 2011.

“The Gunnison sage grouse needed protection 14 years ago, not another six-month delay — and certainly not a delay with the sole purpose of watering down protections,” said Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center. “It’s well past time for Fish and Wildlife’s foot-dragging to end. If the Gunnison sage grouse is to have any chance at survival, it needs firm protections immediately.”

Under the agreements the Service proposed protection for the species as endangered in January 2013 but the final protection decision has been delayed multiple times. The Service claims that the latest extension is necessary in order to have time to change the bird’s status from endangered to threatened and to reduce the scope of protections that the bird will receive. Most of the current populations of the birds are at imminent risk of being lost.

"While the Gunnison sage grouse heads toward extinction, political interests reign over conservation at the Service,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Delaying protection for the bird and its habitat for another six months just to water down protections might suit political interests but it does not suit the sage grouse.”

While the Gunnison sage grouse’s historic range may have included parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, the species now occurs only in seven small populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, with only about 4,000 breeding individuals remaining. Livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling, motorized recreation and urbanization have contributed to the long-term decline of the bird.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project works to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in the West through education, public policy initiatives and legal advocacy.

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