For Immediate Release, November 20, 2014
||Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 504-5660
Travis Bruner, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290
Lawsuit Launched to Strengthen Protections for Gunnison Sage Grouse
Down to 7 Percent of Historic Range and Declining, Grouse Needs Stronger Federal Protection
WASHINGTON— Conservation groups today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision to designate the Gunnison sage grouse as a “threatened” rather than “endangered” species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency’s less protective designation allows it to craft a rule creating broad exemptions for continued oil and gas development and other activities that threaten the grouse, which was originally proposed as an endangered species in January 2013 but formally listed as threatened in a rule published only today.
“Before this stunning reversal, the Fish and Wildlife Service had recognized the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species for 14 years,” said Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The reversal is not based on more grouse in more places but rather on vague promises by those with a direct stake in destroying the grouse's habitat. This is just too much of a fox guarding the henhouse situation.”
The Gunnison sage grouse’s total range has declined to 7 percent of its historic range, with most of the remaining populations in danger of disappearing. The Service has acknowledged for 14 years the species is in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act.
“The Gunnison sage grouse is in fact an endangered species,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “For it to have any chance at survival, the Gunnison sage grouse needs the full protections of the Endangered Species Act.”
The Gunnison sage grouse’s historic range included parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, but 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 ongoing decline of the bird.
“The efforts by Governor Hickenlooper and others to conserve the Gunnison sage grouse are a step in the right direction, but full protection is needed in order to save this charismatic bird, and that’s why we’re taking this to court,” said Atwood.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 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.