WASHINGTON (CN) – More than a dozen years after it was put on the candidate list, the Gunnison sage-grouse may get federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposal for endangered listing status. The USFWS also has proposed critical habitat for the grouse.
The Gunnison grouse was first designated as a candidate species with a listing priority number (LPN) of 5 in January 2000. In subsequent annual reviews, the LPN was elevated to 2 as the immediacy of the threats increased. The agency reversed itself in April 2006 and determined that listing the species was not warranted and removed it from the candidate list.
In November 2006, the County of San Miguel, Colo., the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), WildEarth Guardians and eight other environmental groups filed a complaint alleging the agency’s decision violated the Endangered Species Act.
In 2010, the agency determined the listing was warranted-but-precluded by higher listing priorities and put the birds back on the candidate list with an LPN of 2. An historic 2011 settlement pressed the agency to move forward with the listing.
The grouse is a large, ground-nesting bird known for its elaborate courtship dance and the booming calls of the males. “The Gunnison sage-grouse now occupies only approximately seven percent of its historic range. Approximately 5,000 breeding birds remain in sagebrush and adjacent meadow and streamside habitats in and around the Gunnison Basin in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah,” the agency said in it announcement.
“Gunnison sage grouse are among the most imperiled species in the United States,” the CBD said in a press release.
The bird is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation due development. Other threats include grazing, predation, genetic risks in the declining population, inadequate regulation, fire, climate change, and the combined interaction of fences, renewable and non-renewable energy development, piñon-juniper encroachment, water development, disease, drought and recreation, according to the rule.
“Six of the seven populations of Gunnison sage-grouse have population sizes low enough to induce inbreeding depression, and all seven may be losing their adaptive potential,” the agency said in the proposed listing rule.
In a separate action, the USFWS also proposed 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for the birds, the agency announced.
A final listing determination and critical habitat designation would result in restrictions on human activities only if an activity required federal actions, funding or permitting, the agency noted.
The agency requests comments by March 12.
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