U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Protects Gunnison Sage-Grouse as Threatened Under Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the Gunnison sage-grouse, a ground-dwelling bird found only in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species.

For Immediate Release

November 12, 2014

DENVER, Colo. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has determined that the Gunnison sage-grouse, a ground-dwelling bird found only in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a threatened species. 

The Service originally proposed to list the species as ‘endangered’ under the ESA in January 2013, but efforts by the two states, tribes, local communities, private landowners and other stakeholders to conserve the species and its habitat have helped reduce the threats to the bird sufficiently to give it the more flexibly protected status of ‘threatened.’ The Service’s efforts to work with plaintiffs to extend the court settlement deadline to allow more time for development of conservation commitments by counties and states were unsuccessful, and therefore the agency must proceed with this listing and critical habitat designation today.

Today’s listing decision will have no impact upon many of the area’s agricultural landowners.  Those who previously entered into agreements known as ‘Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances’ need only to continue to abide by those agreements in order to fully comply with the ESA.  Other landowners who participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service programs including the ‘Sage-Grouse Initiative, ‘Working Lands for Wildlife’ and the ‘Conservation Reserve Program,’ can continue to implement the practices covered by those programs with the knowledge that they will be consistent with the ESA.

In addition, because the Service has determined that the species is ‘threatened’, instead of ‘endangered’ the ESA provides the Service the flexibility to tailor the conservation measures needed to protect the species through a special 4(d) rule, which it intends to propose in early 2015 to allow still other ranchers, farmers and other landowners who commit to Gunnison sage-grouse conservation to continue to manage their lands without additional restrictions.

"USDA's partnerships with farmers and ranchers in voluntary efforts such as the ‘Sage Grouse Initiative’ and the ‘Conservation Reserve Program’ are helping to support both sound wildlife habitat management and agricultural production," said Jason Weller, Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief. "By harnessing innovative approaches included in today's announcement, USDA is committed to working with producers to voluntarily plan and deliver conservation activities that will help them be productive and give them certainty that they are in compliance with the ESA.”

"While many people hoped that the extraordinary conservation efforts by our partners in Colorado and Utah would resolve all the threats faced by the Gunnison sage-grouse, the best available science indicates that the species still requires the Act's protection," said Service Director Dan Ashe. "This is a work in progress, however, and we will continue to join our partners in protecting and restoring the rangelands with the hope that, in the near future, the Gunnison sage-grouse will no longer need additional protection."

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The Service's final listing and critical habitat rules, and additional information about the Gunnison sage-grouse are available here.