The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced today that the Gunnison sage-grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act as threatened throughout its range. This decision was based on a comprehensive status review which found there was “sufficient scientific and commercial data to propose listing.”
Recognized as separate species from Greater Sage-grouse in 2000, the smaller-bodied Gunnison sage-grouse is found only in southwestern Colorado and extreme southeastern Utah. This species is extremely challenged by low numbers and disparate populations, of which only one is doing well.
“Management challenges for a bird that numbers so few can seem daunting for those looking in from the outside and frustrating to those that are dealing with it every day. But one thing that I cannot over-emphasize is the power of people coming together,” states Brian Rutledge, Policy Advisor for National Audubon Society. “While always unfortunate for any species to require federal protection, Audubon commends the work that has been put forward by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and especially the innovative approaches pursued by local governments and landowners in Gunnison Basin, where a vast majority (88%) of the range-wide population and nearly two-thirds (63%) of the occupied habitat are found."
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE GREATER SAGE-GROUSE
Greater Sage-grouse populations and habitat potentials across their range are stronger. There is still time to put together strong state and federal agency plans before the September 2015 deadline. With these in place we are being proactive and avoiding the need for federal intervention as we see today with the Gunnison Sage-grouse.
“While we remain optimistic that Gunnison Sage-grouse will have its threats addressed and become a state-managed species again, we must continue to work together and find solutions that ensure Greater Sage-grouse remain a state-managed species.” says Rutledge.
Grouse are an indicator species, as their presence reflects the overall health of the shrub-steppe habitat.
“I’ve dedicated many years of work on behalf of grouse because we as westerners benefit spiritually and economically from being able to go out to that open country – to breathe in that crisp air, see those robust mule deer herds, and hear the call of the Green-tailed Towhee,” says Rutledge. “Long after I’m gone, I’d like my grandkids to be able to quietly sit and see for themselves the elaborate spring mating displays of both the Gunnison and Greater Sage-grouse males attracting females.”