On March 13, 2011, it was reported that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) is authorized to prepare a new proposed rule and proposed critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus). This news follows a September 27, 2010 decision (PDF) by the Service that, although the Gunnison sage-grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), protection would be delayed while the Service addressed the needs of other high priority species.
The Gunnison sage-grouse is a small ground bird with speckled plumage and an ornate mating ritual. The historic distribution of the species included southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, and northwestern New Mexico. Today, there are approximately 5,000 breeding individuals in seven separate populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. The largest of those populations consists of about 4,000 birds inhabiting the Gunnison Basin. Predation and the fragmentation and loss of habitat due to human activity are among the primary factors contributing to the bird’s declining populations.
If the Service decides to list the Gunnison sage-grouse, it will mark the end of a decade-long effort to list the species under the ESA. The Gunnison sage-grouse was originally placed on the candidate species list in January 2000 shortly before the Service received a petition (PDF) to list the species. Now that resources have become available and it has approval, the Service will prepare a proposed rule using data about the species and its habitat. After publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register and a 60-day public comment period, the Service will have one year to make a final decision whether to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. It was reported that the Service would designate critical habitat at the same time it issued a listing decision.