On March 13, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) extended (pdf) the public comment period for two proposed rules relating to the Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus). As we previously reported, the Service published a proposed rule to list the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in January. In conjunction with that proposed rule, the Service also proposed to designate approximately 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for the species in Colorado and Utah. The 60-day public comment period for these two proposed rules was scheduled to end March 12, 2013, but the Service received several requests to extend the period to ensure that the public had an adequate opportunity to review and comment on the proposed rules. The public comment period is now open until April 2, 2013.
Among those requesting extension of the comment period were congressional leaders in Colorado and Utah, who sent a letter to the Service’s regional director requesting the Service extend the period 60 days because of the "great interest and concern" among the communities they represent. Of particular concern to the lawmakers was the critical habitat designation because it could impact a host of land uses on both public and private land, including the development of mineral resources.
While the Service extended the public comment period for the two proposed rules, the extension fell short of the 60 days requested by the congressional leaders. As we previously reported, the Service is under a deadline imposed through a legal settlement with WildEarth Guardians to review and address the needs of more than 250 species listed as candidate species for protection under the ESA, including the Gunnison sage-grouse. The deadline for review of the Gunnison sage-grouse is September 30, 2013. With the public comment period extended for only three weeks – to April 2nd – the Service indicates it intends to issue its final determinations with respect to the proposed rules by the agreed upon deadline.