WASHINGTON— Bowing to political pressure, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated the Gunnison sage grouse as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act instead of the more protective “endangered” status proposed in January 2013. Downgrading the grouse to “threatened” will let the agency propose a special pro-industry rule to continue allowing activities threatening the grouse’s habitat, including oil and gas development, livestock grazing and urban sprawl. The grouse has been recognized as endangered since 2000 and is at severe risk of extinction.
“The undeniable reality is that the Gunnison sage grouse is in on the verge of disappearing forever,” said Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It needs the full suite of legal protections that only recognition as an endangered species can provide.”
The Gunnison sage grouse’s range has declined to 7 percent of its historic range with most of the remaining populations in grave danger. The Service has acknowledged for 14 years the species needs protection under the Endangered Species Act but, following years of political interference, did not begin the listing process until after it entered into a pair of settlement agreements with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians in 2011.
“The Gunnison sage grouse has been recognized as endangered for 14 years and nothing the Fish and Wildlife Service has said today makes that any less true,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “This decision suggests that the Fish and Wildlife Service, in contradiction with its mandate, has placed other priorities above protection of the Gunnison sage grouse.”
The listing process for the Gunnison sage is being handled by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region, located in Denver, which has repeatedly bowed to political pressure in recent months, having denied much-needed Endangered Species Act protection to the Montana grayling, wolverine and two Rocky Mountain plants.
“The efforts by agencies, counties, and the State of Colorado to conserve the Gunnison sage grouse are a step in the right direction, but full protection is needed in order to save this charismatic bird,” said Atwood.
The Gunnison sage grouse’s historic range included parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, but the species now occurs only in seven small populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, with only about 4,700 individuals remaining. Livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling, motorized recreation and urbanization have contributed to the ongoing decline of the bird.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Western Watersheds Project works to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in the West through education, public policy initiatives and legal advocacy.