Gunnison Sage Grouse Gets Another Chance at Protection

For Immediate Release

Environmental Groups
Contact: 

Kirsten Stade [PEER] (202) 265-7337; Becky King, [San Miguel County] (970) 728-3879; Amy Atwood [Center for Biological Diversity] (541) 914-8372; Mark Salvo [WildEarth Guardians] (503) 757-4221

Gunnison Sage Grouse Gets Another Chance at Protection

Most Populations Declined Again in 2009

TELLURIDE, Colo. - A western Colorado county and a coalition of national and regional
environmental organizations have agreed to settle a lawsuit against the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service challenging an April 2006 decision not
to list the highly imperiled Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered
Species Act. The agreement, which was filed yesterday in U.S. District
Court in Washington, D.C., requires the agency to prepare a new listing
decision by June 30, 2010.

The agency determined in
March that its April 18, 2006, denial of Endangered Species Act
protection to Gunnison sage grouse was tainted by interference by
former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald and
other Bush Administration officials.

"We are eager to
secure protection for the Gunnison sage grouse as soon as possible.
Long-term viability of the species is unquestionably at risk now, and
every additional delay decreases the likelihood of full recovery," said
Commissioner Joan May of San Miguel County, Colorado.

The
settlement follows discouraging news this spring: annual counts
revealed that all but two populations of Gunnison sage-grouse continued
to decline in 2009.  Some populations have been reduced to fewer than
10 birds.

"Endangered wildlife like Gunnison sage-grouse
deserve a fair chance at protection," said Erin Robertson, Senior Staff
Biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems in Denver.  "After years of
political interference, it is time for a speedy, unbiased decision that
will provide the Gunnison sage grouse the help it needs.

Audubon
has identified Gunnison sage-grouse as among the ten most endangered
birds in the United States.  The Endangered Species Coalition also
released a report last December listing Gunnison sage-grouse as one of
the most imperiled species in the country.  Secretary of the Interior
Ken Salazar released a report in March, The State of the Birds 2009,
that found that western deserts and grasslands-home to Gunnison sage
grouse and other sensitive species-are among the most degraded habitats
in the country. 

"We are keen to have federal
protections in place, not only to protect this species in serious
decline but also an important native landscape of the west that serves
as its habitat," said Hilary White, Director of the Sheep Mountain
Alliance.

In addition to San Miguel County and the Sheep
Mountain Alliance, organizations seeking to list Gunnison sage grouse
under the ESA include (in alphabetical order) Audubon, the Black Canyon
Audubon Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for
Native Ecosystems, The Larch Company, Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER), and WildEarth Guardians. The
coalition is represented by attorneys with the Center for Biological
Diversity, San Miguel County, and Western Environmental Law Center. 

"Gunnison
sage grouse populations and habitat conditions have worsened in recent
years," said Mark Salvo, Sagebrush Sea Campaign Director for WildEarth
Guardians.  "Listing would help recover the species."

The
Gunnison sage grouse is distinct from greater sage grouse, identified
by researchers as early as the 1970s and recognized as a new species by
the American Ornithologists' Union in 2000.  While its historic range
may have included parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, the
species now occurs only in eight small populations in southwestern
Colorado and southeastern Utah.  Gunnison sage-grouse have experienced
significant declines from historic numbers and only about 4,000
breeding individuals remain.  Livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling,
motorized recreation, and urbanization have contributed to the
long-term decline of Gunnison sage grouse.

"If the
agency makes a new decision based on science and not politics, our
children and grandchildren may be able to see this iconic species in
the wild," said Amy Atwood, senior attorney at the Center for
Biological Diversity.

 

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