[Federal Register: October 26, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 206)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 57620-57623]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-day Finding on 
a Petition to List the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse as Threatened

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding.


SUMMARY: The Service announces a 90-day finding for a petition to list 
the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus 
columbianus) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. We 
find that the petition presents substantial scientific and commercial 
information indicating that listing the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
may be warranted.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on October 14, 
1999. Send comments and information to us on or before December 27, 
1999, concerning this petition finding. We may not consider comments 
received after the above date in making a decision for the 12-month 

ADDRESSES: You may submit data, information, comments, or questions 
concerning this petition to the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 11103 East Montgomery Drive, Spokane, Washington 
99206. The

[[Page 57621]]

petition, administrative finding, supporting information, and comments 
received are available for public inspection, by appointment, during 
normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Christopher D. Warren, at the above 
address or call 509-891-6839.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act (Act), as amended 
(16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that we make a finding on whether a 
petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species as threatened or 
endangered presents substantial scientific or commercial information 
indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. We base the 
finding on all the information available to us at the time the finding 
is made. To the maximum extent practicable, we make the finding within 
90 days of receipt of the petition, and promptly publish the finding in 
the Federal Register. If we find that substantial information was 
presented, we must promptly commence a status review of the species.
    The processing of this administrative petition finding conforms 
with our current listing priority guidance (LPG) which was published, 
after opportunity for public comment, on May 8, 1998 (63 FR 25502). 
Because of budgetary constraints and the lasting effects of a 
congressionally imposed listing moratorium from April 1995 to April 
1996, we processed petitions and other listing actions according to the 
listing priority guidance published in the Federal Register on December 
5, 1996 (61 FR 64475). The guidance clarified the order in which we 
processed listing actions during fiscal year 1997. The guidance gives 
highest priority (Tier 1) to processing emergency rules to add species 
to the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants (Lists); 
second priority (Tier 2) to processing final determinations on 
proposals to add species to the Lists, processing new proposals to add 
species to the Lists, processing administrative findings on petitions 
(to add species to the Lists, delist species, or reclassify listed 
species), and processing a limited number of proposed or final rules to 
delist or reclassify species; and third priority (Tier 3) to processing 
proposed or final rules designating critical habitat. Processing of 
this petition is a Tier 2 action.
    A petition, dated March 14, 1995, was submitted by the Biodiversity 
Legal Foundation, Boulder, Colorado, and was received by us on March 
16, 1995. The petitioner requested that the Columbian sharp-tailed 
grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus) be listed as a threatened 
species throughout its historic range in the contiguous United States, 
and requested that critical habitat be designated for the species as 
soon as its biological needs are sufficiently well known. The 
petitioner also recommended a review of the species' status in British 
Columbia, Canada.
    Based on our review of the petition and the scientific and 
commercial information it presents, and other information available to 
us at this time, we have made a 90-day finding that the petition to 
list the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse presents substantial scientific 
and commercial information indicating that listing of the species may 
be warranted.
    The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse was identified as a category 2 
species in notices of review published in the Federal Register on 
January 6, 1989 (54 FR 560). At that time, a category 2 species was one 
that was being considered for possible addition to the Federal List of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife but for which conclusive data on 
biological vulnerability and threats were not available to support a 
proposed rule. Designation of category 2 status was discontinued in the 
February 28, 1996, notice of review (61 FR 7956). The Columbian sharp-
tailed grouse is not currently a candidate species. A candidate species 
is defined as a species for which we have on file sufficient 
information on biological vulnerability and threats to support issuance 
of a proposed rule.
    The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is one of six recognized 
subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse that occur in North America (Miller 
and Graul 1980). Historically, the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse range 
extended westward from the continental divide in Montana, Idaho, 
Wyoming, and Colorado to northeastern California and eastern Oregon and 
Washington; southward to northern Nevada and central Utah; and 
northward through central British Columbia.
    Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were once more abundant throughout 
their range where suitable habitats occurred (Hart et al.1950; Buss and 
Dziedzic 1955; Gruell circa 1960; Washington Division of Fish and 
Wildlife (WDFW) 1995). Excessive hunting in the mid- to late-19th 
century is thought to be a major contributing factor to the early 
extirpation of local populations and the initial reduction of the 
subspecies' range (Hart et al. 1950). Since the turn of the century, 
the conversion of native habitats to crop production and their 
degradation as a result of livestock grazing are thought to be the 
primary factors in further population declines and range reduction 
(Hart et al. 1950; Buss and Dziedzic 1955; Miller and Graul 1980; Marks 
and Marks 1987; Braun et al. 1994; WDFW 1995; McDonald and Reese 1998). 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were extirpated from California in the 
1920s, Nevada in the 1950s, and Oregon in the 1960s (Miller and Graul 
1980). On April 4, 1998, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission 
listed the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse as a threatened species in the 
State of Washington.
    Sharp-tailed grouse males employ elaborate courtship displays in 
the spring to attract females to central ``dancing grounds,'' called 
leks. Established leks may be used for many years, although their exact 
locations may shift over time and smaller satellite leks often form in 
the vicinity of historic leks. Interacting clusters of leks in a local 
area are defined as lek complexes (Schroeder et al. in press). Females 
typically nest and rear their broods within 1.6 kilometer (km) (1.0 
mile (mi)) of an active lek (Saab and Marks 1992; Giesen and Connelly 
1993). Spring-to-fall home range sizes of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
are relatively small, generally less than 2.0 square km (0.8 square 
mi), and the areas used are usually within a few kilometers of a lek. 
Seasonal movements to wintering areas from breeding grounds are 
typically less than 5 km (3.1 mi) (Giesen and Connelly 1993).
    The area within 2.5 km (1.6 mi) of a lek is believed to be critical 
to the management of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and this area should 
contain, or provide access to, suitable wintering habitats (Saab and 
Marks 1992; Giesen and Connelly 1993). Because of their importance, 
leks (including their surrounding area) may be viewed as the principal 
units affecting the demographics of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. 
Assemblages of the subspecies range from local populations (single leks 
to lek complexes), to metapopulations (a larger population made up of 
smaller, local breeding populations that have some genetic and 
ecological interactions among them).
    Based on a questionnaire distributed to recognized experts in 1979, 
respondents reported that Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occupied less 
than 10 percent of their former range in Idaho, Montana, Utah, and 
Wyoming; 10-50 percent in Colorado and Washington; and 80 percent or 
more in

[[Page 57622]]

British Columbia. The range-wide population estimate for the subspecies 
in 1979 was approximately 60,000-170,000 individuals, with roughly 60-
80 percent occurring in British Columbia (Miller and Graul 1980). A 
current estimate is approximately 34,000-70,000 individuals, with 
roughly 50-70 percent occurring in Idaho. Current estimates are based 
on information provided by recognized experts throughout the range of 
the subspecies (Chutter, British Columbia Ministry of Environment, 
Wildlife Branch, pers. comm. 1995; Hoffman, Colorado Division of 
Wildlife, pers. comm. 1995; Mathews, Oregon Department of Fish and 
Wildlife, pers. comm. 1998; Meints, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, 
pers. comm. 1995; Mitchell, Utah Department of Natural Resources, pers. 
comm. 1995; Sands, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, pers. comm. 1998; 
Schroeder, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, pers. comm. 
1998; Thier, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, pers. 
comm. 1998).
    Three metapopulations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse currently 
likely exist--one in northwestern Colorado/south-central Wyoming 
totaling approximately 6,000-8,000 birds, one in southeastern Idaho/
northern Utah totaling approximately 20,000-50,000 birds, and one in 
central British Columbia totaling 4,500-10,000 birds. To varying 
degrees, other population centers are comprised of both interacting and 
isolated local populations. These populations include approximately 600 
birds in south-central Idaho/northeastern Nevada, a small population of 
about 50 birds in northeastern Oregon, approximately 700 birds occur in 
scattered small populations in north-central Washington, and two small 
populations with about 50 birds each in Montana.
    Conversion of native habitats important to Columbian sharp-tailed 
grouse to crop production continues and are at risk from other 
activities including rural and suburban development, dam construction, 
mineral exploitation, chaining, herbicide spraying, and fire (Miller 
and Graul 1980; Wood 1991; Giesen and Connelly 1993). In addition, 
grazing practices within portions of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
range have degraded, or continue to degrade, native habitats (Hart et 
al. 1950; Miller and Graul 1980; Wood 1992; Giesen and Connelly 1993).
    Most of the areas that are currently or may potentially be used by 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occur on privately owned lands. Some 
large portions of these privately owned lands have withdrawn from crop 
production and planted native and non-native cover under the Federal 
Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Reserve Program 
(CRP), established in 1985 (USDA 1998). CRP lands have become important 
to Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and 
Washington (Hoffman, pers. comm. 1998; Mathews, pers. comm. 1998; 
Meints, pers. comm. 1995; Mitchell, pers. comm. 1995; Schroeder, pers. 
comm. 1995). A number of CRP contracts have expired since 1995, and 
more are scheduled to expire from now through 2002. While new contracts 
for CRP lands continue to be accepted and some expired contracts have 
been renewed, it is unclear what effects these changes have had, or 
will have, on Columbian sharp-tailed grouse populations. If CRP lands 
important to Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are put back into crop 
production, adverse impacts to the subspecies' populations will likely 
    Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are currently hunted in Colorado 
(Hoffman, pers. comm. 1998), Idaho (Meints, pers. comm. 1995), and 
British Columbia (Chutter, pers. comm. 1995). Considering the most 
recent estimates, annual harvest rates in Idaho range from 
approximately 10-30 percent (approximately 6,500 birds) of the total 
population during the hunting season in Idaho (Meints, pers. comm. 
1995). Reliable estimates of harvest rates in Colorado are not 
available but are likely less than 10 percent of the total estimated 
population (Hoffman, pers. comm. 1998). Harvest rates in British 
Columbia may approach 50 percent in some years (Chutter, pers. comm 
1995; Ritcey 1995). There may be localized negative impacts to small 
populations occupying relatively small sites. Also, both incidental and 
illegal take of the subspecies may occur, especially in areas hunted 
extensively for other upland game species (Hart et al. 1950; Miller and 
Graul 1980). However, for relatively large, stable populations of 
upland birds under managed conditions, hunting is not likely to have an 
additive effect over natural mortality (Braun et al. 1994). In 1994, 
the State of Wyoming banned hunting of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
based on estimates indicating that populations of this subspecies were 
    Reintroduction efforts for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occurred 
in Washington (Schroeder, pers. comm. 1998), Montana (Their, pers. 
comm. 1998), Oregon (Mathews, pers. comm. 1998), and Idaho (Meints, 
pers. comm. 1995). Additional reintroduction efforts are planned for 
California, Oregon, and Washington (Meints, pers. comm. 1995; Sands, 
pers. comm. 1995; Schroeder, pers. comm. 1998). Past reintroduction 
efforts have failed to produce self-sustaining populations or increase 
the size or distribution of augmented populations (Toepfer et al. 
1990). However, recent efforts indicate greater potential for success 
as reintroduction techniques have improved (Toepfer et al. 1990; 
Meints, pers. comm. 1998).
    The fragmented and isolated nature of many populations of Columbian 
sharp-tailed grouse are a concern for the subspecies throughout 
portions of its range. Naturally occurring impacts and human influences 
may pose additional threats to these isolated populations. Such events 
may include drought, fire, inclement weather, accidents, cultivation 
practices, and recreation activities (Hart et al. 1950; Rogers 1969; 
WDFW 1995; Mitchell, pers. comm. 1995).
    The lack of sufficient data with respect to the genetic integrity 
of the subspecies' populations is also a concern (Saab and Marks 1992). 
The deleterious effects of inbreeding and the changes in gene 
frequencies may pose long-term threats to small, isolated populations, 
and a reduction in fitness in the hybrid progeny, or later descendants, 
of crosses between members of different populations may be a concern 
for reintroduction efforts.
    The larger populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse made up of 
smaller, local breeding populations that have the same genetic and 
ecological interactions among them are at relatively low risk to single 
or even multiple altering events. This is because other population 
segments within the affected area may provide specimens to recolonize 
impacted sites, or alternate areas of suitable habitat may exist to 
allow emigration of affected populations to adjust to the events. 
However, isolated, local and regional populations could be at risk from 
naturally occurring random events or human-influenced events. 
Conservation or reestablishment of these populations may require 
intensive management efforts (Toepfer et al. 1990).
    We have reviewed the petition, literature cited in the petition, 
other available literature and information, and consulted with 
biologists and researchers familiar with the Columbian sharp-tailed 
grouse. Based on the best scientific and commercial information 
available, we find that the petition presents substantial information 
to indicate that listing the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse throughout 

[[Page 57623]]

historic range in the contiguous United States may be warranted.
    In making this finding, we recognize that there have been declines 
in Columbian sharp-tailed grouse populations because of habitat loss 
and degradation. The loss and degradation of habitat is due to any one 
or a combination of factors including crop production, livestock 
grazing, rural and suburban development, dam construction, herbicide 
spraying, fire, recreation, and other factors. The petition presented 
evidence that isolated local and regional populations of this 
subspecies are at risk. We also recognize that many states in which 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occur are attempting to restore the birds 
by relocating birds to unoccupied habitats and/or actively managing for 
them to improve their overall population status.
    When making a positive 90-day finding on a petition, we are 
required to promptly commence a review of the status of the species. In 
the case of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, we are requesting 
information on the status of the species throughout its range in the 
contiguous United States and Canada. We solicit information regarding 
occurrence and distribution of the species; threats to its continued 
existence; and any additional comments and suggestions from the public, 
other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific community, 
industry, or any other interested parties concerning the status of the 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. Of particular interest is information 
regarding: (1) Population status and trends; (2) Extent of 
fragmentation and isolation of population segments; (3) Significance of 
discrete population segments; and, (4) Ongoing management measures that 
may be important with regard to the conservation of Columbia sharp-
tailed grouse.
    In regard to the petitioner's request that critical habitat be 
designated for the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, the designation of 
critical habitat is not a petitionable action under the Act. If our 12-
month finding indicates that the petitioned action to list the 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is warranted, then any subsequent 
proposed rule will address any designation of critical habitat.
    After consideration of additional information submitted during the 
indicated time period (see DATES section), we will prepare a 12-month 
finding as to whether listing of the species is warranted.

References Cited

Braun, C.E., K.M. Giesen, R.W. Hoffman, T.E. Remington, and W.D. 
Snyder. 1994. Upland Bird Management Analysis Guide, 1994-1998. Div. 
Report No. 19, Colorado Division of Wildlife. 1-39 pp.
Buss, I.O. and E.S. Dziedzic. 1955. Relation of Cultivation to the 
Disappearance of the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse from Southeastern 
Washington. Condor. 57:185-187.
Giesen, K.M. and J.W. Connelly. 1993. Guidelines for Management of 
Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Habitats. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 21:325-
Gruell, G. circa 1960. Various unpublished interviews with long-time 
residents conducted by Wildlife Management Biologist George Gruell, 
on file.
Hart, C.M., O.S. Lee, and J.B. Low. 1950. The Sharp-tailed Grouse in 
Utah--Its Life History, Status, and Management. Pub. no. 3, Utah 
State Dept. of Fish and Game.
Marks, J.S. and V.S. Marks. 1987. Habitat selection by Columbian 
Sharp-tailed Grouse in West-central Idaho. Bureau of Land Management 
Report, Boise, Idaho. 115 pp.
McDonald, M.W. and K.P. Reese. 1998. Landscape Changes Within the 
Historical Distribution of Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse in Eastern 
Washington: Is There Hope? Northwest Bioscience 72:34-41.
Miller, G.C. and W.D. Graul. 1980. Status of Sharp-tailed Grouse in 
North America. Pages 18-28 in P.A. Bohs and F.L. Knopf, eds., Proc. 
of the Prairie Grouse Symp., Oklahoma State Univ., Stillwater.
Ritcey, R. 1995. Status of the Sharp-tailed Grouse in British 
Columbia. Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks--Wildlife 
Branch, Victoria, B.C. Wildlife Working Report No. WR-70. 40 pp.
Rogers, G.E. 1969. The Sharp-tailed Grouse in Colorado. Tech. Publ. 
no. 23, Colorado Div. of Game, Fish, and Parks. 94 pp.
Saab, V.A. and J.S. Marks. 1992. Summer Habitat Use by Columbian 
Sharp-tailed Grouse in Western Idaho. Great Basin Naturalist. 
Schroeder, M.A., D. Hays, J. Pierce, and S. Judd. In press. 
Distribution and Status of Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse in 
Washington. Draft on file. 8 pp.
Toepfer, J.E., R.L. Eng, and R.K. Anderson. 1990. Translocating 
Prairie Grouse: What Have We Learned? Trans. 55th N.A. Wildl. and 
Nat. Res. Conf. 569-579 pp.
USDA. 1998. The Conservation Reserve Program: 16th Signup. January 
29, 1998 Report by the Farm Service Agency. 249 pp.
WDFW. 1995. Washington State Management Plan for Columbian Sharp-
tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus): draft. Game 
Div., Wash. Dept. Fish and Wildl., Olympia. 94 pp.
Wood, M.A. 1991. Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Mitigation 
Implementation Plan for Western Montana. Report by the Montana Dept. 
of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. 24 pp.
______. 1992. Northwest Montana Wildlife Mitigation Program--Habitat 
Protection Project. Report by the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, 
and Parks. 14 pp.

    Author: The primary author of this notice is Christopher D. Warren, 
Upper Columbia River Basin Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(see ADDRESSES section).

    Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered 
Species Act, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) .

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
record keeping requirements, and Transportation.

    Dated: October 14, 1999.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 99-27851 Filed 10-25-99; 8:45 am]