[Federal Register: October 11, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 197)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 60391-60396]
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; 12-Month Finding 
for a Petition To List the Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse as Threatened

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 12-month petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce a 12-month 
finding for a petition to list Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
(Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus) throughout its known historic 
range in the 48 contiguous United States under the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended. We have reviewed the petition, information 
available in our files, other published and unpublished information 
submitted to us during the public comment period following the 90-day 
petition finding, consulted with recognized prairie grouse experts, and 
coordinated with other Federal, State, and tribal resource agencies 
within the historic range of the subspecies. On the basis of the best 
scientific and commercial information available, we find that listing 
the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse as a threatened species throughout 
its historic range in the contiguous United States is not warranted at 
this time.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made September 27, 
2000. Comments and information may be submitted until further notice is 
given by a document published in the Federal Register.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, and material concerning the 
petition finding may be submitted to the Field Supervisor, Upper 
Columbia River Basin Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
11103 East Montgomery Drive, Spokane, Washington, 99206. The 12-month 
petition finding, supporting data, and comments are available for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Chris Warren at the above address or 
telephone (509) 893-8020.



    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires, to the maximum extent 
practicable, that we make a finding within 12 months of the date of 
receipt of a petition containing substantial information on whether the 
petitioned action is: (a) not warranted, (b) warranted, or (c) 
warranted but precluded from an immediate proposal by other pending 
proposals of higher priority. Upon making a 12-month finding, we must 
promptly publish such notice in the Federal Register.
    On March 16, 1995, we received a petition from the Biodiversity 
Legal Foundation, Boulder, Colorado, dated March 14, 1995. The 
petitioner requested that the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse be listed 
as a threatened species throughout its known historic range in the 48 
contiguous United States and that critical habitat be designated for 
the species as soon as its biological needs are sufficiently well 
known. The petition also recommended a review of the species' status in 
British Columbia, Canada.
    We added the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse to our candidate species 
list on January 6, 1989, as a Category 2 species (54 FR 560). Category 
2 species were those for which we possessed information indicating that 
a proposal to list as endangered or threatened was possibly 
appropriate, but for which conclusive data on biological vulnerability 
and threats were not available to support a proposed rule. On February 
28, 1996, we discontinued the designation of Category 2 species as 
candidates for listing under the Act (61 FR 7596).
    Due to a backlog of listing actions and funding constraints in our 
listing program, we have implemented our Listing Priority Guidance 
during the course of listing actions for the subject petition. The 
guidance, first adopted on

[[Page 60392]]

September 21, 1983 (48 FR 43098), was updated on May 16, 1996 (61 FR 
24722), December 5, 1996 (61 FR 64475), May 8, 1998 (63 FR 25502), and, 
most recently, on October 22, 1999 (64 FR 57114). The guidance is a 
biologically based method of prioritizing listing actions to provide 
the greatest conservation benefit to imperiled species in the most 
expeditious manner. On October 26, 1999, we determined that the 
petition presented substantial information and that the petition action 
may be warranted. We published an announcement of our administrative 
finding (64 FR 57620). At that time, we initiated a status review of 
the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in accordance with our Listing 
Priority Guidance.

Species Information

    The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is one of seven recognized 
subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse that have been described in North 
America (AOU 1957, Aldrich 1963, Johnsgard 1973, Miller and Graul 1980, 
Connelly et al. 1998). Compared to the other subspecies, Columbian 
sharp-tailed grouse are the smallest and have darker gray plumage, more 
pronounced spotting on the throat, and narrower markings on the 
underside. Historically, 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 and extreme southeastern British Columbia.
    Columbian sharp-tailed grouse rely on a variety of good quality 
native habitats within the sagebrush-bunchgrass, meadow-steppe, 
mountain shrub, and riparian zones of the northwestern United States 
(Giesen and Connelly 1993). Various upland habitats, with a component 
of more dense riparian or mountain shrub habitat to provide escape 
cover, are important to the subspecies from spring to fall (Saab and 
Marks 1992, Giesen and Connelly 1993). Suitable wintering habitat, that 
consists largely of deciduous trees and shrubs, is also thought to be a 
key element to healthy Columbian sharp-tailed grouse populations 
(Marshall and Jensen 1937, Hart et al. 1950, Marks and Marks 1987, 
Giesen and Connelly 1993).
    Male sharp-tailed grouse 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 the exact dancing 
locations may shift position over time and smaller satellite leks often 
form in the vicinity of historic leks. Interacting clusters of leks in 
a local area, where males and females may switch sites within and 
between seasons, are defined as lek complexes (Schroeder et al., pers. 
comm. 2000). Individual leks can consist of several to over 30 
displaying males, under good conditions 15 to 25 males per lek are 
common (Meints, Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game, pers. comm. 1995 and 
1998; Schroeder, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), pers. 
comm. 1995, 1998, and 2000). Due to social structures within a lek and 
other potential influences, such as exposure to predation, leks seldom 
support more than 25 males (Moyles and Boag 1981, Rodgers 1992, 
Connelly et al. 1998). The few dominant males at a lek's center account 
for the majority of successful mating attempts (Leopold et al. 1981, 
Moyles and Boag 1981).
    Spring-to-fall home range sizes of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
are relatively small, generally less than 2 square kilometers (km\2\) 
(1.2 square miles (mi\2\)), and the areas used are usually within a few 
km (mi) of a lek. Females typically nest and rear their broods within 
1.6 km (1 mi) of an active lek, although nesting more than 3 km (1.9 
mi) from a lek has been recorded (Saab and Marks 1992, Giesen and 
Connelly 1993). Seasonal movements to wintering areas from breeding 
grounds are typically less than 5 km (3.1 mi) (Giesen and Connelly 
1993), although movements of up to 20 km (12.4 mi) have been recorded 
(Meints 1991). The annual survival rate of sharp-tailed grouse is 
relatively low, and ranges from roughly 20 to 50 percent (WDFW 1995, 
Connelly et al. 1998).
    The area within 2.5 km (1.6 mi) of a lek is thought 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 influence on 
the species' demographics, leks (including the surrounding area) can be 
viewed as the principal units describing the arrangement of sharp-
tailed grouse populations. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse assemblages 
range from local populations (single leks to lek complexes), to 
regional populations (potentially interacting local populations 
occupying small geographic areas, such as a county), to metapopulations 
(potentially interacting regional populations occupying larger 
geographic areas).
    Various historic accounts indicate that Columbian sharp-tailed 
grouse were once much more abundant throughout their range where 
suitable habitats occurred (Hart et al. 1950, Buss and Dziedzic 1955, 
Gruell circa 1960, WDFW 1995). Excessive hunting in the mid to late 
19th century is thought to have been a major contributing factor to the 
early extirpation of local populations and the initial reduction of the 
subspecies' range (Hart et al. 1950). However, since the turn of the 
century, the conversion of native habitats for crop production and 
their degradation as a result of heavy livestock grazing are thought to 
be the primary factors in further population declines and range 
reductions (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, Connelly et al. 1998). Columbian sharp-tailed grouse have 
been extirpated from California, Nevada, and Oregon (Miller and Graul 
1980, Connelly et al. 1998). Past declines in the subspecies' overall 
abundance and extent of occupied range have isolated various 
populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse from one another since the 
mid-1900's (cf Hart et al. 1950).
    When large geographic areas are considered (e.g., states and 
provinces), the overall distribution of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
appears to have changed little since the mid-1900's, and various 
sources have acknowledged the difficulty of obtaining accurate 
population estimates for the subspecies (Hart et al. 1950, Rogers 1969, 
Miller and Graul 1980, Schroeder et al., pers. comm. 2000). However, 
when smaller geographic areas are considered (e.g., local populations, 
regional populations), a general pattern of continued range reduction 
and population decline is apparent from the mid-1900's to the present 
(Miller and Graul 1980; WDFW 1995; Ritcey 1995; Schroeder et al., pers. 
comm. 2000; Mitchell, Utah Dept. of Natural Resources, pers. comm. 1995 
and 1998; Hoffman, Colorado Dept. of Fish and Game, pers. comm. 1995 
and 1998; Thier, Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, pers. 
comm. 1998; Chutter, B.C. Min. of Env., Wildlife Branch, pers. comm. 
1995). Based on a questionnaire distributed to wildlife professionals 
in 1979 throughout the species' range, Miller and Graul (1980) state 
that populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occupy less than 10 
percent of their former range in Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, 10 
to 50 percent in Colorado and Washington, and 80 percent or more in 
British Columbia.
    Most current population estimates have been derived from spring 
breeding population censuses collected by state and Federal agencies 
over the last two

[[Page 60393]]

decades. In general, estimates of fall population sizes are roughly 
double that of the spring breeding population. Most of the following 
discussions of distribution and abundance of Columbian sharp-tailed 
grouse by State and province are based on published and unpublished 
agency reports furnished after submission of the petition in March 
1995, and during the public comment period for the status review, 
initiated in October 26, 1999. These reports are cited below, as 
appropriate. In addition, the following information is based on the 
best estimates of recognized experts (SRTIM 2000), and an independent 
report solicited by the Service that addresses the viability of the 
various extant Columbian sharp-tailed grouse populations (Bart 2000). 
This report was prepared using and summarizing data submitted by State 
and Bureau of Land Management offices and on maps of historic and 
current distributions of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse prepared by 
Schroeder (2000) using information obtained from State and Federal 
biologists working on this species.
    Based on the best available information, the current minimum to 
maximum breeding population estimate for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
is approximately 51,000 to 52,000 (mean = 51,500) individuals within 
the U.S., and 56,000 to 61,500 (mean = 58,700) individuals within the 
total range. These populations occupy approximately 38,400 km\2\ 
(23,800 mi\2\) within the U.S. and 79,300 km\2\ (49,200 mi\2\) 
rangewide. Over 93 percent of all Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occur 
within the three metapopulations in northwest Colorado/south-central 
Wyoming (roughly 4,800 birds), southeastern Idaho/northern Utah 
(roughly 40,000 birds in Idaho and 5,100 in Utah), and central British 
Columbia (4,700 to 9,600). These three metapopulations are reported to 
be either stable or increasing (state reports summarized in Bart 2000). 
Rangewide, these three metapopulations including the stable population 
within British Columbia, stable and/or increasing populations occupy 
approximately 68,000 km\2\ (42,200 mi\2\) which is over 85 percent of 
the occupied range (79,300 km\2\) (49,200 mi\2\).
    Colorado (Mumma, in litt. 1999; Bart 2000; House, in litt. 2000)--
There are two subpopulations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in 
Colorado. The northwest region contains numerous interacting local 
populations with multiple leks, which likely constitute a distinct, 
interacting metapopulation totaling roughly 4,700 birds in the spring 
breeding population (9 percent of the current rangewide spring breeding 
population within the United States (U.S.)) and occupies about 8,700 
km\2\ (5,400 mi\2\) (23 percent of the current range within the U.S.). 
This population occurs primarily in Moffat, Routt, and Rio Blanco 
Counties, and is continuous with local populations in south-central 
Wyoming (see below). Current trend data indicate the population is 
likely stable and increasing. Mesa County, in the west-central region, 
may still harbor a remnant local population. If this population still 
exists, it is isolated from other regional populations. The last 
confirmed sightings of birds in this area are from circa 1985. The 
spring breeding population is estimated to currently be comprised of up 
to 50 birds (less than 1 percent of the rangewide population within the 
U.S.) and inhabit about 1,600 km\2\ (990 mi\2\) (approximately 4 
percent of the currently occupied U.S. range).
    Idaho (Meints, pers. comm., 1995, 1998; Bart 2000; Mallet, in litt. 
2000)--There are three subpopulations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse 
occupying the state of Idaho. The southeastern region contains 
numerous, interacting local populations with multiple leks, which 
likely constitute a distinct, interacting metapopulation totaling 
roughly 40,000 birds in the spring breeding population (78 percent of 
the rangewide population within the U.S.). The population occupies 
approximately 14,800 km\2\ (9,200 mi\2\) (39 percent of the current 
range within the U.S.). This population is likely stable and 
increasing. It occurs primarily south of Rexburg and east of Rupert, 
Idaho, and is continuous with local populations in northern Utah (see 
below). The upper Snake River region, including the Sand Creek and Tex 
Creek areas, harbors roughly 600 birds in the spring breeding 
population (approximately 300 in each area). Birds from these two areas 
likely interact with one another and with the larger population in the 
southeastern region. This population is reported to be stable. 
Washington and Adams Counties, in the west-central region, harbor 
roughly 200 to 300 birds in the spring breeding population (less than 1 
percent of the total U.S. population), which supports approximately 7 
leks over about 1,690 km\2\ (1,050 mi\2\) (4 percent of the current 
range within the U.S.). The population is reported to be stable, 
although the area is isolated from other regional populations. 
Translocation efforts conducted in extreme south-central Idaho 
beginning in 1992 have resulted in an isolated local population (200 to 
400 birds in the spring breeding population; less than 1 percent of 
U.S. total), supporting at least 3 leks over 175 km\2\ (110mi\2\) (less 
than 1 percent of the total range within the U.S.). This area is 
contiguous with a small population of reintroduced birds in 
northeastern Nevada (see below). Translocated birds originated from the 
population in southeastern Idaho.
    Montana (Wood 1991; Wood 1992; Bart 2000; McCarthy, in litt. 
2000)--Two small local populations occur in the northwestern region of 
this state, one in Lincoln County near the international boundary with 
British Columbia, the other to the southeast in Powell County. The 
Lincoln County area supports fewer than 30 birds in the spring breeding 
population on a single lek, while the Powell County area supports fewer 
than 50 birds in the spring breeding population on a few leks. From 
1987 through 1991, and again in 1996 and 1997, the Lincoln County 
population was augmented with birds translocated primarily from central 
British Columbia (one effort included birds translocated from 
southeastern Idaho). The taxonomic status of the Powell County 
population is in question. Based on evaluation of a limited number of 
specimens, these birds may show a greater morphological affinity to the 
plains subspecies. These two local populations are isolated from one 
another and from other regional populations. During the early 1970s and 
again in 1980, limited efforts to reintroduce sharp-tailed grouse to 
the National Bison Range (roughly 50 km (30 mi) northwest of Missoula) 
were conducted with birds translocated from southeastern Idaho. It is 
unlikely that any of these birds or their offspring persisted in the 
area. Both of these populations are probably still declining, but 
comprise less than 1 percent of the total U.S. subpopulation.
    Nevada (Morros 1999; Crawforth, in litt. 2000)--One introduced 
population currently exists in Nevada. During the spring of 1999, 54 
birds were translocated to the Snake Range in Elko County. Translocated 
birds originated from the population in southeastern Idaho. The most 
recent census information indicates there are roughly 20 to 40 birds 
remaining from this initial effort. Additional translocation efforts 
are planned through 2003, with a goal of releasing approximately 50 
birds per year from the same source population. This reintroduced local 
population is likely continuous with reintroduced birds in south-
central Idaho (see above).
    Oregon (Crawford and Snyder 1992, Bart 2000, Crawford and Coggins 
2000)--One introduced population currently exists in Oregon. From 1991

[[Page 60394]]

through 1997, a total of 179 birds had been translocated into Wallowa 
County in northeastern Oregon from the population in southeastern 
Idaho. As the result of these reintroduction efforts, an isolated local 
population may have been established. Recent census information 
indicates there are roughly 15 to 30 individuals in the spring breeding 
population, supporting one or few leks, and the population is likely 
    Utah (Bart 2000; Mitchell, in litt. 2000)--One subpopulation 
currently exists in northern Utah. It contains numerous, interacting 
local populations with multiple leks, which likely constitute a 
distinct, interacting metapopulation totaling roughly 5,100 birds in 
the spring breeding population (10 percent of the U.S. subpopulation). 
This population is continuous with the population in southeastern Idaho 
(see above) and is reported to be stable and increasing, currently 
occupying roughly 3,600 km2 (2,200 mi2) (9 
percent of the range within the U.S.) .
    Washington (Schroeder, in litt. 2000; Cawston, in litt. 2000; 
Schroeder et al., pers. comm. 2000)--Eight local populations occur in 
north-central Washington; 3 likely have multiple leks, while 5 consist 
of single or few leks. The overall estimate for the State is 
approximately 900 individuals in the spring breeding population. Some 
minimal interaction may occur between a few local populations, while 
others are isolated. The region is isolated from other regional 
populations and comprises approximately 1,700 km2 (1,100 
mi2) (4 percent of the range within the U.S.). During the 
spring of 1998, and again in 1999, translocation efforts were conducted 
to augment one of the remnant, local populations in north-central 
Washington. Translocated birds originated from the population in 
southeastern Idaho. The Nespelem population is reported to be stable, 
but the remainder of the populations are likely declining.
    Wyoming (Oedekoven 1985; Kruse, in litt. 1999; Bart 2000)--The most 
recent census information for Wyoming indicates there is one population 
in the south-central region of the state, consisting of roughly 100 to 
500 birds in the spring breeding population (less than 1 percent of the 
U.S. subpopulation) and supporting multiple leks over 2,500 
km2 (1,600 mi2) (6 percent of the range within 
the U.S.). The population occurs in Carbon County and is continuous 
with the population in northwestern Colorado (see above). This 
population is reported to be stable.
    British Columbia, Canada (Ritcey 1995; Chutter, pers. comm. 1995; 
Bart 2000)--The central region of British Columbia (Fraser Plateau) 
contains numerous, interacting local populations with multiple leks, 
which likely constitute a distinct, interacting metapopulation totaling 
roughly 4,700 to 9,600 birds in the spring breeding population 
(averaging 12 percent of the rangewide subpopulation) over an area of 
approximately 41,000 km2 (25,000 mi2) (51 percent 
of the current rangewide area). This metapopulation is reported to be 
stable. The available information indicates that the more northerly 
populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in British Columbia may 
show a greater morphological and behavioral affinity to the northern 
subspecies (Tympanuchus phasianellus caurus). The area directly south 
of Cranbrook (southeastern region) may contain one local population 
with single to few leks. This population is isolated from other 
regional populations. The area south of Merritt to the Washington 
border (south-central region) contains individual birds or small flocks 
during the winter, with no breeding behavior (i.e., leks) apparent.
    Section 4(a) of the Act describes five threat factors that we must 
consider to determine whether any species is a threatened or endangered 
species for purposes of the Act. Any one or combination of the five 
threat factors may indicate the appropriateness of a warranted 12-month 
administrative finding. Section 4(b) of the Act requires that we also 
give consideration in our determination of a species' status to efforts 
being made by any state or foreign nation to protect such species. 
Below, the available information is considered with regard to the five 
threat factors established by the Act and any ongoing conservation 
measures for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.

(1) Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of 
Habitat or Range

    Large portions of native habitats historically used by Columbian 
sharp-tailed grouse have been converted for crop production and 
impacted by other influences, including rural and suburban development, 
dam construction, minerals exploitation, chaining, herbicide spraying, 
and fire (Miller and Graul 1980; Wood 1991; Giesen and Connelly 1993; 
Schroeder, pers. comm. 1995 and 1998; Mitchell, pers. comm. 1995 and 
1998; Chutter, pers. comm. 1995). In addition, past grazing practices 
over large portions of historic Columbian sharp-tailed grouse range 
have impacted native habitats (Hart et al. 1950, Miller and Graul 1980, 
Kessler and Bosch 1982, Wood 1992, Giesen and Connelly 1993). Intensive 
grazing pressure can be especially detrimental to nesting and wintering 
habitats potentially used by sharp-tailed grouse, primarily due to 
impacts on cover and food resources. However, much of the area 
currently occupied by Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is not subject to 
intensive grazing pressure (SRTIM 2000, see below).
    Most of the area currently occupied by Columbian sharp-tailed 
grouse is privately owned (Bart 2000), and a large proportion of these 
lands are withdrawn from crop production and planted to native and non-
native cover under the Federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) (USDA 
1998). Except under extraordinary circumstances, CRP lands are not 
subject to grazing and likely have increased forb and insect abundance 
from spring to fall, which increases the value of these lands to 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse females who make substantial use of CRP 
areas during nesting and brood-rearing (C. Warren, FWS, Spokane, in 
litt. 2000). CRP lands, and probably substantial amounts of adjacent 
``native'' habitat (including important wintering habitat in some 
regions), are essentially free of pesticide and herbicide applications 
and grazing pressure (Warren, in litt. 2000). Accordingly, these CRP 
areas have become very important Columbian sharp-tailed grouse large 
metapopulations in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming (SRTIM 2000, Bart 
    A majority of CRP that are 10-year contracts for lands in States 
supporting Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were renewed after 1997, 
resulting in 92 to 99 percent of these lands being relatively secure 
until the years 2008 through 2010 (Warren, in litt. 2000). Between the 
fall of 1997 and the fall of 1998, the total amount of CRP land 
available to Columbian sharp-tailed grouse increased within all of the 
counties harboring the subspecies' metapopulations within the United 
States, including 25, 7, and 1 percent increases in Utah, Colorado, and 
Idaho, respectively. Lands under CRP contract as of the year 2000 show 
1 to 7 percent acreage increases over those in 1998 (Warren, in litt. 
    The potential net changes that may occur under the CRP or if CRP 
contracts expire, vary considerably by county within the five States 
where CRP is shown to be important to Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. 
Presently, it is unclear what effects these changes may have on the 
subspecies' populations. If CRP lands that are important to the

[[Page 60395]]

smaller populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse revert back to 
crop production or are significantly altered, adverse impacts to these 
populations will occur and that will increase the risk of extirpation 
of these smaller populations (Bart 2000). However, the larger 
metapopulations are likely capable of adjusting to these potential 
impacts and would not be adversely effected. This is because smaller 
subpopulations within the region could supply a source for 
recolonization of modified sites, or alternate areas of suitable 
habitat would be developed under new CRP contracts to allow the 
affected local populations to adjust to the changes.
    Reclaimed mining lands have also become important to the 
conservation of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in northwestern Colorado 
(Mumma, in litt. 1999). These areas fall under the requirements of the 
Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Act (CMLRA). There is currently little 
information available regarding the ultimate fate of these areas upon 
termination of the reclamation bonds. However, it is not assured that 
they will be converted by development or subject to intensive grazing 
pressure following bond release. In addition, as with CRP contracts, it 
is likely that newly reclaimed areas will become available to Columbian 
sharp-tailed grouse in Colorado as current and future mining operations 
are completed.

(2) Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Currently, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are hunted in the fall in 
Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and British Columbia. Fall population sizes are 
roughly double that of the estimated spring breeding populations. 
Colorado maintains a fall hunting season in 1998 and 1999 in the 
northwest region, with bag and possession limits of two and four birds, 
respectively. Over the last four years, the annual state harvest 
estimate has averaged 218 birds, which is 2 percent of a fall 
population of approximately 9,500 birds. Idaho also maintains a fall 
hunting season in 1998 and 1999, with bag and possession limits of two 
and four birds, respectively. The latest available information 
indicates that a total of roughly 3,000 birds are harvested annually 
from the southeastern and upper Snake River regions, which is 
approximately 4 percent of the fall population of about 80,000 birds. 
Utah reopened its hunting season in 1998 and 1999. Over the past 2 
years, Utah has issued 663 2-bird permits in a limited-entry hunt. The 
State harvest estimates for 1998 and 1999 were 201 birds (less than 2 
percent) and 462 birds (less than 5 percent), respectively, of an 
approximate fall population of 10,200 birds. In British Columbia, it is 
estimated that up to 5,000 birds (35 percent of an average fall 
population of 14,300 birds) are harvested during some hunting seasons, 
however, this estimate is not based on rigorous surveys and is subject 
to wide year-to-year variation.
    For relatively large, stable populations of upland birds under 
managed conditions, hunting is not likely to have an additive effect 
over natural mortality because the percentage of the population that is 
eliminated through hunting mortality is minimal and compensated through 
the normal population processes of reproduction and immigration (Braun 
et al. 1994, SRTIM 2000). Depending on the status of the hunted 
population and hunter access patterns, some local areas may act as 
population sinks and be adversely impacted by the additional mortality. 
However, the estimated harvest rates are not likely to adversely effect 
the metapopulations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in the States with 
hunting seasons (Bart 2000).
    Several reintroduction efforts have taken place or are planned for 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. The relatively small, isolated 
populations would be adversely impacted by the removal of source birds 
for these projects, as may have occurred in British Columbia (Chutter, 
pers. comm. 1995). In addition, birds translocated from disparate parts 
of their range may not thrive or survive in the release area (Wood 
1991; Thier, pers. comm. 1998). It is also unclear what effects the 
translocation of birds to disparate parts of their range may have on 
the genetic integrity of the augmented populations. Saab and Marks 
(1992) indicate that the conservation of all potential sources of 
genetic variation should be a critical concern given the fragmented, 
isolated nature of some of the subspecies' populations. Radio-marked 
birds may also be more susceptible to predation and other mortality 
factors (Marks and Marks 1987). The small and fragmented populations of 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse would be at increased risk of extirpation 
from these potential threats. However, as with the potential impacts to 
the habitats used by the subspecies (above), the large metapopulations 
are not likely to be adversely affected by these management activities 
(Bart 2000).

(3) Disease or Predation

    There are apparently no documented severe episodes of disease or 
predation that have played a significant role in the population 
declines and range reduction of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. Episodes 
of disease or altered predation patterns may play an important role in 
the dynamics of the smaller, isolated populations and, as above, they 
are at increased risk of extirpation from these potential threats. 
However, these threats are currently of minor concern for the 
subspecies' metapopulations.

(4) Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    In the majority of the subspecies' current range regulatory 
mechanisms and conservation measures are apparently adequate for 
maintaining viable populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.
    State hunting regulations appear to be sufficient to control the 
legal take of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse where they are hunted, and 
to avoid adverse impacts to these populations (above). In addition, the 
revegetation and reclamation standards under the CRP and CMLRA, 
respectively, promote the improvement of habitat conditions for the 
subspecies' metapopulations, and the CRP restricts livestock grazing on 
contract lands except under extraordinary circumstances.

(5) Other Natural or Human-Caused Factors Affecting the Species' 
Continued Existence

    The fragmented, isolated nature of some local populations of 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse may place them at increased risk of 
extirpation (Bart 2000). Random environmental and human-influenced 
events could cause significant mortality to, or disruption of, local 
populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse with single or few leks. 
Such events could include drought, fire, inclement weather, accidents, 
cultivation practices, recreational activities, altered predator 
dynamics, or disease epidemics (Hart et al. 1950; Rogers 1969; WDFW 
1995; Mitchell, pers. comm. 1995 and 1998). If the affected population 
is also isolated, there is little chance of reestablishment to the area 
and further range reduction is likely to occur.
    There is also concern regarding the lack of sufficient data with 
respect to the genetic integrity of the subspecies' various populations 
(Saab and Marks 1992). The deleterious effects of inbreeding and 
genetic drift may pose long-term threats to the smaller, isolated 
populations. The breeding dynamics of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and 
their relatively short life spans and sedentary habits may exacerbate 
these potential influences. Conservation or reestablishment of such 

[[Page 60396]]

may require intensive management efforts (Toepfer et al. 1990).
    The factors discussed above are not considered to be threats to the 
subspecies because the large, stable metapopulations that occur in 
Colorado, Idaho, and Utah, representing roughly 97 percent of the 
subspecies within the U.S., would likely not be affected.
    In summary, the available information indicates that the 
subspecies' metapopulations are relatively secure. These large 
metapopulations have persisted for the last several decades with no 
discernable downward trend, and recent information indicates that they 
may currently be increasing, as are the habitats available to them 
(SRTIM 2000). However, most of the small, isolated populations of 
Columbian sharp-tailed grouse will likely be extirpated within a few 
decades due to existing threats and current management scenarios (Bart 

Conservation Measures

    An inter-agency (Federal and State) team is currently preparing a 
conservation assessment for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in Idaho 
(Ulliman et al. 1998). Upon its completion, the conservation strategy 
developed in Idaho may be used as a general model for conservation 
actions in other States and British Columbia.
    The Colorado Division of Wildlife helped form and participates on 
the Northwest Colorado Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Work Group (Mumma, 
in litt. 1999). The work group includes interested parties representing 
resource industries, sportsmen's and conservation groups, and State and 
Federal resource agencies. The work group is currently developing a 
formal conservation plan, and is committed to improving conditions for 
the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse population in the northwest region of 
the State.
    The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has prepared a 
management plan for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occurring within the 
State (WDFW 1995), and has recently listed Columbian sharp-tailed 
grouse as a State threatened species (WDFW 1998a). Washington currently 
has a program to acquire lands for the protection and active management 
of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (WDFW 1998b). Restoration and 
enhancement of native habitats to improve conditions for existing (and 
potential) populations are planned for these areas (Schroeder, pers. 
comm. 1995 and 1998).
    Reintroduction efforts for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse have taken 
place in Washington, Montana, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada (SRTIM 2000). 
Many early reintroduction efforts conducted for prairie grouse 
(including sharp-tailed grouse) failed to produce self-sustaining 
populations or to increase the size or distribution of augmented 
populations (Toepfer et al. 1990). Several recent efforts have shown 
greater potential to be effective as the techniques for reintroductions 
have improved (Toepfer et al. 1990; Crawforth, in litt. 2000; 
Schroeder, pers. comm. 1995 and 1998; Meints, pers. comm. 1995 and 
1998). However, most of these improvements have been concerned with 
keeping translocated birds in the immediate vicinity of the release 
sites during the breeding season. While some reintroduced birds have 
established leks and reproduced in the release area over a number of 
years, none of these populations can yet be considered secure (Bart 
2000). Continuing reintroduction efforts are planned for Idaho, Nevada, 
Washington, and Oregon; and various reintroduction efforts are being 
considered for California, Colorado, and Montana (SRTIM 2000).
    Columbian sharp-tailed grouse populations in British Columbia may 
be expanding on the periphery of their current range where logging 
activity has created suitable open, grassland habitat. While this is 
not an active enhancement effort, the beneficial effects of these 
activities are believed to last up to approximately 15 years (Ritcey 
1995; Chutter, pers. comm. 1995).


    We have reviewed the petition, literature cited in the petition, 
other pertinent literature and information available in our files, and 
consulted with biologists and researchers familiar with Columbian 
sharp-tailed grouse. After reviewing the best scientific and commercial 
information available, and considering the information's significance 
with regard to the five listing factors established by the Act and 
ongoing conservation measures, we find that listing the Columbian 
sharp-tailed grouse as a threatened species throughout its known 
historic range in the 48 contiguous United States, as petitioned is not 
    In making this finding, we recognize that there have been declines 
in Columbian sharp-tailed grouse populations primarily attributed to 
the loss and degradation of important shrub steppe, grassland, and 
riparian habitats. These impacts are likely due to a combination of 
factors including crop production, over-grazing by livestock, altered 
fire frequencies, rural and suburban development, dam construction, 
herbicide spraying, recreation, and other factors. The Service's status 
review of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse range wide has raised 
concern regarding the status of many of the small populations such that 
a further status review focusing on these populations will be 
initiated. However, the available information does not indicate that 
the large metapopulations of the subspecies are at increased risk of 
extirpation. We also recognize that various State and Federal agencies 
throughout the subspecies' historic distribution are actively managing 
the populations to try and improve their overall status and/or 
attempting to restore them to currently unoccupied habitats. If 
information becomes available indicating that listing as endangered or 
threatened is appropriate, we would propose to list the Columbia sharp-
tailed grouse. Furthermore, we retain the option of recognizing a 
population segment for listing should information become available 
indicating that such an action is appropriate and warranted.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available on 
request from the Upper Columbia River Basin Field Office, (See 
ADDRESSES section).


    The primary author of this notice is Chris Warren, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 11103 East Montgomery Drive, Spokane, Washington 

    Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: September 27, 2000.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 00-25447 Filed 10-10-00; 8:45 am]