[Federal Register: December 28, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 250)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 82310-82312]
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; Notice of 
Designation of the Gunnison Sage Grouse as a Candidate Species

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of designation of a candidate species.


SUMMARY: In this document, we present information on the recent 
addition of the Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) found in 
Colorado and Utah to the list of candidates for listing under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. Identification of candidate 
taxa can assist environmental planning efforts by providing advance 
notice of potential listings, allowing resource managers to alleviate 
threats and, thereby, possibly remove the need to list taxa as 
endangered or threatened. Even if we subsequently list this candidate 
species, the early notice provided here could result in fewer 
restrictions on activities by prompting candidate conservation measures 
to alleviate threats to this species.
    We also announce the availability of the candidate and listing 
priority assignment form for this candidate species. This document 
describes the status and threats that we evaluated to determine that 
Gunnison sage grouse warrants consideration for listing, and to assign 
a listing priority to this species.
    We request additional status information that may be available for 
the Gunnison sage grouse. We will consider this information in 
evaluating, monitoring, and developing conservation strategies for this 

DATES: We will accept comments on this document at any time.

ADDRESSES: Submit written comments and data regarding the Gunnison sage 
grouse to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Colorado Field 
Office, 764 Horizon Drive, South Annex A, Grand Junction, Colorado 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Terry Ireland, at the above address, 
e-mail terry_ireland@fws.gov>, or telephone (970) 243-2778.



    The Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.), requires that we list taxa of wildlife and plants that 
are endangered or threatened, based on the best available scientific 
and commercial information. As part of this program, we also identify 
taxa that we regard as candidates for listing. Candidate taxa are those 
taxa for which we have on file sufficient information to support 
issuance of a proposed rule to list under the Act. In addition to our 
annual review of all candidate taxa (64 FR 57534; October 25, 1999), we 
have an on-going review process, particularly to update taxa whose 
status may have changed markedly.
    Section 3 of the Act generally defines an endangered species as any 
species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range, and a threatened species as any 
species which is likely to become an endangered species within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. A species may be determined to be an endangered or threatened 
species due to one or more of the five factors described in section 
4(a)(1) of the Act.
    (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of the species' habitat or range;
    (B) Overutilization of the species for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes;
    (C) Disease or predation affecting the species;
    (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to protect the 
species; and
    (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting the species' 
continued existence.
    We are required to make the listing determination ``solely on the 
basis of the

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best scientific and commercial data available'' and ``taking into 
account those efforts, if any, being made by any State or foreign 
nation, or any political subdivision of a State or foreign nation, to 
protect such species, whether by predator control, protection of 
habitat and food supply, or other conservation practices, within any 
area under its jurisdiction, or on the high seas.'' Sections 4(a)(1) 
and 4(b)(1)(A) and our regulations at 50 CFR 424.11(f) require us to 
consider any State or local laws, regulations, ordinances, programs, or 
other specific conservation measures that either positively or 
negatively affect a species' status (i.e., efforts that create, 
exacerbate, reduce, or remove threats identified through the section 
4(a)(1) analysis).
    We maintain the list of candidate species for a variety of reasons, 
including--to provide advance knowledge of potential listings that 
could affect decisions of environmental planners and developers; to 
solicit input from interested parties to identify those candidate taxa 
that may not require protection under the Act or additional taxa that 
may require the Act's protections; and to solicit information needed to 
prioritize the order in which we will propose taxa for listing. We 
encourage consideration of candidate taxa in environmental planning, 
such as in environmental impact analysis under the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (implemented at 40 CFR parts 1500-
1508) and in local and Statewide land use planning.
    According to our 1983 Listing Priority System (48 FR 43098; 
September 21, 1983), all species that are candidates for listing are 
assigned a listing priority number. This system ranks species according 
to--(1) the magnitude of threats they face, (2) the immediacy of these 
threats, and (3) the taxonomic distinctiveness of the entity that may 
be listed. Listing priority numbers range from 1 (highest priority) to 
12 (lowest priority). We will complete proposals to list candidate 
species, based on their listing priority, to the extent that our 
resources for listing activities and our workload for other listing 
activities will allow.
    This document provides specific explanation for the classification 
of Gunnison sage grouse as a candidate. It is important to note that 
candidate assessment is an ongoing function and changes in status 
should be expected. If we remove taxa from the candidate list, they may 
be restored to candidate status if additional information supporting 
such a change becomes available to us. We issue requests for such 
information in a Candidate Notice of Review published in the Federal 
Register every year.


    In 1977, Dr. Clait Braun, formerly with the Colorado Division of 
Wildlife, noticed that sage grouse (Centrocercus sp.) wings collected 
in the Gunnison Basin of southwestern Colorado were smaller than sage 
grouse wings collected in northern Colorado. Over the 2 decades since 
then, Dr. Braun and others have been studying the morphological (Hupp 
and Braun 1991), behavioral (Young et al. 1994, Braun and Young 1995) 
and genetic differences (Quinn et al. 1997, Kahn et al. 1999, Oyler-
McCance 1999) between the sage grouse. The differences are great enough 
that the American Ornithologists' Union has determined that the sage 
grouse in southwestern Colorado are a distinct species, the Gunnison 
sage grouse (C. minimus). The American Ornithologists' Union included a 
footnote about the Gunnison sage grouse potentially becoming a distinct 
species in their latest list of bird species. The July 2000 issue of 
Auk is planned to contain the American Ornithologists' Union's next 
list of bird species that will formally include the Gunnison sage 
grouse as a distinct species (Dr. Richard Banks, National Museum of 
Natural History, pers. comm. 2000).
    Through museum specimens or written accounts, Braun (1995) 
determined that the Gunnison sage grouse's historic range occurred in 
southwestern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, northwestern Oklahoma, 
northern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and southeastern Utah. There 
are currently believed to be seven population areas in Colorado and one 
population in Utah. The Gunnison Basin breeding population is the 
largest with up to 3,000 birds. The other 6 populations in Colorado 
only have 6 to 300 breeding birds, and the Monticello, Utah, population 
also is only around 120 birds for a total breeding population around 
4,000. Long-term trends since at least the 1970s have shown steady 
declines in the number of males/lek, and one area, Sims Mesa, may have 
recently been extirpated. The overall population numbers have increased 
the last 2 to 3 years in the Gunnison Basin; however, this may be 
attributed to increased survey efforts. The number of males/lek in the 
Crawford Area population has increased since 1993, though the overall 
population estimate is no greater than about 320. Other populations 
appear to be stable in the last 3 to 4 years but remain small.
    The Gunnison sage grouse uses a variety of habitats throughout the 
year but the primary component necessary is species of Artemisia spp. 
(sagebrush) (Braun 1995). The most important sagebrushes are subspecies 
of A. tridentata (big sagebrush). Sagebrush is used for hiding and 
thermal cover as well as a major source of food in the winter (Hupp and 
Braun 1989). From mid-March to early June males will display on leks 
(strutting grounds) that are open areas with good visibility (for 
predator detection) and acoustics (for transmission of male display 
sounds). After mating, females will select nest sites, typically in 
relatively tall and dense stands of sagebrush from 200 yards (183 
meters) to 5 miles (8 kilometers) away from the leks. Nest sites 
selected have residual grass and forbs that provide additional hiding 
cover. Hens with chicks remain in sagebrush uplands if hiding cover is 
adequate and if food consisting of succulent forbs and insects are 
available. As chicks mature and vegetation in the uplands desiccates, 
hens will move their broods to wet meadow areas that retain succulent 
forbs and insects through the summer (Klebenow 1969, Wallestad 1971). 
Preferred wet meadow areas also contain tall grasses for hiding and at 
least 165-yard (150-meter) wide sagebrush stands (Dunn and Braun 1986) 
along the periphery for hiding and foraging areas. From mid-September 
into November all sage grouse will use upland areas with 20 percent or 
greater sagebrush cover and some green forbs. As winter progresses and 
snow cover is extensive (greater than 80 percent) and deep (greater 
than 12 inches (30 centimeters)), sage grouse forage in tall sagebrush 
(greater than 16 inches (41 centimeters)) in valleys and lower flat 
areas (Hupp and Braun 1989) and roost in shorter sagebrush along ridge 
tops. Roosting and foraging is typically restricted to south or west 
facing slopes where snow is often shallower and less extensive (Hupp 
and Braun 1989). Small foraging areas that have 30-40 percent big 
sagebrush canopy cover also are important.
    Potential threats include reduction in habitat by direct habitat 
loss, fragmentation, and degradation from building development, road 
and utility corridors, fences, energy development, conversion of native 
habitat to hay or other crop fields, alteration or destruction of 
wetland and riparian areas, inappropriate livestock management, 
competition for winter range by big game, and creation of large 

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    Other factors affecting the Gunnison sage grouse include fire 
suppression allowing encroachment of its habitat by Pinus edulis 
(pinyon) and Juniperus spp. (juniper) invasion, fire suppression 
resulting in decadent stands of the sagebrush community, overgrazing by 
elk (Cervus elaphus) and deer (Odocoileus hemionus), drought, 
disturbance or death by off-highway-vehicles, disturbance by 
construction projects, harassment from people and pets, continuous 
noise that impairs acoustical quality of leks, genetic depression, 
herbicides, pesticides, pollution, and competition for habitat from 
other species.
    Despite development of the Conservation Plans and numerous actions 
implemented under those Plans to date, all of the threats to the 
Gunnison sage grouse, under the five listing factors, should be 
considered non-imminent threat with a high magnitude of occurring, or 
have potential to occur. In addition, the reduction of about 75 percent 
of the range and uncertain continued existence of the small, disjunct, 
populations outside of the Gunnison Basin population, leads us to 
believe that listing the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened is 
warranted. Therefore, we have assigned the Gunnison sage grouse a 
listing a priority of five under our Listing Priority System.

Request for Information

    We request you submit any further information on the Gunnison sage 
grouse as soon as possible or whenever it becomes available. We are 
seeking the following types of information:
    (1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threat (or lack thereof) to the Gunnison sage grouse;
    (2) Reasons why any habitat of this species should or should not be 
determined to be critical habitat pursuant to section 4 of the Act;
    (3) Additional information concerning the range, distribution, and 
population size of this species; and,
    (4) Current or planned activities in the subject area and their 
possible impacts on this species.
    Information regarding the range, status, habitat needs, and listing 
priority assignment for the Gunnison sage grouse is available for 
review by contacting the Service as specified in the ADDRESSES section.
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their home address from the rulemaking record, which we will honor to 
the extent allowable by law. In certain circumstances, we would 
withhold from the rulemaking record a respondent's identity, as 
allowable by law. If you wish for us to withhold your name and/or 
address, you must state this request prominently at the beginning of 
your comment. However, we will not consider anonymous comments. We will 
make all submissions from organizations or businesses, and from 
individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of 
organizations or businesses, available for public inspection in their 

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein, as well as others, 
is available upon request from the Marine Mammals Management Office 
(see ADDRESSES section).

References Cited

    Braun, C.E. 1995. Distribution and status of sage grouse in 
Colorado. Prairie Naturalist 27:1-9.
    Braun, C.E., and J.R. Young. 1995. A new species of sage grouse 
from Colorado. Proceedings of the Joint Meeting of The Wilson 
Ornithological Society and the Virginia Society of Ornithology. 
Williamsburg, Virginia. Abstract #23.
    Commons, M.L., R.K. Baydack, and C.E. Braun. 1999. Sage grouse 
response to pinyon-juniper management. USDA Forest Service 
Proceedings RMRS-P-9. 1999:238-239.
    Dunn, P.O., and C.E. Braun. 1986. Late summer-spring movements 
of juvenile sage grouse. Wilson Bulletin 98:83-92.
    Hupp, J.W., and C.E. Braun. 1989. Topographic distribution of 
sage grouse foraging in winter. Journal of Wildlife Management 
    Hupp, J.W., and C.E. Braun. 1991. Geographic variation among 
sage grouse in Colorado. Wilson Bulletin 103:255-261.
    Kahn, N.W., C.E. Braun, J.R. Young, S. Wood, D.R. Mata, and T.W. 
Quinn. 1999. Molecular analysis of genetic variation among large- 
and small-bodied sage grouse using mitochondrial control-region 
sequences. Auk 116:819-824.
    Klebenow, D.A. 1969. Sage grouse nesting and brood habitat in 
Idaho. Journal of Wildlife Management 33:649-662.
    Oyler-McCance, S.J. 1999. Genetic and habitat factors underlying 
conservation strategies for Gunnison sage grouse. Abstract of PhD 
Dissertation. Colorado State University, Fort Collins. 162 pp.
    Quinn, T.W., N.W. Kahn, J.R. Young, N.G. Benedict, S. Wood, D. 
Mata, and C.E. Braun. 1997. Probing the evolutionary history of sage 
grouse Centrocercus urophasianus populations using mitochondrial DNA 
sequence. Wildlife Biology 3: 291.
    Wallestad, R.O. 1971. Summer movements and habitat use by sage 
grouse broods in central Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 
    Young, J.R., J.W. Hupp, J.W. Bradbury, and C.E. Braun. 1994. 
Phenotypic divergence of secondary sexual traits among sage grouse, 
Centrocercus urophasianus, populations. Animal Behaviour 47:1353-


    The author of this notice is Terry Ireland (see ADDRESSES section).


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

    Dated: December 19, 2000.
John A. Blankenship,
Deputy Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 00-33089 Filed 12-27-00; 8:45 am]