[Federal Register: November 23, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 224)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 61100-61102]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[FWS-R6-ES-2009-0080; 92210-1111-0000-B2]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Notice of Intent 
to Conduct a Status Review of Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent to conduct status review.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), under the 
authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), give 
notice of our intent to conduct a status review of Gunnison sage-grouse 
(Centrocercus minimus). We conduct status reviews to determine whether 
the species should be listed as endangered or threatened under the Act. 
Through this notice, we encourage all interested parties to provide us 
information regarding Gunnison sage-grouse.

DATES: To allow us adequate time to conduct this review, we request 
that we receive information on or before December 23, 2009. After this 
date, you must submit information directly to the Field Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section below). Please note that we may not 
be able to address or incorporate information that we receive after the 
above requested date.

ADDRESSES: You may submit information by one of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
     U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, 
Attn: Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 
    We will not accept faxed comments.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Al Pfister, Western Colorado Field 
Office; telephone (970) 243-2778, ext. 29. Individuals who are hearing-
impaired or speech-impaired may call the Federal Relay Service at 1-


Information Solicited

    To ensure that the status review is based on the best available 
scientific and commercial information and to provide an opportunity to 
any interested parties to provide information for consideration, we are 
requesting information concerning Gunnison sage-grouse. We request 
information from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, 
Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, and any 
other interested party. We are seeking:
    (1) General information concerning the taxonomy, biology, ecology, 
genetics, and status of the Gunnison sage-grouse;
    (2) Specific information on the conservation status of Gunnison 
sage-grouse, including information on distribution, abundance, and 
population trends;
    (3) Specific information on threats to Gunnison sage-grouse, 
including: (i) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (ii) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (iii) 
disease or predation; (iv) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; and (v) other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence; and
    (4) Specific information on conservation actions designed to 
improve Gunnison sage-grouse habitat or reduce threats to Gunnison 
sage-grouse and their habitat.
    If you submit information, we request you support it with 
documentation such as data, maps, bibliographic references, methods 
used to gather and analyze the data, or copies of any pertinent 
publications, reports, or letters by knowledgeable sources.
    Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to 
whether any species is an endangered or threatened species must be made 
``solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data 
    You may submit your information concerning this status review by 
one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. If you submit 
information that includes personal identifying information, you may 
request at the top of your document that we withhold this personal 
identifying information from public review. However, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so.
    Information and supporting documentation that we received and used 
in preparing this finding will be available for you to review by 
appointment during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Western Colorado Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 


    The sage-grouse (Centrocercus spp.) is the largest grouse in North 
America and was first described by Lewis and Clark in 1805 (Schroeder 
et al. 1999, p. 1). Sage-grouse are most easily identified by their 
large size; dark brown color; distinctive black bellies; long, pointed 
tails; and association with sagebrush habitats. They are dimorphic in 
size, with females being smaller. Both sexes have yellow-green eye 
combs, which are less prominent in females. Sage-grouse are known for 
their elaborate mating ritual where males congregate on strutting 
grounds called leks and ``dance'' to attract a mate. During the 
breeding season males have conspicuous filoplumes (specialized erectile 
feathers on the neck) and exhibit yellow-green apteria (fleshy bare 
patches of skin) on their breasts (Schroeder et al. 1999, pp. 2, 18).
    For many years sage-grouse were considered a single species. Young 
et al. (2000, pp. 447-451) identified Gunnison sage-grouse 
(Centrocercus minimus) as a distinct species based on morphological 
(Hupp and Braun 1991, pp. 257-259; Young et al. 2000, pp. 447-448), 
genetic (Kahn et al. 1999, pp. 820-821; Oyler-McCance et al. 1999, pp. 
1460-1462), and behavioral (Barber 1991, pp. 6-9; Young 1994; Young et 
al. 2000, p. 449-451) differences and geographical isolation.
    Gunnison sage-grouse are smaller than greater sage-grouse (C. 
urophasianus), weighing approximately one-third less (Hupp and Braun 
1991, p. 257; Young et al. 2000, p. 447). Their filoplumes are longer 
and give the appearance of a ``ponytail'' during the courtship display, 
unlike the filoplumes on greater sage-grouse. Gunnison sage-grouse 
retrices (tail feathers) have distinctive barring, unlike the mottled 
pattern on greater sage-grouse retrices (Young et al. 2000, p. 448). 
Gunnison sage-grouse mating displays are slower

[[Page 61101]]

than those of greater sage-grouse (Young et al. 2000, p. 449). Mating 
calls also are distinct. Gunnison sage-grouse ``pop'' their apteria 
nine times instead of twice like greater sage-grouse (Young et al. 
2000, p. 449). Female Gunnison sage-grouse do not respond favorably 
when they hear playback of recorded male greater sage-grouse mating 
calls, and differences in courtship vocalizations are likely a barrier 
to mating between Gunnison and greater sage-grouse (Young 1994, p. 71).
    DNA sequence information from mitochrondrial and nuclear genomes 
indicates there is no gene flow between Gunnison and greater sage-
grouse (Oyler-McCance et al. 1999, pp. 1460-1462; Young et al. 2000, p. 
451). Based on these morphologic, behavioral, and genetic differences, 
the American Ornithologist's Union (2000, pp. 849-850) accepted the 
Gunnison sage-grouse as a distinct species. The current ranges of the 
two species are not overlapping (Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 369). 
Additional species information can be found in the Final Listing 
Determination for the Gunnison sage-grouse (April 18, 2006; 71 FR 

Previous Federal Actions

    We have published a number of documents on Gunnison sage-grouse, 
and we describe our actions relevant to this notice below:
    On January 18, 2000, we designated the Gunnison sage-grouse as a 
candidate species under the Act, with a listing priority of 5. However, 
Candidate Notices of Review are only published annually, and, 
therefore, the Federal Register notice regarding this decision was not 
published until December 28, 2000 (65 FR 82310). Candidate species are 
plants and animals for which the Service has sufficient information on 
their biological status and threats to propose them as endangered or 
threatened under the Act, but for which the development of a proposed 
listing regulation is precluded by other higher priority listing 
activities. A listing priority of 5 indicates the species faces high 
magnitude, nonimminent threats.
    On January 26, 2000, American Lands Alliance, Biodiversity Legal 
Foundation, and others petitioned the Service to list the species (Webb 
2000). In 2003, the U.S. District Court ruled that the species was 
designated as a candidate by the Service prior to receipt of the 
petition because the candidate form was signed on January 18, 2000, and 
that the determination that a species should be on the candidate list 
is equivalent to a 12-month finding (American Lands Alliance v. Gale A. 
Norton, C.A. No. 00-2339, D.D.C.).
    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires that for species on the 
candidate list for listing as threatened or endangered we conduct 
annual status reviews and make a determination of whether listing the 
candidate species is: (a) Not warranted, (b) warranted, or (c) 
warranted but precluded by other higher priority listing 
determinations. In the 2003 Candidate Notice of Review, we elevated the 
listing priority number for Gunnison sage-grouse from 5 to 2 (69 FR 
24876), as the imminence of the threats had increased. In the 2004 and 
2005 Candidate Notice of Reviews (69 FR 24876 and 70 FR 24870, 
respectively) we maintained the listing priority number for Gunnison 
sage-grouse as a 2.
    Plaintiffs amended their complaint in May 2004 to allege that the 
Service's warranted-but-precluded finding and decision not to 
emergency-list the Gunnison sage-grouse were in violation of the Act. 
The parties filed a stipulated settlement agreement with the court on 
November 14, 2005, which included a provision that the Service would 
make a proposed listing determination by March 31, 2006. On March 28, 
2006, the plaintiffs agreed to a 1-week extension (April 7, 2006) for 
this determination.
    In April 2005, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) applied to 
the Service for an Enhancement of Survival Permit for the Gunnison 
sage-grouse pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act. The permit 
application included a proposed Candidate Conservation Agreement with 
Assurances (CCAA) between CDOW and the Service. The standard that a 
CCAA must meet is that the ``benefits of the conservation measures 
implemented under a CCAA, when combined with those benefits that would 
be achieved if it is assumed that conservation measures were also to be 
implemented on other necessary properties, would preclude or remove any 
need to list the species.'' The CCAA, the permit application, and the 
Environmental Assessment were made available for public comment on July 
6, 2005 (70 FR 38977). Public comments and other internal comments from 
the Service and CDOW were incorporated into revisions of the CCAA and 
Environmental Assessment and finalized in October 2006. The permit for 
the CCAA was signed on October 23, 2006. Landowners with eligible 
property in southwestern Colorado who wish to participate can 
voluntarily sign up under the CCAA and associated permit through a 
Certificate of Inclusion. These participants provide certain Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat protection or enhancement measures on their lands. 
If the Gunnison sage-grouse is listed under the Act, the permit 
authorizes incidental take of Gunnison sage-grouse due to otherwise 
lawful activities in accordance with the terms of the CCAA (e.g., crop 
cultivation, crop harvesting, livestock grazing, farm equipment 
operation, commercial/residential development, etc.), as long as the 
participating landowner is performing activities identified in the 
Certificate of Inclusion. Three Certificates of Inclusion have been 
issued by the CDOW and Service to private landowners to date.
    On April 11, 2006, the Service determined that listing the Gunnison 
sage-grouse as a threatened or endangered species was not warranted and 
published the final listing determination on April 18, 2006, in the 
Federal Register (71 FR 19954). Consequently, we removed Gunnison sage-
grouse from the candidate species list at the time of the final listing 
determination. On November 14, 2006, Plaintiffs (the County of San 
Miguel, Colorado; Center for Biological Diversity; WildEarth Guardians; 
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility; National Audubon 
Society; The Larch Company; Center for Native Ecosystems; Sinapu; 
Sagebrush Sea Campaign; Black Canyon Audubon Society; and Sheep 
Mountain Alliance) filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive 
relief, pursuant to the Act, and on October 24, 2007, filed an Amended 
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive relief, alleging that the 12-
month finding on the Gunnison sage-grouse violated the Act. On August 
18, 2009, a Stipulated Settlement Agreement and Order was filed with 
the court, with a June 30, 2010 date by which the Service shall submit 
to the Federal Register a 12-month finding, pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 
1533(b)(3)(B), that listing the Gunnison sage-grouse under the Act is 
(a) warranted; (b) not warranted; or (c) warranted but precluded by 
higher priority listing actions. With this notice, we are initiating a 
new status review for the Gunnison sage-grouse.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references is available upon request from 
the Field Supervisor (see ADDRESSES).


    The primary author of this document is Al Pfister, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Western Colorado Field Office.


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

[[Page 61102]]

    Dated: November 13, 2009.
Sam D. Hamilton,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. E9-28047 Filed 11-20-09; 8:45 am]