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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


April 12, 2006

Sharon Rose 303-236-4580
Pat Mehlhop 303-236-4215


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that following a comprehensive review, it will not be adding the Gunnison sage-grouse to the Federal list of threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and will also remove the species from the candidate list. 

Based on information on the lack of population declines, the Service has determined that threats to the Gunnison sage-grouse are neither imminent nor of such magnitude that they threaten or endanger the existence of the species.  Although various factors are believed to, or could potentially, be impacting the populations, these factors have not caused significant declines in the species throughout its range.   

“Based on the best available scientific and commercial information, including a recent population trend study and finding no evidence of substantial threats, the Service has determined the Gunnison sage-grouse does not need the protection of the ESA,” said Mitch King, director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. 

The Gunnison sage-grouse was added to the Service’s candidate list in 2000.  Candidate species are plants or animals the Service has determined need to be listed as threatened or endangered but the action is precluded by higher listing priorities for other species.  In November 2005, a trend analysis funded by the Service found populations of Gunnison sage-grouse have been stable for the last 10 years.  Based on peer-reviewed analysis, the Service concluded impacts to the grouse and its habitat are not at the level of threat originally believed. However, the Service and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, in cooperation with local landowners, will continue to informally monitor the status of populations.   

The Gunnison sage-grouse currently exists in seven populations, six in Colorado and one in both Colorado and Utah.  These include the Gunnison Basin, San Miguel Basin, Monticello-Dove Creek, Pinon Mesa, Crawford, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa and Poncha Pass populations.  The Gunnison Basin population is the largest and represents the best opportunity for long-term conservation of the species. 

The Service and the Colorado Division of Wildlife will also continue to work cooperatively to further the conservation interests of the sage-grouse.  Seventy-two landowners who own 102,000 acres of land where the Gunnison sage-grouse live have expressed interest in voluntary conservation efforts, such as candidate conservation agreements with assurances.  These are voluntary arrangements under the ESA designed to prevent the need for listing through preventive conservation efforts.  Agreements would outline conservation measures to benefit the grouse while still allowing the landowners to use their lands.   

Local conservation plans have been approved by the Service for six of the seven populations.  A range-wide Gunnison sage-grouse conservation plan was also completed and signed by Colorado Division of Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Service and other Federal agencies in June 2005.   

Gunnison sage-grouse historically occurred in southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and southeastern Utah, an area of 21,370 square miles.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. 

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1.               Q.  What information did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service use to make this determination?

A.    The Service systematically collected information on the Gunnison sage-grouse, its habitats, threats and environmental factors affecting the species from a wide array of sources.  The scientific literature on Gunnison sage-grouse and its sagebrush habitats is moderate so, where information was lacking and as appropriate, greater sage-grouse information was used to analyze habitat usage, threats, and environmental factors affecting the Gunnison sage-grouse.  In addition, the Service received a substantial amount of unpublished information from other Federal agencies, States, counties, non-governmental organizations and individuals.  We also solicited information on all Federal, State or local conservation efforts currently in operation or planned for the Gunnison sage-grouse or its habitats.


2.               Q.  Did the CCAA, Rangewide Conservation Plan or local conservation plans help the Service avoid listing the Gunnison sage-grouse?

No.  The Service’s decision not to list the Gunnison sage-grouse was based on a recent population trend analysis and a lack of evidence on substantial threats at the time of the finding.  Even though we did not directly apply the CCAA, Rangewide Conservation Plan and local conservation plans to our decision, these efforts represent important conservation actions that will help ensure the long-term conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse and we encourage their continued development and implementation. 

3.               Q.  What does a Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) do for the species and the landowner?

A.    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.  Landowners provide certain Gunnison sage-grouse habitat protection or enhancement measures on their lands.  If the Gunnison sage-grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the permit obtained under the CCAA authorizes incidental take of Gunnison sage-grouse due to otherwise lawful activities in accordance with the terms of the CCAA (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.  Conservation measures deemed necessary on parcels of land will primarily be drawn from the Range-wide Conservation Plan or local conservation plans. 

4.               Q.  What are some of the differences between the greater sage-grouse and the Gunnison sage-grouse?

A.    Gunnison sage-grouse weigh one-third less than greater sage-grouse.  The specialized feathers on the neck (filoplumes) are longer and give the appearance of a “ponytail” during the courtship display, unlike the greater sage-grouse.  Mating calls are distinct between the two species.  The current ranges of the two species are not overlapping.  In summary, they’re different genetically, morphologically and behaviorally. 

5.               Q.  What foods do Gunnison sage-grouse eat?

A.    Food of the Gunnison sage-grouse is composed of nearly 100 percent sagebrush in the winter.  Forbs and insects are important during the summer and early fall.  Unlike many other game birds, Gunnison and greater sage-grouse do not possess muscular gizzards and, therefore, lack the ability to grind and digest seeds. 

6.               Q.  Where did the Gunnison sage-grouse occur historically?

A.    Historically, the Gunnison sage-grouse occurred in southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah.  Accounts of Gunnison sage-grouse in Kansas and Oklahoma are now believed to be reports of mistaken locations or misidentification of lesser prairie chickens and not considered within the historic range. 

7.               Q.  Where do Gunnison sage-grouse presently occur?

A.    Gunnison sage-grouse currently occur in seven widely scattered and isolated populations in Colorado and Utah, occupying 1,820 square miles.  The seven populations are Gunnison Basin, San Miguel Basin, Monticello-Dove Creek, Pinon Mesa, Crawford, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa, and Poncha Pass. 

8.               Q.  Where is the largest population of Gunnison sage-grouse and who manages the land?

A.    The Gunnison Basin, which is roughly centered on the town of Gunnison and covers roughly 593,000 acres, contains the largest population of Gunnison sage-grouse.  Approximately 51 percent of the occupied sage-grouse range in Gunnison Basin is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, 14 percent by the U.S. Forest Service, 2 percent by the National Park Service, 1 percent by Colorado Division of Wildlife, 1 percent by the Colorado State Land Board, and 31 percent is privately owned. 


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