[Federal Register: December 26, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 248)]
[Page 78811-78815]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on 
a Petition To List the Mono Basin Area Sage Grouse as Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding on a petition to list the Mono Basin area sage grouse 
(Centrocercus urophasianus phaios) under the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended. We find the petition does not present substantial 
scientific or commercial information indicating that listing this 
species may be warranted.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made December 26, 

ADDRESSES: The complete file for this finding is available for 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife

[[Page 78812]]

Service, Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office, 1340 Financial Boulevard, 
Suite 234, Reno, NV 89502.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert D. Williams, Field Supervisor, 
Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES) (telephone 775/861-
6300; facsimile 775/861-6301).



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, (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 presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. This finding is to be based on all 
information available to us at the time we make the finding. To the 
maximum extent practicable, this finding is to be made within 90 days 
of our receipt of the petition, and notice of this finding is to be 
published promptly in the Federal Register. Our standard for 
substantial information within the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 
with regard to a 90-day petition finding is ``that amount of 
information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the 
measure proposed in the petition may be warranted'' (50 CFR 424). If 
the finding is that substantial information was presented, we are 
required to promptly commence a review of the status of the involved 
species, if one has not already been initiated, under our internal 
candidate assessment process.
    On January 2, 2002, we received a petition, dated December 28, 
2001, from the Institute for Wildlife Protection requesting that the 
greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus phaios) occurring in the 
Mono Basin area of Mono County, California, and Lyon County, Nevada, be 
emergency listed as an endangered distinct population segment (DPS) 
under the Act. The petition clearly identified itself as such and 
contained the name, address, and signature of the petitioning 
organization's representative. Accompanying the petition was 
information related to the taxonomy, life history, demographics, 
movements, habitats, threats, and the past and present distribution of 
the greater sage grouse. The petitioner contends that the sage grouse 
occurring in the Mono Basin are genetically unique from the birds that 
occur in the rest of the range of the species and possesses other 
distinctive features as well. Also, the petitioner contends that sage 
grouse in the Mono Basin are imminently threatened with extinction. In 
order to determine if substantial information is available to indicate 
that the petitioned action may be warranted, the Service has reviewed 
the following: the subject petition, literature cited in the petition, 
information provided by recognized experts or agencies cited in the 
petition, and information otherwise available in Service files.
    The petitioner's request is to list the Mono Basin area population 
of the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus phaios) as a DPS. 
However, the scientific name used by the petitioner to identify the 
greater sage grouse is incorrect. The correct scientific name for the 
greater sage grouse is Centrocercus urophasianus, whereas C. u. phaios 
is the western subspecies of the greater sage grouse and does not occur 
in the Mono Basin (Aldrich 1946, 1963; American Ornithologists' Union 
(AOU) 1957; Johnsgard 1973). The sage grouse that occurs in the Mono 
Basin area has been described as the eastern subspecies of the greater 
sage grouse (C. urophasianus urophasianus) (Aldrich 1946, 1963; AOU 
1957; Johnsgard 1973).
    The following information regarding the description and natural 
history of the sage grouse has been condensed from the following 
sources: Aldrich 1963, Johnsgard 1973, Connelly et al. 1988, Fischer et 
al. 1993, Drut 1994, Western Sage and Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse 
Workshop 1996 and 1998, Schroeder et al. 1999, and Governor Guinn's 
Sage Grouse Conservation Planning Team 2001.
    The sage grouse is the largest North American grouse species. Adult 
males range in size from 66 to 76 centimeters (cm) (26 to 30 inches 
(in)) and weigh between 2 and 3 kilograms (kg) (4 and 7 pounds (lb)); 
adult females range in size from 48 to 58 cm (19 to 23 in) and weigh 
between 1 and 2 kg (2 and 4 lb). Males and females have dark grayish-
brown body plumage with many small gray and white speckles, fleshy 
yellow combs over the eyes, long pointed tails, and dark-green toes. 
Males also have blackish chin and throat feathers, conspicuous 
phylloplumes (specialized erectile feathers) at the back of the head 
and neck, and white feathers forming a ruff around the neck and upper 
belly. During breeding displays, males also exhibit olive-green apteria 
(fleshy bare patches of skin) on their breasts.
    Sage grouse depend on a variety of shrub steppe habitats throughout 
their life cycle, and are particularly tied to several species of 
sagebrush (Artemesia spp.). Throughout much of the year, adult sage 
grouse rely on sagebrush to provide roosting cover and food. During the 
winter they depend almost exclusively on sagebrush for food. The type 
and condition of shrub steppe plant communities strongly affect habitat 
use by sage grouse populations. However, these populations also exhibit 
strong site fidelity (loyalty to a particular area). Sage grouse 
populations may disperse up to 160 kilometers (km) (100 miles (mi)) 
between seasonal use areas; however, average population movements are 
generally less than 34 km (21 mi). Sage grouse are also capable of 
dispersing over areas of unsuitable habitat.
    During the spring breeding season, primarily during the morning 
hours just after dawn, male sage grouse gather together and perform 
courtship displays on areas called leks (areas where animals assemble 
and perform courtship displays). Areas of bare soil, short grass 
steppe, windswept ridges, exposed knolls, or other relatively open 
sites may serve as leks. Leks range in size from less than 0.4 hectare 
(ha) (1 acre (ac)) to more than 40 ha (100 ac) and can host several to 
hundreds of males. Some leks are used for many years. These 
``historic'' leks are typically larger than, and often surrounded by, 
smaller ``satellite'' leks, which may be less stable in size and 
location within the course of one year and between two or more years. A 
group of leks where males and females may interact within a breeding 
season or between years is called a lek complex. Males defend 
individual territories within leks and perform elaborate displays with 
their specialized plumage and vocalizations to attract females for 
    Females may travel up to 35 km (22 mi) after mating, and typically 
select nest sites under sagebrush cover, although other shrub or 
bunchgrass species are sometimes used. Nests are relatively simple and 
consist of scrapes on the ground. Clutch sizes range from 6 to 13 eggs. 
Nest success ranges from 10 to 63 percent and is relatively low 
compared to that of other prairie grouse species. Shrub canopy and 
grass cover provide concealment for sage grouse nests and young, and 
may be critical for reproductive success.
    Sage grouse typically live between 1 and 4 years; however, sage 
grouse up to 10 years of age have been recorded in the wild. The annual 
mortality rate for sage grouse is roughly 50 to 55 percent, which is 
relatively low compared to rates for other prairie grouse species. 
Females generally have a higher survival rate than males, which 
accounts for a female-biased sex ratio in adult birds.
    Prior to European expansion into western North America, sage grouse 
(C. urophasianus) were believed to occur in

[[Page 78813]]

the States of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, 
Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, 
Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, and the Canadian provinces of British 
Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan (Schroeder et al. 1999). Currently, 
sage grouse occur in 11 States and 2 Canadian provinces, ranging from 
extreme southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, south to 
western Colorado, and west to eastern California, Oregon, and 
Washington. In addition, sage grouse occur in southern Idaho, the 
northern two-thirds of Nevada, parts of Utah, most of Wyoming, southern 
and eastern Montana, and extreme western North and South Dakota. Sage 
grouse have been extirpated from Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New 
Mexico, Arizona, and British Columbia (Schroeder et al. 1999).
    Rangewide, sage grouse distributions have declined in a number of 
areas, most notably along the northern and northwestern periphery and 
in the center of their historic range. There may have been between 
roughly 1.6 million and 16 million sage grouse rangewide prior to 
European expansion across western North America (65 FR 51578). The 
Western States Sage Grouse Technical Committee (WSSGTC) (1999) 
estimated that there may have been about 1.1 million birds in 1800. 
Braun (1998) estimated that the 1998 rangewide spring population 
numbered about 157,000 sage grouse. More recent estimate puts the 
number of sage grouse rangewide at between roughly 100,000 and 500,000 
birds (65 FR 51578). Sage grouse population levels may have declined 
from historic to recent times between 69 and 99 percent (65 FR 51578). 
WSSGTC (1999) estimates the decline from historic times to the present 
day may have been about 86 percent.
    Apparently, much of the overall decline in sage grouse populations 
occurred from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s (Hornaday 1916, Crawford 
1982, Drut 1994, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) 
1995, Braun 1998, Schroeder et al. 1999). Other declines in sage grouse 
populations apparently occurred in the 1920s and 1930s, and then again 
in the 1960s and 1970s (Connelly and Braun 1997).

Mono Basin Area Sage Grouse

    Sage grouse in the Mono Basin area of California historically 
occurred in most of Mono County, the far eastern part of Alpine County, 
and in northern Inyo County (Leach and Hensley 1954, Hall 1995). By 
1995, suitable habitat within this area had declined approximately 71 
percent from an estimated historic level of 916,571 ha (2,264,889 ac) 
to 265,758 ha (656,700 ac) (Hall 1995). Most (93 percent) of the 
remaining sage grouse distribution and all known leks in the Mono Basin 
part of California occur in Mono County (Hall 1995, BLM 2002). Lek 
areas in Mono County include Fales, Bodie Hills, Parker, Sagehen, 
Adobe, Long Valley, and the White Mountains. From 1995 to 2002, 
California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) spring population 
estimates for sage grouse in Mono County varied from 664 to 1,435 birds 
with an average of 1,075 birds (Sam Blankenship, CDFG, pers. comm. 
    In Nevada Esmeralda, Mineral, Lyon, and Douglas Counties share 
borders with Mono County, and this could be characterized as the Mono 
Basin area. Historically, sage grouse occurred in all four of these 
Nevada counties (Gullion and Christensen 1957). Sage grouse habitat in 
this part of Nevada has declined from historic levels but the amount of 
loss is not known (San Stiver, Nevada Division of Wildlife (NDOW), 
pers. comm. 2002). Active leks are present in all these counties except 
Esmeralda County. Active leks occur in the following areas: Ninemile 
and Mt. Grant areas of Mineral County; the Sweetwater, Desert Creek, 
and North Pine Nuts area of Lyon County; and the South Pine Nuts area 
of Douglas County (BLM 2002). No sage grouse spring population 
estimates are available for Douglas County. NDOW was unable to provide 
2002 population estimates for Mineral and Lyon Counties.
    The petitioner requested that we emergency list the Mono Basin area 
sage grouse as an endangered DPS of the species under the Act. Under 
our DPS policy (61 FR 4722), we use three elements to assess whether a 
population under consideration for listing may be recognized as a DPS: 
(1) A population segment's discreteness from the remainder of the 
taxon; (2) the population segment's significance to the taxon to which 
it belongs; and (3) ``[t]he population segment's conservation status in 
relation to the Act's standards for listing (i.e., is the population 
segment, when treated as if it were a species, endangered or 
threatened.)''. If we determine that a population being considered for 
listing may represent a DPS, then the level of threat to the population 
is evaluated based on the five listing factors established by the Act 
to determine if listing it as either threatened or endangered may be 
    A population segment of a vertebrate species may be considered 
discrete if it satisfies either of the following conditions. The first 
condition is whether the species' population is markedly separated, or 
isolated, from other populations of the same taxon ``as a consequence 
of physical, physiological, ecological, or behavioral factors.'' When 
these four factors are evaluated, ``[q]uantitative measures of genetic 
or morphological discontinuity may provide evidence of this 
separation.'' The second condition, which does not apply here, is 
whether the population segment can be ``delimited by international 
governmental boundaries within which differences in control of 
exploitation, management of habitat, conservation status, or regulatory 
mechanisms exist that are significant in light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of 
the Act.''
    In determining the discreteness, or isolation, of the Mono Basin 
area sage grouse, one of the factors to consider is physical separation 
from the rest of the taxon. The petitioner did not provide substantial 
information to demonstrate that the Mono Basin area sage grouse are 
physically isolated from other nearby populations. Although these birds 
are associated with separate locations on a landscape consisting of 
various mountain ranges and intervening valleys, they are able to move 
between these areas. For example, sage grouse in Nevada are known to 
travel to lek sites in the Bodie Hills in California (Craig Mortimore, 
NDOW, pers. comm. 2002). Telemetry data from Nevada indicates that sage 
grouse move between the Desert Creek area and the Sweetwater Mountains 
(S. Stiver, pers. comm. 2002). Exchange is also possible between the 
northernmost lek locations in Lyon County and the next closest area of 
habitat to the north in the Pah Rah Range. The distance between these 
two locations (about 18 km (28 miles)) is well within the species' 
maximum estimated dispersal distance of 160 km (100 mi) (WDFW 1995; 
Schroeder et al. 1999).
    The DPS policy states that genetic information may be used to 
provide evidence of separation. The petitioner cites an unpublished 
study which provides evidence to suggest that sage grouse in both Lyon 
County, Nevada, and Mono County, California, are genetically unique 
from the rest of the taxon (Benedict et al. 2000; Taylor 2000; Benedict 
et al. 2001). However, the results of this study are limited to genetic 
samples taken from the Bodie Hills and Long Valley areas in California, 
and the Desert Creek and Sweetwater areas in Nevada. These leks 
comprise approximately 31 percent of known lek areas in the Mono Basin 

[[Page 78814]]

and other leks that have not been located are probably present within 
the Mono Basin area. This study used samples from hunter-collected 
wings and, therefore, did not include lek areas closed to hunting. 
Given the limited genetic information available, a determination 
regarding separation of these genetically unique birds from the rest of 
the taxon cannot be completed. Benedict et al. (2000) recommends that 
additional studies be conducted, including morphology and behavioral 
studies, to clarify the taxonomy of the Mono Basin area sage grouse.
    Two other factors to consider with regard to discreteness or 
isolation of a population are the behavioral and morphological aspects. 
Taylor (2002) initiated a study in 2001 to determine if previously 
collected genetic data relating to the Mono Basin area sage grouse are 
supported by behavioral and morphological differences. Male 
vocalizations, strutting behavior, and display rates were determined 
and compared for birds both within and outside the Mono Basin (Taylor 
2002). Preliminary results from this work indicate that no behavioral 
differences exist between sage grouse within the Mono Basin and those 
found outside it (Taylor 2002). The comparative work on morphological 
characteristics has not been completed. Although this study is 
incomplete, it suggests that sage grouse within the Mono Basin cannot 
be considered a DPS on the basis of behavioral factors. The petitioner 
does not provide any information to document that sage grouse within 
the Mono Basin area exhibit any unique behavioral or morphological 
traits. No information is presented in the petition, nor is there any 
available in the Service files, to indicate that there are physical, 
genetic, behavioral, morphological, physiological, or ecological 
differences between sage grouse that occur in the Mono Basin and those 
found outside the area.
    In summary, to make a DPS determination, we examined physical, 
physiological, ecological, and behavioral factors. Since there are no 
international government boundaries of significance, this condition for 
a finding of discreteness was not considered in reaching this 
determination. Neither the information presented in the petition nor 
that available in Service files presents substantial scientific or 
commercial information to demonstrate that the Mono Basin area sage 
grouse is discrete from the remainder of the taxon. Accordingly, we are 
unable to define a listable entity of sage grouse within the Mono Basin 
area. Therefore, we did not address the second element for determining 
a DPS, which is the potential significance of the Mono Basin area sage 
grouse to the remainder of the taxon. Finally, since the Mono Basin 
area sage grouse cannot be defined as a DPS at this time, we did not 
evaluate its status as endangered or threatened on the basis of the 
Act's definitions of those terms and the factors in section 4(a) of the 
    The petitioner requests that we emergency-list the Mono Basin area 
sage grouse. Substantial information to define a listable entity in the 
Mono Basin area does not exist. However, in making this finding, we 
evaluated the threats to the Mono Basin area sage grouse presented by 
the petitioner to determine whether or not the continued survival of 
sage grouse in the Mono Basin area was threatened in a manner 
warranting emergency action. The Act identifies five factors to be 
considered, either singly or in combination, to determine whether a 
species may be threatened or endangered. The five listing factors that 
we must consider are: (1) Present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of habitat or range; (2) overutilization 
for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (3) 
disease or predation; (4) inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; 
and (5) other natural or human-caused factors affecting the species' 
continued existence. Our evaluation of these threats is presented 
    The petitioner cites multiple threats to sage grouse within the 
California portion of the Mono Basin area. These include large fires, 
cheatgrass invasion, pinyon-juniper invasion, high road densities, 
high-speed highways, powerlines, military installations, livestock 
grazing, livestock fencing, water diversions and groundwater pumping by 
the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, joggers with off-leash 
dogs, dirt bikers, mountain bikers, sport-utility vehicle drivers, a 
recreational vehicle park, potential gold mining, the expansion of the 
Town of Mammoth Lakes airport, hunting, poaching, falconry, the 
landfill for the town of Mammoth Lakes, excessive soil erosion, a 
population bottleneck (the smallest number of individuals ever observed 
for a species) caused by winter conditions, demographic stochasticity, 
low sage grouse production, and improper grazing practices allowed by 
the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. In the 
Nevada portion of the Mono Basin (Lyon County in particular was cited 
by the petitioner), the petitioner cites threats from agriculture, 
mining, traffic (related to both mining and highways), aircraft 
operations at an airstrip, development, grazing, and fire.
    In reviewing the petition and available information, we find that 
most of the threats cited by the petitioner for the Mono Basin area are 
speculative, and that insufficient information is provided to 
demonstrate that they actually threaten the continued existence of sage 
grouse in the Mono Basin area. The petitioner cited threats such as 
high road densities and associated recreational road use by motorized 
recreational vehicle drivers, livestock fencing, a proposed 
recreational vehicle park, a proposed airport expansion for the town of 
Mammoth Lakes, and the Mammoth Lakes landfill. All potentially could 
threaten sage grouse populations in the area; however, none have been 
documented to do so. Hunting and a winter population bottleneck have 
been documented as threats for limited portions of the Mono Basin area 
(Gibson 1998, 2001) but have not been proven to threaten sage grouse 
populations for the Mono Basin area as a whole. A review of the best 
available scientific and commercial data does not lead us to conclude 
that the Mono Basin area sage grouse is threatened with extinction, nor 
are the threats of such a magnitude to warrant emergency listing.

Petition Finding

    We have reviewed the petition, literature cited in the petition, 
other pertinent literature, and information available in Service files. 
After our review we find the petition does not present substantial 
information to indicate that the petitioned action is warranted. This 
finding is based on the following: (a) Insufficient information to 
determine whether the Mono Basin area sage grouse are separated from 
other sage grouse throughout the range of the taxon; (b) contradictory 
information presented by preliminary results from a behavioral and 
morphological study that suggests that Mono Basin area sage grouse are 
not different from other populations of greater sage grouse; and (c) 
insufficient information to document that the threats presented 
threaten the continued existence of the species in the Mono Basin.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon 
request from the Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES).


    The primary author of this notice is Kevin Kritz, U.S. Fish and 

[[Page 78815]]

Service, Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES).


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

    Dated: December 10, 2002.
Steve Williams,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 02-32523 Filed 12-24-02; 8:45 am]