[Federal Register: January 12, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 8)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 2243-2282]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

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Part III

Department of the Interior


Fish and Wildlife Service


50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding for 
Petitions To List the Greater Sage-Grouse as Threatened or Endangered; 
Proposed Rule

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Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding 
for Petitions To List the Greater Sage-Grouse as Threatened or 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of a 12-month petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
12-month finding for three petitions to list the greater sage-grouse 
(Centrocercus urophasianus) as threatened or endangered under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. After reviewing the best 
available scientific and commercial information, we find that listing 
is not warranted. We ask the public to submit to us any new information 
that becomes available concerning the status of or threats to the 
species. This information will help us monitor and encourage the 
conservation of this species.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on January 6, 
2005. Although further listing action will not result from this 
finding, we request that you submit new information concerning the 
status of or threats to this species whenever it becomes available.

ADDRESSES: Comments and materials received, as well as supporting 
documentation used in the preparation of this 12-month finding, will be 
available for inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours 
at the Wyoming Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 4000 Airport Parkway, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82001. Submit new 
information, materials, comments, or questions concerning this species 
to the Service at the above address.

ADDRESSES section above), by telephone at (307) 772-2374, by facsimile 
at (307) 772-2358, or by electronic mail at fw6_sagegrouse@fws.gov.



    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that, for any petition 
to revise the Lists of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife and Plants 
that contains substantial scientific or commercial information that the 
action may be warranted, we make a finding within 12 months of the date 
of the receipt of the petition on whether the petitioned action is: (a) 
Not warranted, (b) warranted, or (c) warranted but precluded by other 
pending proposals. Such 12-month findings are to be published promptly 
in the Federal Register.
    On July 2, 2002, we received a petition from Craig C. Dremann 
requesting that we list the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus 
urophasianus) as endangered across its entire range. We received a 
second petition from the Institute for Wildlife Protection on March 24, 
2003 (Webb 2002) requesting that the greater sage-grouse be listed 
rangewide. On December 29, 2003, we received a third petition from the 
American Lands Alliance and 20 additional conservation organizations 
(American Lands Alliance et al.) to list the greater sage-grouse as 
threatened or endangered rangewide. On April 21, 2004, we announced our 
90-day petition finding in the Federal Register (69 FR 21484) that 
these petitions taken collectively, as well as information in our 
files, presented substantial information indicating that the petitioned 
actions may be warranted. In accordance with section 4(b)(3)(A) of the 
Act, we have now completed a status review of the best available 
scientific and commercial information on the species, and have reached 
a determination regarding the petitioned action.
    This status review of the greater sage-grouse does not address our 
prior finding with regard to the Columbia Basin distinct population 
segment (DPS). On May 7, 2001, we published a 12-month finding on a 
petition to list the Washington population of the western subspecies of 
the greater sage-grouse as a distinct population segment (DPS) (66 FR 
22984). Our finding included a summary of the historic distribution of 
what we then considered to be the western subspecies of the greater 
sage-grouse (see ``Species Information'' below regarding taxonomy). In 
our finding we determined that the population segment that remains in 
central Washington met the requirements of our policy for recognition 
as a distinct population segment (61 FR 4722) and that listing the DPS 
was warranted but precluded by other higher priority listing actions. 
Because the population in central Washington occurs entirely within the 
historic distribution of sage-grouse within the Columbia Basin 
ecosystem, we referred to it as the Columbia Basin DPS (66 FR 22984; 
May 7, 2001). In subsequent candidate notices of review (CNORs), 
including the most recent one published in the Federal Register on May 
4, 2004 (69 FR 24875), we found that a listing proposal for this DPS 
was still warranted but precluded by higher priorities. Since that time 
new information has become available through this status review of the 
greater sage-grouse. We will use the best scientific and commercial 
information available (including, but not limited to information that 
became available during this rangewide status review) to reevaluate 
whether the Columbia Basin population still qualifies as a DPS under 
our DPS policy, and if it does, whether the DPS still warrants a 
listing proposal. Once that evaluation is completed, we will publish an 
updated finding for the Columbia Basin population in the Federal 
Register either in the next CNOR or in a separate notice.

Responses to Comments Received

    We received 889 responses to our request for additional information 
in our 90-day finding for the greater sage-grouse (69 FR 21484). Those 
responses which contained new, updated, or additional information were 
thoroughly considered in this 12-month finding. We received a large 
number of identical or similar comments. We consolidated the comments 
into several categories, and provide responses as follows.
    Comment 1: It is premature for the Service to consider listing the 
sage-grouse until the impact of local and State conservation efforts 
are realized.
    Response 1: The Service is required under section 4 of the Act to 
determine whether or not listing is warranted within 12 months of 
receiving a petition to list a species. By publishing a positive 90-day 
finding in April, 2004 (69 FR 21484), we were required by the Act to 
immediately proceed with the completion of a 12-month finding. We have 
examined ongoing and future conservation efforts in our status review. 
This included using our Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts 
When Making Listing Decisions (``PECE'') (68 FR 15100; March 28, 2003) 
to evaluate conservation efforts by State and local governments and 
other entities that have been planned but have not been implemented, or 
have been implemented but have not yet demonstrated effectiveness, to 
determine which such efforts met the standard in PECE for contributing 
to our finding. Our analysis of the best available scientific data 
revealed that the greater sage-grouse is not a threatened species, and 
in making this finding it was not necessary to rely on the 
contributions of any of the local, State, or other planned conservation 
efforts that met the standard in PECE. A

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summary of our process with regard to PECE is provided in the section 
``Status Review Process,'' below.
    Comment 2: Listing the sage-grouse could have a negative impact on 
the conservation efforts being implemented by States for this species.
    Response 2: We appreciate the fact that prior to acceptance of the 
listing petitions, States within the range of the greater sage-grouse 
are fully engaged in developing and implementing conservation efforts 
for this species, and we encourage them to continue these efforts. 
Conservation actions which have already been implemented have been 
considered in this decision. However, our determination regarding 
whether or not this species warrants listing under the Act must be 
based on our assessment of population status and threats to the 
species, the species' population status, and the status and trend of 
the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the decision.
    Comment 3: The facts do not support the need for listing this 
    Response 3: The Service has considered all factors potentially 
affecting the greater sage-grouse in our decision and agree that the 
listing is not warranted. We have made our decision based on the best 
available scientific and commercial data, as required by the Act.
    Comment 4: In most western states, sage-grouse populations have 
been fairly steady and in some cases, increasing over the past decade.
    Response 4: The Service has considered population trends in all 
States and Provinces, and across the entire range of the species in our 
status review, including localized increases.
    Comment 5: Locally managed efforts are best suited to preserve and 
protect the greater sage-grouse.
    Response 5: We acknowledge that local conservation efforts for this 
species are important to long-term conservation, particularly given the 
widespread distribution and the variety of habitats and threats. 
However, most of these efforts have not yet been implemented, or have 
not been demonstrated to be effective. Conservation actions that have 
already been implemented and for which effectiveness is known have been 
considered in this decision. Our determination of whether or not this 
species warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment 
of the threats to the species, the species' population status, and the 
status and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time 
of the decision. There is no one best strategy for sage-grouse 
conservation and we encourage the continuation of all conservation 
efforts to conserve the greater sage-grouse. The Service continues to 
support the development of a Conservation Strategy for the Greater 
Sage-grouse by Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 
(WAFWA), and supports voluntary conservation as the most effective 
method to protect species and their habitats.
    Comment 6: The recovery process under the Endangered Species Act 
has a very low success rate.
    Response 6: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is a 
listing, not a recovery decision. Our determination regarding whether 
or not this species warrants listing under the Act must be based on our 
assessment of the threats to the species, the species' population 
status, and the status and trend of the species' habitat as they are 
known at the time of the decision, not its potential for recovery under 
the Act. Therefore, this comment may not be considered in this finding.
    Comment 7: If the greater sage-grouse is listed there will be a 
reduction of freedom and private property rights and public land use, 
and therefore a negative impact on the country. Listing the grouse will 
also result in economic damage to many entities.
    Response 7: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is based 
on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required by 
the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing must be based on our assessment of the threats to the 
species, the species' population status, and the status and trend of 
the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the decision, not 
the potential social or economic implications of listing. Therefore, 
this comment may not be considered in this finding.
    Comment 8: There will be a loss of management options for the 
greater sage-grouse if this species is listed.
    Response 8: We are not aware of any management options that are 
beneficial to the greater sage-grouse that would need to be eliminated 
if this species is listed under the Act-an action we believe to be not 
warranted at this time.
    Comment 9: Listing the greater sage-grouse will divide and polarize 
local communities.
    Response 9: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is based 
on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required by 
the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision, not the potential socio-political implications of listing. 
Therefore, this comment may not be considered in this finding.
    Comment 10: Listing the greater sage-grouse will increase the 
workload for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    Response 10: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision, not the potential increase in workload for the Service. 
Therefore, this comment may not be considered in this finding.
    Comment 11: Listing the greater sage-grouse will result in Federal 
budget limitations for other Federal agencies and projects.
    Response 11: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision, not the potential implications for the Federal budget of 
listing. Therefore, this comment may not be considered in this finding.
    Comment 12: Conservation planning efforts and current Federal 
agency actions are sufficient to conserve the greater sage-grouse.
    Response 12: We acknowledge that many Federal agencies are 
implementing conservation measures for the greater sage-grouse, and 
that several conservation efforts for this species are underway. 
Current federal conservation efforts have been reviewed and considered 
in our analysis. We evaluated planned conservation efforts under PECE 
(see Response 1); most of the planned conservation efforts for the 
greater sage-grouse have not yet been implemented. However, because our 
analysis of the best available scientific and commercial data revealed 
that the greater sage-grouse is not warranted for listing under the 
ESA, it was not necessary to evaluate whether the planned conservation 
efforts that met PECE reduced the threats to the species.
    Comment 13: The petition was subjected to an independent analysis 
and serious problems were found with the science.

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    Response 13: Our 90-day finding was based on the determination that 
the three petitions submitted met the ``substantial information'' 
threshold as defined under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act. At the time 
of the 90-day finding, we did acknowledge that two of the three 
petitions contained some misstatements (69 FR 21484). However, the 
petitions were only one information source of many we used in our 
review for the 90-day finding. For the current 12-month finding, we 
conducted an exhaustive review of the scientific literature, and 
included State, industry, and Federal agency data. This finding does 
not rely on the petitions, but rather the best scientific and 
commercial data available, as required by the Act.
    Comment 14: The Western Governor's Association report provides 
additional information which should be considered.
    Response 14: The Western Governor's Association report was 
considered in this finding.
    Comment 15: Many private sector groups are taking steps to protect 
sage-grouse habitat.
    Response 15: We acknowledge that local conservation efforts for 
this species are important to long-term conservation and strongly 
support the continuation of these efforts. Most of the planned 
conservation efforts for the greater sage-grouse have not yet been 
implemented. As explained above, in making this finding it was not 
necessary to rely on the contributions of any of the local, State, or 
other planned conservation efforts that met the standard in PECE (see 
Response 1).
    Comment 16: Scientific reports detailing the sage-grouse's decline 
consistently declare more work is necessary to adequately assess the 
status of sage-grouse populations.
    Response 16: We agree that additional information on populations 
would be useful. However, as required by the Act, the Service must use 
the best scientific and commercial information available when making a 
12-month finding. The law does not provide a mechanism for the Service 
to improve the available information.
    Comment 17: Hunting is allowed in most states and provides a 
benefit to hunters and state wildlife programs without a negative 
impact on sage-grouse populations.
    Response 17: At this time, it is unclear what area-specific impacts 
sage-grouse hunting has on sage-grouse populations. Most States are 
currently managing their populations in conformance with the WAFWA 
guidelines, which contain the most up-to-date guidelines for sage-
grouse management. Our review indicated that regulated hunting of sage-
grouse does not pose a threat that would lead to the likely 
endangerment of the species in the foreseeable future.
    Comment 18: Now that there is a coordinated effort to further 
protect the species, there is no reason to suspect that this progress 
will not continue.
    Response 18: We acknowledge that many Federal, State, and local 
working groups are implementing protective measures for the greater 
sage-grouse, and that several conservation efforts for this species are 
underway, have been planned, or are in the process of being planned. 
Most of the planned conservation efforts for the greater sage-grouse 
have not yet been implemented. As explained above, in making this 
finding it was not necessary to rely on the contributions of any of the 
local, State, or other planned conservation efforts that met the 
standard in PECE (see Response 1). We strongly encourage continued 
efforts to preserve and protect the greater sage-grouse and its 
    Comment 19: The Conservation Assessment of Greater Sage-grouse and 
Sagebrush Habitats provides additional information which should be 
    Response 19: The Conservation Assessment of Greater Sage-grouse and 
Sagebrush Habitats report was considered in this finding.
    Comment 20: The worst possible outcome is to list the sage-grouse.
    Response 20: Our determination of whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision. We strongly encourage all efforts to conserve the greater 
sage-grouse and its habitat.
    Comment 21: Predators are causing the decline of sage-grouse.
    Response 21: We have considered the effects of predators and 
predator control in our sage-grouse analysis.
    Comment 22: We need to consider the effects of hunting on sage-
    Response 22: We have considered the effects of hunting in our sage-
grouse analysis.
    Comment 23: Sage-grouse are doing well in some areas and therefore, 
they should not be listed in those areas. Also, the Service should 
consider the need to list sage-grouse on a state-by-state basis.
    Response 23: The petitions requested that we determine if the 
species needed to be listed across its entire range. Therefore, we have 
to consider the sage-grouse population range-wide. Additionally, our 
Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Populations (61 
FR 4722) requires that in order to consider separate populations within 
a species for listing under the Act, such populations must (1) be 
discrete in relation to the remainder of the species to which it 
belongs, and (2) have biological and ecological significance for the 
taxon. We have received no information that suggests any population of 
the greater sage-grouse is isolated from conspecific populations, with 
the exception of the Columbia Basin population in central Washington. 
As described above, we previously determined that a proposal to list 
the Columbia Basin distinct population segment is warranted but 
precluded by other higher priority listing actions (66 FR 22984), and 
in the near future we will reevaluate that determination to consider 
new information, including (but not limited to) information available 
as a result of this status review and finding on petitions to list the 
greater sage-grouse.
    Comment 24: Drought and other weather conditions have had a major 
effect on sage-grouse populations.
    Response 24: We acknowledge that drought and other weather 
conditions are a natural occurrence in the west and we have considered 
the effects of drought in our sage-grouse analysis.
    Comment 25: It was interesting to see flocks of dozens of grouse 
near fences, since conventional wisdom sees fences as perches for 
raptors and hence areas of avoidance for raptor-wary grouse.
    Response 25: We acknowledge that raptors do use fences as perch 
sites. Sage-grouse tend to avoid perch sites like fences but threats of 
raptors do not totally exclude sage-grouse use of habitat near fences.
    Comment 26: The size of sage-grouse populations can be affected by 
habitat condition.
    Response 26: We acknowledge that habitat conditions can affect 
local sage-grouse numbers. We have considered this information in the 
    Comment 27: Disease is a natural event that may be negatively 
affecting sage-grouse.
    Response 27: We have considered the effects of disease on greater 
sage-grouse in this finding. As identified in the Act, it is one of the 
threat factors we are required to consider in our status review.
    Comment 28: Listing the greater sage-grouse will remove the 
flexibility of local planning efforts.
    Response 28: We recognize that listing may affect local planning 
efforts, due to its effect on voluntary conservation efforts. However, 
we may not consider those effects under this status review.

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    Comment 29: Maintaining and improving habitat is the answer to 
increasing sage-grouse numbers.
    Response 29: We concur that maintaining habitat is important for 
the long-term conservation of the greater sage-grouse. We strongly 
encourage efforts to conserve sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat.
    Comment 30: Greater sage-grouse numbers and distribution have 
significantly declined since 1900.
    Response 30: The information pertaining to the status and 
distribution of the greater sage-grouse has been reviewed and 
incorporated in our analysis. Sage-grouse abundance has been 
scientifically documented as declining since the 1950s, but the rate of 
decline has decreased since the 1980s and in some places has 
stabilized, or even increased.
    Comment 31: Destructive land use practices and management on public 
and private lands are negatively affecting the greater sage-grouse.
    Response 31: We have considered the effects of various uses of 
private and public lands on the status of the greater sage-grouse in 
this finding.
    Comment 32: Negative impacts to the greater sage-grouse continue 
irrespective of efforts by State and local working groups.
    Response 32: Most State and local working group conservation 
efforts for the greater sage-grouse have not yet been implemented, and 
the certainty of implementation and effectiveness of such efforts is 
unclear. However, we have considered all conservation efforts which 
have been implemented and shown to be effective. As explained above, in 
making this finding it was not necessary to rely on the contributions 
of any of the local, state, or other planned conservation efforts that 
met the standard in PECE (see Response 1).
    Comment 33: Listing the sage-grouse would affect much-needed land 
management reform.
    Response 33: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision, not the potential land management implications of listing. 
Therefore, this comment may not be considered in this finding.
    Comment 34: The ESA requires that listing decisions be based solely 
on the best science and biological information about the species and 
its habitats.
    Response 34: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act.
    Comment 35: Meaningful regulatory mechanisms are non-existent and 
existing management is inadequate to conserve the bird.
    Response 35: We have considered existing regulatory mechanisms and 
management activities in this finding.
    Comment 36: Only listing the greater sage-grouse under the 
Endangered Species Act will save the birds and its habitat.
    Response 36: Our determination of whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision. We strongly encourage all efforts to conserve the greater 
sage-grouse and its habitat.
    Comment 37: Listing the greater sage-grouse would benefit a variety 
of other sagebrush obligates and sagebrush-dependent species.
    Response 37: This finding is for the greater sage-grouse only. 
Therefore, we cannot consider the potential impact of listing the 
greater sage-grouse on the status of other sagebrush-dependent species 
in our decision.
    Comment 38: The WAFWA Conservation Assessment is disturbing in that 
its findings show a wide discrepancy in how States monitor greater 
    Response 38: The WAFWA Conservation Assessment represents one 
component of the best available scientific and commercial data that we 
used in our analysis, as required by the Act. The fact that the States 
vary somewhat in how they conduct monitoring of this species was 
considered in this finding.
    Comment 39: The loss of small populations of sage-grouse increases 
the species' risk of extinction when the species occurs primarily in 
spread out, island-like patches of habitat.
    Response 39: We have considered the effects of small population 
sizes and isolated populations in our finding.
    Comment 40: Current regulatory frameworks are sufficient to protect 
the greater sage-grouse.
    Response 40: We have considered existing regulatory mechanisms and 
management activities in this finding and determined that existing 
regulatory protections in combination with the existing threats do not 
warrant listing the greater sage-grouse range-wide.
    Comment 41: Grazing is good for sage-grouse. Improvements to 
grazing practices have been positive for sage-grouse.
    Response 41: We have considered all aspects of grazing impacts on 
the greater sage-grouse in our finding.
    Comment 42: Listing the greater sage-grouse will curtail energy 
    Response 42: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision, not the potential land management implications of listing. We 
did evaluate the threat of energy development to greater sage-grouse in 
this finding.
    Comment 43: ESA is prohibitively expensive to implement.
    Response 43: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision, not the potential cost of listing. Therefore, this comment 
may not be considered in this finding.
    Comment 44: There is adequate funding available for future 
conservation efforts for the greater sage-grouse.
    Response 44: We evaluated the certainty of funding for future 
conservation efforts as part of our evaluation of efforts that were 
subject to PECE. We encourage the continued implementation of 
conservation efforts for the greater sage-grouse.
    Comment 45: We have additional information for your analysis.
    Response 45: All relevant additional, new, or updated information 
received in comments submitted was thoroughly considered in this 12-
month finding.
    Comment 46: We have information regarding proposed actions for your 
    Response 46: We have examined proposed actions, consistent with 
PECE (68 FR 15100) in our status review. Our analysis of the best 
available scientific and commercial data revealed that listing the 
greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered is not warranted, and 
in making this finding it was not necessary to rely on the

[[Page 2248]]

contribution of any of the local, State, or other planned conservation 
efforts that met the standard in PECE (see Response 1).
    Comment 47: The Service's 90-day finding did not consider all 
available information.
    Response 47: For a 90-day finding, we are required to review the 
information in the petition(s), our files, and any information provided 
by States and Tribes. Based upon this information, the Service 
determines whether there is substantial information indicating that 
further review is necessary. We are required to consider the best 
available scientific and commercial data in our 12-month status review. 
This finding represents our conclusions based on that information.
    Comment 48: Falconers take very few sage-grouse. They are a 
preferred species for only one extremely specialized form of falconry.
    Response 48: We have considered this information in our analysis.
    Comment 49: If the Service determines that listing the sage-grouse 
is appropriate, they will have to designate critical habitat.
    Response 49: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision. We designate critical habitat for listed species as required 
by the Act.
    Comment 50: The Service must consider the status of the sage-grouse 
across the entirety of its range.
    Response 50: We have considered the status of the greater sage-
grouse across the entirety of its range, as petitioned.
    Comment 51: We do not believe that the designation of the 
Washington population of sage-grouse as a Distinct Population Segment 
(DPS) is appropriate.
    Response 51: This status review of the greater sage-grouse does not 
address our prior finding with regard to the Columbia Basin distinct 
population segment (DPS). New information which has become available 
through this status review of the greater sage-grouse will be 
considered when we re-evaluate the status of the Columbia Basin 
population, either through an updated finding or in the next Candidate 
Notice of Review.
    Comment 52: Managing agencies lack Best Management Practices due to 
the lack of support, manpower, and funding.
    Response 52: We acknowledge that the extent of support, manpower, 
and funding may influence some aspects of the implementation of Best 
Management Practices (BMPs) for sage-grouse. As currently described, 
most BMPs are very broadly stated mitigation measures that involve 
incorporating project design features when various resource management 
activities are planned, in order to reduce or avoid impacts to species.
    Comment 53: Industry has implemented many mitigation and protection 
measures for sage-grouse.
    Response 53: We acknowledge that industries are implementing some 
mitigation and protective measures for sage-grouse. We evaluated all 
such information that was available to us. We strongly encourage the 
continuation of all efforts to conserve the greater sage-grouse and its 
    Comment 54: Listing the sage-grouse could have profound impacts on 
a number of military facilities.
    Response 54: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision, not the potential impact of listing on military facilities. 
Therefore, this comment may not be considered in this finding.
    Comment 55: Loss of habitat to cheatgrass and juniper invasion are 
major threats to sage-grouse habitat. The technologies and know-how 
exist to eliminate or reduce the cheatgrass and juniper invasion 
    Response 55: We acknowledge that cheatgrass and juniper invasions 
are threats to sage-grouse habitats. Currently, technologies have been 
developed or are being developed to treat problems of cheatgrass and 
juniper invasions. Our review found mixed results in the current 
technologies' ability to treat cheatgrass and juniper problems.
    Comment 56: Historic declines and habitat loss are not relevant to 
the current listing decision.
    Response 56: Our decision regarding the greater sage-grouse is 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data, as required 
by the Act. Our determination regarding whether or not this species 
warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment of the 
threats to the species, the species' population status, and the status 
and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time of the 
decision, including information on historic declines and habitat loss 
to the extent that they contribute to current threats.
    Comment 57: There is no peer-reviewed science to support a listing.
    Response 57: We have reviewed scientific, peer-reviewed literature 
in our analysis, as well as commercial and unpublished data. The 
cumulative review of this information was used to determine if the 
greater sage-grouse warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act.
    Comment 58: Most sage-grouse habitat loss due to agriculture (i.e., 
conversion to cropland, seeding to crested wheatgrass, etc.) has been 
eliminated or greatly reduced. Large-scale conversions to agriculture 
are decreasing.
    Response 58: We acknowledge that there have been changes in the 
rate of loss of sage-grouse habitat due to various agricultural 
conversions. We have considered this information in our analysis.
    Comment 59: The Service must consider all listing factors when 
making a determination.
    Response 59: Our determination regarding whether or not this 
species warrants listing under the Act must be based on our assessment 
of the threats to the species, the species' population status, and the 
status and trend of the species' habitat as they are known at the time 
of the decision. We consider the effects of all threats on the status 
of the species when we make our determination.
    Comment 60: Present habitat provides the necessary elements to 
sustain a highly viable sage-grouse population.
    Response 60: We have considered existing habitat conditions for the 
greater sage-grouse throughout its range in this finding.
    Comment 61: There is insufficient funding available to adequately 
fund existing and proposed conservation plans for the greater sage-
    Response 61: We have examined ongoing and future conservation 
efforts in our status review. We have examined proposed actions, 
consistent with PECE (68 FR 15100), in our status review, and this 
included consideration of funding, consistent with one of the criteria 
in PECE. (See also Response 1, above).
    Comment 62: Wildfire is a threat to sage-grouse habitat and can 
result in habitat elimination across the species' range.
    Response 62: We have considered the effects of wildfire on sage-
grouse habitat in this finding.

[[Page 2249]]

Information Quality Act

    In addition to the comments received, two Information Quality Act 
challenges were submitted. The challenge received from the Partnership 
for the West was addressed through a response directly to that 
organization. The second challenge from the Owyhee County Commissioners 
(Idaho) primarily stated that we failed to conduct an exhaustive search 
of all scientific literature, and other information in the completion 
of our 90-day finding. Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act only requires that 
the petitions present ``substantial scientific or commercial 
information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.'' 
The Act does not require an exhaustive search of all available 
information at that time. Other concerns identified in the Owyhee 
County Commissioner's challenge are addressed in our comment responses 
above, and an overall summary regarding the steps we have taken to 
ensure conformance with our Information Quality Guidelines is provided 
    The Service's Information Quality Guidelines define quality as an 
encompassing term that includes utility, objectivity, and integrity. 
Utility refers to the usefulness of the information to its intended 
users, including the public. Objectivity includes disseminating 
information in an accurate, clear, complete, and unbiased manner and 
ensuring accurate, reliable, and unbiased information. If data and 
analytic results have been subjected to formal, independent, external 
peer review, we generally will presume that the information is of 
acceptable objectivity. Integrity refers to the security of 
information--protection of the information from unauthorized access or 
revision, to ensure that the information is not compromised through 
corruption or falsification.
    The Service conducted a thorough pre-dissemination review of the 
data it is relying on to make this 12-month finding. In particular, the 
Service used the information in the WAWFA Conservation Assessment, 
which is a peer-reviewed science document. The WAWFA assessment was 
based on data provided by the states, provinces, land management 
agencies, as well as data in published, peer-reviewed manuscripts and 
other verified sources available to the authors of the assessment. The 
draft final assessment was reviewed by State agency wildlife biologists 
to ensure that data submitted by each State were presented accurately 
and completely. The assessment also was peer reviewed by an independent 
group of scientists selected by the Ecological Society of America. 
These reviewers were experts from academia, government, and non-
governmental organizations, and included researchers as well as 
wildlife managers.
    The WAWFA Conservation Assessment assembles in one place almost all 
of the available pertinent data that addresses the current biological 
and ecological condition of the sage-grouse and its habitat. This 
compilation of material allows the public to see a large body of 
information all in one document, making the information more useful 
than the many separate sources of information would be. Since the 
document has been subject to an independent, external peer review, the 
Service believes it is of acceptable objectivity. For these reasons the 
Service believes this information meets our Information Quality 

Status Review Process

    Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act requires us to consider the best 
scientific and commercial data available as well as efforts being made 
by States or other entities to protect a species when making a listing 
decision. To meet this standard we systematically collected information 
on the greater sage-grouse, its habitats, and environmental factors 
affecting the species, from a wide array of sources. The scientific 
literature on greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats is extensive. 
In addition we received a substantial amount of unpublished information 
from other Federal agencies, States, private industry and individuals. 
We also solicited information on all Federal, State, or local 
conservation efforts currently in operation or planned for either the 
greater sage-grouse or its habitats.
    The current distribution of greater sage-grouse and sagebrush 
habitat encompasses parts of 11 states in the western United States and 
2 Canadian provinces (Figure 1). This large geographical scale combined 
with major ecological differences in sagebrush habitat and myriad of 
activities occurring across this large area required that the Service 
employ a structured analysis approach. Given the very large body of 
information available to us for our decision, structuring our analysis 
ensured we could explicitly assess the relative risk of changes 
occurring across the range of the sage-grouse, and integrate those 
individual assessments, be they regional or rangewide in nature, into 
an estimate of the probability that sage-grouse would go extinct at 
defined timeframes in the future. Using such extinction risk analysis 
to frame listing decisions under the Act has been recommended (National 
Research Council 1995), and was adopted by the Service as an important 
component of a structured analysis of the status review of the greater 

[[Page 2250]]



[[Page 2251]]

    As part of the structuring of this status review, the Service 
compiled from the best scientific and commercial data available a 
summary of the changes or impacts occurring to the sagebrush ecosystem 
that could potentially affect the sage-grouse directly or indirectly. 
This summary, or synthesis of biological information, was one of many 
sources of information provided to a panel of seven experts, who, 
through a two-day facilitated process discussed threats to the species 
and each generated an estimate of extinction risk for the greater sage-
grouse at different timeframes in the future. This information and all 
other available information were then considered by Service biologists 
and managers to frame a listing recommendation, and ultimately the 
decision reported in this finding.
    Expert panels are not a required component of structured analysis 
but are used to help inform decision makers when there is uncertainty 
(National Research Council 1995). Typically, this uncertainty is due to 
a lack of information. While the scientific information on greater 
sage-grouse and their habitats is extensive, substantial gaps and 
uncertainty remain in the scientific community's knowledge of all the 
factors that may affect sage-grouse populations across such a wide 
geographical range encompassing major ecological differences in 
sagebrush habitats. Further, scientific knowledge of how the species 
may respond to those factors over time is incomplete. For these 
reasons, we requested input from scientific experts outside the Service 
to help us make a reasonable projection of the species' potential 
extinction risk. The panel consisted of experts in sage-grouse biology 
and ecology, sagebrush community ecology, and range ecology and 
    The organization of this finding reflects this basic approach. We 
first describe in more detail the structured process; present a summary 
of the threats to the species organized according to the 5 listing 
factors in the Act; then we present results from the facilitated expert 
panel process, including estimates of extinction risk; and finally 
present how a team of Service biologists and managers interpreted the 
extinction risk analysis, the threat ranking of the expert panelists, 
and other available information in the context of a listing decision 
under the Act. In order to ensure that the process we used to reach our 
finding is transparent, discussion of the biological significance of 
each threat listed under the 5 listing factors, and the geographical 
scale at which they affect sage-grouse is based on results of the 
expert panel and decision support team process. A thorough description 
of this process and its results is presented later in the finding along 
with the decision support team's evaluation of the threats in the 
context of a listing decision under the Act. However, we felt it was 
important to include a brief discussion of the spatial and biological 
significance of each threat as they are presented by listing factor.
    Following compilation of the best available scientific and 
commercial information, which is summarized in other sections of this 
finding and available in full in our administrative record, we 
conducted three phases of information synthesis and evaluation. First, 
the information on individual planned conservation efforts was 
evaluated under PECE to determine which efforts met the following 
standard in PECE: ``To consider that a formalized conservation 
effort(s) contributes to forming a basis for not listing a species or 
listing a species as threatened rather than endangered, we must find 
that the conservation effort is sufficiently certain to be implemented 
and effective so as to have contributed to the elimination or adequate 
reduction of one or more threats to the species identified through the 
section 4(a)(1) analysis'' (see 68 FR 15115). Second, we completed a 
structured analysis of greater sage-grouse extinction risk including 
the evaluation of all factors that may be contributing to the species' 
population trends and the likelihood of the species' extinction at 
various timeframes into the future. Finally, we evaluated whether the 
available information on status, trends, ongoing conservation efforts, 
and potential extinction risk indicate that the greater sage-grouse 
should be listed as a threatened or endangered species. We further 
structured these three phases by differentiating two distinct stages of 
the status review: (1) A risk analysis phase which consisted of 
compiling biological information, conducting the PECE analysis, and 
assessing the risk of extinction of greater sage-grouse, and (2) a risk 
management phase where a decision support team of senior Service 
biologists and managers evaluated whether or not the potential threats 
identified as part of our section 4(a)(1) analysis, and summarized in 
this finding, are significant enough to qualify the greater sage-grouse 
as a threatened or endangered species under the Act.
    For the PECE analysis, we received and reviewed 27 plans, or 
conservation strategies, outlining more than 300 individual efforts. 
Most of the plans were from States, but we also received information 
from the Department of Energy (DOE), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), 
U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Department of Defense (DOD), Natural 
Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Western Governor's Association 
(WGA), and the North American Grouse Partnership (NAGP).
    Each effort within each plan was evaluated under PECE, which 
provides a framework and criteria for evaluating conservation efforts 
that have not yet been implemented or have not yet demonstrated whether 
they are effective at the time of a listing decision. Recognizing that 
the certainty of implementation and effectiveness of various efforts 
within a conservation plan, strategy, or agreement may vary, PECE 
requires that we evaluate each effort individually, and the policy 
provides criteria to direct our analysis. PECE specifies that ``Those 
conservation efforts that are not sufficiently certain to be 
implemented and effective cannot contribute to a determination that 
listing is unnecessary or a determination to list as threatened rather 
than endangered'' (see 68 FR 15115). As described above, when 
determining whether or not a species warrants listing, with regard to 
conservation efforts that are subject to PECE we may only consider 
those efforts that we are sufficiently certain to be implemented and 
effective so as to have contributed to the elimination or reduction of 
one or more threats to the species. Using the criteria provided in 
PECE, we determined that 20 of the individual efforts we evaluated met 
the standard for being sufficiently certain to be implemented and 
effective in reducing threats. Hence, we included those 20 efforts in 
the information used for the extinction risk evaluation.
    The expert panelists participated together in a series of 
facilitated exercises and discussions addressing first the species' 
inherent biological vulnerability and resilience, then the potential, 
relative influence of extrinsic or environmental factors on 
populations, and finally the experts' projections of extinction risk at 
different geographical scales both with and without the 20 planned 
conservation efforts from the PECE analysis. The Service would only 
consider the effect of the conservation efforts that met PECE in our 
decision if our review of the best available scientific and commercial 
data revealed that listing the greater sage-grouse under the Act was 
warranted. The experts participated only in the assessment of 
biological and environmental factors and related extinction risk 
without any consideration or discussion of the petition or regulatory 
classification of

[[Page 2252]]

the species. Structuring of the assessment facilitated thorough and 
careful deliberation by the experts and observing Service biologists 
and managers on the decision support team, including clarification of 
what information was critical to forming the experts' views of, where 
knowledge gaps and areas of uncertainty exist, and confidence experts 
felt in the biological judgments they expressed. Structuring also 
facilitated independent contributions from the experts.
    In the final status review stage, following the compilation of 
biological information, PECE analysis of conservation efforts, and the 
facilitated extinction risk assessment by the expert panel, Service 
biologists and managers met and conducted a separate facilitated 
process to assess whether or not the threats to the greater sage-grouse 
described in this finding were significant enough at this time to meet 
the definition of a threatened or endangered species under the Act. 
Specific results from both the facilitated risk analysis stage of the 
status review and the facilitated risk management stage of the status 
review are presented later in the finding to clarify how the Service 
reached its decision. The Service's finding considered all of the 
available information on record.

Species Information

    The sage-grouse is the largest North American grouse species. Adult 
males range in length 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 length 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 exhibit olive-green apteria 
(fleshy bare patches of skin) on their breasts (Schroeder et al. 1999).
    In 2000, the species was separated into 2 distinct species, the 
greater sage-grouse (C. urophasianus) and the Gunnison sage-grouse (C. 
minimus) based on genetic, morphological and behavioral differences 
(Young et al. 2000). This finding only addresses the greater sage-
    Although the American Ornithological Union (AOU) recognizes two 
subspecies of the greater sage-grouse, the eastern (C. u. urophasianus) 
and western (C. u. phaios), based on research by Aldrich (1946), recent 
genetic analyses do not support this delineation (Benedict et al. 2003; 
Oyler-McCance et al. in press). There are no known delimiting 
differences in habitat use, natural history, or behavior between the 
two subspecies. Therefore, the Service no longer acknowledges the 
subspecies designation (68 FR 6500; February 7, 2003; 69 FR 933; 
January 7, 2004).
    Sage-grouse depend on a variety of shrub-steppe habitats throughout 
their life cycle, and are considered obligate users of several species 
of sagebrush (e.g., Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata 
wyomingensis), mountain big sagebrush (A. t. vaseyana), and basin big 
sagebrush (A. t. tridentata) (Patterson 1952; Braun et al. 1976; 
Connelly et al. 2000a; Connelly et al. 2004)). Sage-grouse also use 
other sagebrush species such as low sagebrush (A. arbuscula), black 
sagebrush (A. nova), fringed sagebrush (A. frigida) and silver 
sagebrush (A. cana) (Schroeder et al. 1999; Connelly et al. 2004). 
Thus, sage-grouse distribution is strongly correlated with the 
distribution of sagebrush habitats (Schroeder et al. 2004). While sage-
grouse are dependent on large, interconnected expanses of sagebrush 
(Patterson 1952; Connelly et al. 2004), information is not available 
regarding minimum sagebrush patch sizes required to support populations 
of sage-grouse. Sage-grouse exhibit strong site fidelity (loyalty to a 
particular area) for breeding and nesting areas (Connelly et al. 2004).
    During the spring breeding season, male sage-grouse gather together 
to perform courtship displays on display areas called leks. Areas of 
bare soil, short-grass steppe, windswept ridges, exposed knolls, or 
other relatively open sites may serve as leks (Patterson 1952; Connelly 
et al. 2004 and references therein). Leks are often surrounded by 
denser shrub-steppe cover, which is used for escape, thermal and 
feeding cover. Leks can be formed opportunistically at any appropriate 
site within or adjacent to nesting habitat (Connelly et al. 2000a), and 
therefore lek habitat availability is not considered to be a limiting 
factor for sage-grouse (Schroeder 1997). Leks range in size from less 
than 0.04 hectare (ha) (0.1 acre (ac)) to over 36 ha (90 ac) (Connelly 
et al. 2004) and can host from several to hundreds of males (Johnsgard 
2002). Males defend individual territories within leks and perform 
elaborate displays with their specialized plumage and vocalizations to 
attract females for mating. A relatively small number of dominant males 
accounts for the majority of breeding on each lek (Schroeder et al. 
    Sage-grouse typically select nest sites under sagebrush cover, 
although other shrub or bunchgrass species are sometimes used (Klebenow 
1969; Connelly et al. 2000a; Connelly et al. 2004). The sagebrush 
understory of productive nesting areas contains native grasses and 
forbs, with horizontal and vertical structural diversity that provides 
an insect prey base, herbaceous forage for pre-laying and nesting hens, 
and cover for the hen while she is incubating (Gregg 1991; Schroeder et 
al. 1999; Connelly et al. 2000a; Connelly et al. 2004). Shrub canopy 
and grass cover provide concealment for sage-grouse nests and young, 
and are critical for reproductive success (Barnett and Crawford 1994; 
Gregg et al. 1994; DeLong et al.1995; Connelly et al. 2004). Vegetation 
characteristics of nest sites, as reported in the scientific literature 
have been summarized by Connelly et al. (2000a). Females have been 
documented to travel more than 20 km (12.5 mi) to their nest site after 
mating (Connelly et al. 2000a), but distances between a nest site and 
the lek on which breeding occurred is variable (Connelly et al. 2004). 
While earlier studies indicated that most hens nest within 3.2 km (2 
mi) of a lek, more recent research indicates that many hens actually 
move much further from leks to nest based on nesting habitat quality 
(Connelly et al. 2004). Research by Bradbury et al. (1989) and Wakkinen 
et al. (1992) demonstrated that nest sites are selected independent of 
lek locations.
    Sage-grouse clutch size ranges from 6 to 13 eggs (Schroeder et al. 
2000). Nest success (one or more eggs hatching from a nest), as 
reported in the scientific literature, ranges from 15 to 86 percent of 
initiated nests (Schroeder et al. 1999), and is typically lower than 
other prairie grouse species (Connelly et al. 2000a) and therefore 
indicative of a lower intrinsic (potential) population growth rate than 
in most game bird species (Schroeder et al. 1999). Renesting rates 
following nest loss range from 5 to 41 percent (Schroeder 1997).
    Hens rear their broods in the vicinity of the nest site for the 
first 2 to 3 weeks following hatching (Connelly et al. 2004). Forbs and 
insects are essential nutritional components for chicks (Klebenow and 
Gray 1968; Johnson and Boyce 1991; Connelly et al. 2004). Therefore, 
early brood-rearing habitat must provide adequate cover adjacent to 
areas rich in forbs and insects to assure chick survival during this 
period (Connelly et al. 2004).

[[Page 2253]]

    Sage-grouse move from sagebrush uplands to more mesic areas during 
the late brood-rearing period (3 weeks post-hatch) in response to 
summer desiccation of herbaceous vegetation (Connelly et al. 2000a). 
Summer use areas can include sagebrush habitats as well as riparian 
areas, wet meadows and alfalfa fields (Schroeder et al. 1999). These 
areas provide an abundance of forbs and insects for both hens and 
chicks (Schroeder et al. 1999; Connelly et al. 2000a). Sage-grouse will 
use free water although they do not require it since they obtain their 
water needs from the food they eat. However, natural water bodies and 
reservoirs can provide mesic areas for succulent forb and insect 
production, thereby attracting sage-grouse hens with broods (Connelly 
et al. 2004). Broodless hens and cocks will also use more mesic areas 
in close proximity to sagebrush cover during the late summer (Connelly 
et al. 2004).
    As vegetation continues to desiccate through the late summer and 
fall, sage-grouse shift their diet entirely to sagebrush (Schroeder et 
al. 1999). Sage-grouse depend entirely on sagebrush throughout the 
winter for both food and cover. Sagebrush stand selection is influenced 
by snow depth (Patterson 1952; Connelly 1982 as cited in Connelly et 
al. 2000a), and, in some areas, topography (Beck 1977; Crawford et al. 
    Many populations of sage-grouse migrate between seasonal ranges in 
response to habitat distribution (Connelly et al. 2004). Migration can 
occur between winter and breeding/summer areas, between breeding, 
summer and winter areas, or not at all. Migration distances of up to 
161 kilometers (km) (100 mi) have been recorded (Patterson 1952); 
however, average individual movements are generally less than 34 km (21 
mi) (Schroeder et al. 1999). Migration distances for female sage-grouse 
generally are less than for males (Connelly et al. 2004). Almost no 
information is available regarding the distribution and characteristics 
of migration corridors for sage-grouse (Connelly et al. 2004). Sage-
grouse dispersal (permanent moves to other areas) is poorly understood 
(Connelly et al. 2004) and appears to be sporadic (Dunn and Braun 
    Sage-grouse typically live between 1 and 4 years, but individuals 
up to 10 years of age have been recorded in the wild (Schroeder et al. 
1999). Juvenile survival (from hatch to first breeding season) is 
affected by food availability, habitat quality, harvest, and weather. 
Documented juvenile survival rates have ranged between 7 and 60 percent 
in a review of many field studies (Crawford et al. 2004). The average 
annual survival rate for male sage-grouse (all ages combined) 
documented in various studies ranged from 38 to 60 percent (Schroeder 
et al. 1999), and for females 55 to 75 percent (Schroeder 1997; 
Schroeder et al. 1999). Survival rates are high compared with other 
prairie grouse species (Schroeder et al. 1999). Higher female survival 
rates account for a female-biased sex ratio in adult birds (Schroeder 
1997; Johnsgard 2002). Although seasonal patterns of mortality have not 
been thoroughly examined, over-winter mortality is low (Connelly et al. 

Range and Distribution

    Prior to settlement of the western North America by European 
immigrants in the 19th century, greater sage-grouse lived in 13 States 
and 3 Canadian provinces--Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, 
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, 
Nebraska, Arizona, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan 
(Schroeder et al. 1999; Young et al. 2000; Schroeder et al. 2004). 
Sagebrush habitats that potentially supported sage-grouse occurred over 
approximately 1,200,483 km2 (463,509 mi2) before 1800 (Schroeder et al. 
2004). 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. Sage-grouse have been extirpated 
from Nebraska, British Columbia, and possibly Arizona (Schroeder et al. 
1999; Young et al. 2000; Schroeder et al. 2004). Current distribution 
of the greater sage-grouse is estimated at 668,412 km2 (258,075 mi2) or 
56 percent of the potential pre-settlement distribution (Schroeder et 
al. 2004; Connelly et al. 2004). The vast majority of the current 
distribution of the greater sage-grouse is within the United States.
    Estimates of current total sage-grouse abundance vary, but are all 
much lower than the historical estimates of a million or more birds. 
Braun (1998) estimated that the 1998 rangewide spring population 
numbered about 142,000 sage-grouse, derived from numbers of males 
counted on leks. The Service estimated the rangewide abundance of sage-
grouse in 2000 was at least 100,000 (taken from Braun (1998)) and up to 
500,000 birds (based on harvest data from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and 
Wyoming, with the assumption that 10 percent of the population is 
typically harvested) (65 FR 51578). Survey intensity has increased 
markedly in recent years and, in 2003, more than 50,000 males were 
counted on leks (Connelly et al. 2004). Therefore, Connelly et al. 
(2004) concluded that rangewide population numbers in 2003 were likely 
much greater than the 142,000 estimated in 1998 but was unable to 
generate a rangewide population estimate. Sampling methods used across 
the range of the sage-grouse differ, resulting in too much variation to 
reliably estimate sage-grouse numbers (Connelly et al. 2004). Since 
neither pre-settlement nor current numbers of sage-grouse are known 
with complete precision, the actual rate and extent of decline cannot 
be exactly estimated.
    Periods of historical decline in sage-grouse abundance occurred 
from the late 1800s to the early-1900s (Hornaday 1916; Crawford 1982; 
Drut 1994; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 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; Braun 1998). State wildlife 
agencies were sufficiently concerned with the decline in the 1920s and 
1930s that many closed their hunting seasons and others significantly 
reduced bag limits and season lengths (Braun 1998) as a precautionary 
    Following review of published literature and anecdotal reports, 
Connelly et al. (2004) concluded that the abundance and distribution of 
sage-grouse have declined from pre-settlement numbers to present 
abundance. Most of the historic population changes were the result of 
local extirpations, which has been inferred from a 44 percent reduction 
in sage-grouse distribution described by Schroeder et al. 2004 
(Connelly et al. 2004). In an analysis of lek counts, Connelly et al. 
(2004) found substantial declines from 1965 through 2003. Average 
declines were 2 percent of the population per year from 1965 to 2003. 
The decline was more dramatic from 1965 through 1985, with an average 
annual change of 3.5 percent. Sage-grouse population numbers in the 
late 1960s and early 1970s were likely two to three times greater than 
current numbers (Connelly et al. 2004). However, the rate of decline 
rangewide slowed from 1986 to 2003 to 0.37 percent annually, and some 
populations increased (Connelly et al. 2004).
    According to Connelly et al. (2004), of 41 populations delineated 
rangewide on geographical, not political boundaries, 5 have been 
extirpated and 14 are at high risk of extirpation due to small numbers 
(only one active lek). Twelve additional

[[Page 2254]]

populations also have small numbers (7 to 18 known active leks), and 9 
of those are declining at a statistically significant rate. However, 
the remaining 10 populations contained the majority (92 percent) of the 
known active leks and were distributed across the current range. Five 
of these populations were so large and expansive that they were divided 
into 24 subpopulations to facilitate the analysis for a rangewide 
assessment (Connelly et al. 2004).


    Sagebrush is the most widespread vegetation in the intermountain 
lowlands in the western United States (West and Young 2000). Scientists 
recognize many species and subspecies of sagebrush (Connelly et al. 
2004), each with unique habitat requirements and responses to 
perturbations (West and Young 2000). Sagebrush species and subspecies 
occurrence in an area is dictated by local soil type, soil moisture, 
and climatic conditions (West 1983; West and Young 2000), and the 
degree of dominance by sagebrush varies with local site conditions and 
disturbance history. Plant associations, typically defined by perennial 
grasses, further define distinctive sagebrush communities (Miller and 
Eddleman 2000; Connelly et al. 2004), and are influenced by topography, 
elevation, precipitation and soil type.
    All species of sagebrush produce large ephemeral leaves in the 
spring, which persist until soil moisture stress develops in the 
summer. Most species also produce smaller, over-wintering leaves in the 
late spring that last through summer and winter. Sagebrush have 
fibrous, tap root systems, which allow the plants to draw surface soil 
moisture, but also access water deep within the soil profile when 
surface water is limiting (West and Young 2000). Most sagebrush flower 
in the fall. However, during years of drought or other moisture stress, 
flowering may not occur. Although seed viability and germination are 
high, seed dispersal is limited. Additionally, for unknown reasons, 
sagebrush seeds do not persist in seed banks beyond the year of their 
production (West and Young 2000).
    Sagebrush are long-lived, with plants of some species surviving up 
to 150 years (West 1983). They produce allelopathic chemicals that 
reduce seed germination, seedling growth and root respiration of 
competing plant species and inhibit the activity of soil microbes and 
nitrogen fixation. Sagebrush has resistance to environmental extremes, 
with the exception of fire and occasionally defoliating insects (e.g., 
the webworm (Aroga spp.; West 1983)). Most species of sagebrush are 
killed by fire (Miller and Eddleman 2000; West 1983; West and Young 
2000). Natural sagebrush re-colonization in burned areas depends on the 
presence of adjacent live plants for a seed source or on the seed bank, 
if present (Miller and Eddleman 2000).
    Sagebrush is typically divided into two groups, big sagebrush and 
low sagebrush, based on their affinities for different soil types (West 
and Young 2000). Big sagebrush species and subspecies are limited to 
coarse-textured and/or well-drained sediments, whereas low sagebrush 
subspecies typically occur where erosion has exposed clay or calcified 
soil horizons (West 1983; West and Young 2000). Reflecting these soil 
differences, big sagebrush will die if surfaces are saturated long 
enough to create anaerobic conditions for 2 to 3 days (West and Young 
2000). Some of the low sagebrush are more tolerant of occasionally 
supersaturated soils, and many low sage sites are partially flooded 
during spring snowmelt. None of the sagebrush taxa tolerate soils with 
high salinity (West and Young 2000). Both groups of sagebrush are used 
by sage-grouse.
    The response of sagebrush and sagebrush ecosystems to natural and 
human-influenced disturbances varies based on the species of sagebrush 
and its understory component, as well as abiotic factors such as soil 
types and precipitation. For example, mountain big sagebrush can 
generally recover more quickly and robustly following disturbance than 
Wyoming big sagebrush (Miller and Eddleman 2000), likely due to its 
occurrence on moist, well drained soils, versus the very dry soils 
typical of Wyoming big sagebrush communities. Soil associations have 
also resulted in disproportionate levels of habitat conversion across 
different sagebrush communities. For example, basin big sage is found 
at lower elevations, in soils that retain moisture two to four weeks 
longer than in well drained, but dry and higher elevation soils typical 
of Wyoming big sagebrush locations. Therefore, sagebrush communities 
dominated by basin big sagebrush have been converted to agriculture 
more extensively than have communities on poorer soil sites (Winward 
    The effects of disturbance to sagebrush are not constant across the 
range of the sage-grouse. Connelly et al. (2004) presented sage-grouse 
population data by the described delineations of sagebrush ecosystems 
and communities (Miller and Eddleman 2000, from Kuchler's 1985 map; and 
West 1983). Unfortunately, information on impacts to the habitats has 
not been collected in a compatible manner, making analyses of these 
impacts specifically within each distinct ecosystem and community 
impossible. Therefore, while we acknowledge habitat differences across 
the greater sage-grouse range, we were unable to conduct our review at 
that level.

Discussion of Listing Factors

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531) and implementing regulations 
at 50 CFR part 424 set forth procedures for adding species to the 
Federal endangered and threatened species list. 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. These 
factors and their application to the greater sage-grouse are as 

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

Habitat Conversion
    Sagebrush is estimated to have covered roughly 120 million ha (296 
million ac; Schroeder et al. 2004) in western North America, but 
millions of those hectares have been cultivated for the production of 
potatoes, wheat, and other crops (Schroeder et al. 1999, 2000). Western 
rangelands were converted to agricultural lands on a large scale 
beginning with the series of Homestead Acts in the 1800s (Braun 1998, 
Hays et al. 1998), especially where suitable deep soil terrain and 
water were available (Rogers 1964). Connelly et al. (2004) estimated 
that 24.9 million ha (61.5 million ac) within their assessment area for 
sage-grouse is now comprised of agricultural lands (note, not all of 
the species' total range is sagebrush habitat, and the assessment area 
is larger than the sage-grouse current distribution). Influences 
resulting from agricultural activities adjoining sagebrush habitats 
extend into those habitats, and include increased predation and reduced 
nest success due to predators associated with agriculture (Connelly et 
al. 2004). Adding a 6.9 km (4.3 mi) buffer around agricultural areas 
(for the potential foraging distance of domestic cats and red foxes 
(Vulpes vulpes)), Connelly et al. (2004) estimated 115.2 million ha 
(284.7 million ac) (56 percent) within their assessment area for the 
greater sage-grouse is influenced by agriculture.
    In some States, the loss of sagebrush shrub-steppe habitats through 
conversion to agricultural crops has been dramatic. This impact has 

[[Page 2255]]

especially apparent in the Columbia Basin of the Northwest and the 
Snake River Plain of Idaho (Schroeder et al. 2004). Hironaka et al. 
(1983) estimated that 99 percent of basin big sagebrush (A. t. 
tridentata) habitat in the Snake River Plain has been converted to 
cropland. Prior to European immigrant settlement in the 19th century, 
Washington had an estimated 42 million ha (103.8 million ac) of shrub-
steppe (Connelly et al. 2004). Dobler (1994) estimated that 
approximately 60 percent of the original shrub-steppe habitat in 
Washington has been converted to primarily agricultural uses. In 
eastern Washington, land conversion to dryland farming occurred mostly 
between 1900 and the 1940s (Hays et al. 1998) and then in the 1950s and 
1960s large-scale irrigation projects (made possible through the 
construction of dams) reduced sage-grouse habitat even further (Hofmann 
1991 in Hays et al. 1998). Deep soils supporting shrub-steppe 
communities in Washington continue to be converted to agricultural uses 
(Vander Haegen et al. 2000), resulting in habitat loss. In north 
central Oregon, approximately 2.6 million ha (6.4 million ac) of 
habitat were converted for agricultural purposes, essentially 
eliminating sage-grouse from this area (Willis et al. 1993). More 
broadly, across the Interior Columbia Basin of southern Idaho, northern 
Utah, northern Nevada, eastern Oregon and Washington, approximately 6 
million ha (14.8 million ac) of shrub-steppe habitat has been converted 
to agricultural crops (Altman and Holmes 2000).
    Development of irrigation projects to support agricultural 
production, in some cases conjointly with hydroelectric dam 
construction, has resulted in additional sage-grouse habitat loss 
(Braun 1998). The reservoirs formed by these projects impacted native 
shrub-steppe habitat adjacent to the rivers in addition to supporting 
the irrigation and direct conversion of shrub-steppe lands to 
agriculture. The projects precipitated conversion of large expanses of 
upland shrub-steppe habitat in the Columbia Basin for irrigated 
agriculture (August 24, 2000; 65 FR 51578). The creation of these 
reservoirs also inundated hundreds of kilometers of riparian habitats 
used by sage-grouse broods (Braun 1998). However, other small and 
isolated reclamation projects (4,000 to 8,000 ha [10,000 to 20,000 ac]) 
were responsible for three-fold localized increases in sage-grouse 
populations (Patterson 1952) by providing water in a semi-arid 
environment which provided additional insect and forb food resources 
(e.g., Eden Reclamation Project in Wyoming). Shrub-steppe habitat 
continues to be converted for both dryland and irrigated crop 
production, albeit at much-reduced levels (65 FR 51578; Braun 1998).
    Although conversion of shrub-steppe habitat to agricultural crops 
impacts sage-grouse through the loss of sagebrush on a broad scale, 
some studies report the use of agricultural crops (e.g., alfalfa) by 
sage-grouse. When alfalfa fields and other croplands are adjacent to 
extant sagebrush habitat, sage-grouse have been observed feeding in 
these fields, especially during brood-rearing (Patterson 1952, Rogers 
1964, Wallestad 1971, Connelly et al. 1988, Fischer et al. 1997). 
Connelly et al. (1988) reported seasonal movements of sage-grouse to 
agricultural crops as sagebrush habitats desiccated during the summer.
    Sagebrush removal to increase herbaceous forage and grasses for 
domestic and wild ungulates is a common practice in sagebrush 
ecosystems (Connelly et al. 2004). By the 1970s, over 2 million ha (5 
million ac) of sagebrush had been mechanically treated, sprayed with 
herbicide, or burned (Crawford et al. 2004). Braun (1998) concluded 
that since European settlement of western North America, all sagebrush 
habitats used by greater sage-grouse have been treated in some way to 
reduce shrub cover. The use of chemicals to control sagebrush was 
initiated in the 1940s and intensified in the 1960s and early 1970s 
(Braun 1987).
    The extent to which mechanical and chemical removal or control of 
sagebrush currently occurs is not known, particularly with regard to 
private lands. However, the BLM has stated that with rare exceptions, 
they no longer are involved in actions that convert sagebrush to other 
habitat types, and that mechanical or chemical treatments in sagebrush 
habitat on BLM lands currently focus on improving the diversity of the 
native plant community, reducing conifer encroachment, or reducing the 
risk of a large wildfire (BLM 2004a).
    Greater sage-grouse response to herbicide treatments depends on the 
extent to which forbs and sagebrush are killed. Chemical control of 
sagebrush has resulted in declines of sage-grouse breeding populations 
through the loss of live sagebrush cover (Connelly et al. 2000a). 
Herbicide treatment also can result in sage-grouse emigration from 
affected areas (Connelly et al. 2000a), and has been documented to have 
a negative effect on nesting, brood carrying capacity (Klebenow 1970), 
and winter shrub cover essential for food and thermal cover (Pyrah 1972 
and Higby 1969 as cited in Connelly et al. 2000a). Conversely, small 
treatments interspersed with non-treated sagebrush habitats did not 
affect sage-grouse use, presumably due to minimal effects on food or 
cover (Braun 1998). Also application of herbicides in early spring to 
reduce sagebrush cover may enhance some brood-rearing habitats by 
increasing the coverage of herbaceous plant foods (Autenrieth 1981).
    Mechanical treatments are designed to either remove the aboveground 
portion of the sagebrush plant (mowing, roller chopping, and 
rotobeating), or to uproot the plant from the soil (grubbing, 
bulldozing, anchor chaining, cabling, railing, raking, and plowing; 
Connelly et al. 2004). These treatments were begun in the 1930s and 
continued at relatively low levels to the late 1990s (Braun 1998). 
Mechanical treatments, if carefully designed and executed, can be 
beneficial to sage-grouse by improving herbaceous cover, forb 
production, and resprouting of sagebrush (Braun 1998). However, adverse 
effects also have been documented (Connelly et al. 2000a). For example, 
in Montana, the number of breeding males declined by 73 percent after 
16 percent of the 202 km2 (78 mi2) study area was 
plowed (Swenson et al. 1987). Mechanical treatments in blocks greater 
than 100 ha (247 ac), or of any size seeded with exotic grasses, 
degrade sage-grouse habitat by altering the structure and composition 
of the vegetative community (Braun 1998).
    While many square miles of sagebrush habitat has been lost during 
the past 150 years to conversion of sagebrush habitat to agriculture, 
this conversion occurs at such relatively low levels today, that we do 
not consider it a threat to the greater sage-grouse on a rangewide 
Habitat Fragmentation
    This section considers the various natural and anthropogenic forces 
that influence sage-grouse habitat and can result in habitat 
fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation is the separation or splitting 
apart of previously contiguous, functional habitat components of a 
species. Fragmentation can result from direct habitat losses that leave 
the remaining habitat in non-contiguous patches, or from alteration of 
habitat areas that render the altered patches unusable to a species 
(i.e., functional habitat loss). Functional habitat losses include 
disturbances that change a habitat's successional state or remove one 
or more habitat functions, physical barriers that preclude use of 
otherwise suitable areas, and activities that prevent animals from 
using suitable habitats patches due to behavioral avoidance.

[[Page 2256]]

    Sagebrush communities exhibit a high degree of variation in their 
resistance and resilience to change, beyond natural variation. 
Resistance (the ability to withstand disturbing forces without 
changing) and resilience (the ability to recover once altered) 
generally increase with increasing moisture and decreasing 
temperatures, and can also be linked to soil characteristics (Connelly 
et al. 2004). However, most extant sagebrush habitat has been altered 
since European immigrant settlement of the West (Baker et al. 1976; 
Braun 1998; Knick et al. 2003; Connelly et al. 2004), and sagebrush 
habitat continues to be fragmented and lost (Knick et al. 2003) through 
the factors described below. The cumulative effects of habitat 
fragmentation have not been quantified over the range of sagebrush and 
most fragmentation cannot be attributed to specific land uses (Knick et 
al. 2003).
    Fragmentation of sagebrush habitats has been cited as a primary 
cause of the decline of sage-grouse populations since the species 
requires large expanses of contiguous sagebrush (Patterson 1952; 
Connelly and Braun 1997; Braun 1998; Johnson and Braun 1999; Connelly 
et al. 2000a; Miller and Eddleman 2000; Schroeder and Baydack 2001; 
Johnsgard 2002; Aldridge and Brigham 2003; Beck et al. 2003; Pedersen 
et al. 2003; Connelly et al. 2004; Schroeder et al. 2004). However, 
there is a lack of data to assess how fragmentation influences specific 
greater sage-grouse life history parameters such as productivity, 
density, and home range. While sage-grouse are dependent on 
interconnected expanses of sagebrush (Patterson 1952; Connelly et al. 
2004), data are not available regarding minimum sagebrush patch sizes 
to support populations of sage-grouse. Estimating the impact of habitat 
fragmentation on sage-grouse is complicated by time lags in response to 
habitat changes, particularly since these long-lived birds will 
continue to return to altered breeding areas (leks, nesting areas, and 
early brood-rearing areas) due to strong site fidelity despite nesting 
or productivity failures (Wiens and Rotenberry 1985).
    Power grids were first constructed in the United States in the late 
1800s. The public demand for electricity has grown as human population 
and industrial activities have expanded (Manville 2002), resulting in 
more than 804,500 km (500,000 mi) of transmission lines (lines carrying 
>= 115,000 volts/115kV) by 2002 within the United States (Manville 
2002). A similar estimate is not available for distribution lines 
(lines carrying < = 69,000 volts/69kV), and we are not aware of data for 
Canada. Within their analysis area (i.e., the pre-European settlement 
distribution of greater sage-grouse, including Canada, plus a 50-km 
(31.3-mi) buffer (buffer is to allow for external factors that may have 
contributed to current trends in populations or habitats)), Connelly et 
al. (2004) state there is a minimum of 15,296 km2 (5,904 
mi2) of land (less than 1 percent of their assessment area) 
in transmission powerline corridors, but could provide no estimate of 
the density of distribution lines in their assessment area.
    Powerlines can directly affect greater sage-grouse by posing a 
collision and electrocution hazard (Braun 1998; Connelly et al. 2000a), 
and can have indirect effects by increasing predation (Connelly et al. 
2004), fragmenting habitat (Braun 1998), and facilitating the invasion 
of exotic annual plants (Knick et al. 2003; Connelly et al. 2004). In 
1939, Borell reported the deaths of 3 adult sage-grouse as a result of 
colliding with a telegraph line in Utah (Borell 1939). Both Braun 
(1998) and Connelly et al. (2000a) report that sage-grouse collisions 
with powerlines occur, although no specific instances were presented. 
Other than an unpublished observation reported by Aldridge and Brigham 
(2003), we were unable to find documentations of other collisions and/
or electrocutions of sage-grouse resulting from powerlines.
    In areas where the vegetation is low and the terrain relatively 
flat, power poles provide an attractive hunting and roosting perch, as 
well as nesting stratum for many species of raptors (Steenhof et al. 
1993; Connelly et al. 2000a; Manville 2002; Vander Haegen et al. 2002). 
Power poles increase a raptor's range of vision, allow for greater 
speed during attacks on prey, and serve as territorial markers 
(Steenhof et al. 1993; Manville 2002). Raptors may actively seek out 
power poles where natural perches are limited. For example, within one 
year of construction of a 596-km (372.5-mi) transmission line in 
southern Idaho and Oregon, raptors and common ravens (Corvus corax) 
began nesting on the supporting poles (Steenhof et al. 1993). Within 10 
years of construction, 133 pairs of raptors and ravens were nesting 
along this stretch (Steenhof et al. 1993). The increased abundance of 
raptors and corvids within occupied sage-grouse habitats can result in 
increased predation. Ellis (1985) reported that golden eagle predation 
on sage-grouse on leks increased from 26 to 73 percent of the total 
predation after completion of a transmission line within 200 m (220 yd) 
of an active sage-grouse lek in northeastern Utah. The lek was 
eventually abandoned, and Ellis (1985) concluded that the presence of 
the powerline resulted in changes in sage-grouse dispersal patterns and 
fragmentation of the habitat. Leks within 0.4 km (0.25 mi) of new 
powerlines constructed for coalbed methane development in the Powder 
River Basin of Wyoming had significantly lower growth rates, as 
measured by recruitment of new males onto the lek, compared to leks 
further from these lines, which was presumed to be the result of 
increased raptor predation (Braun et al. 2002). Within their analysis 
area, Connelly et al. (2004) estimated that the area potentially 
influenced by additional perches for corvids and raptors provided by 
powerlines, assuming a 5 to 6.9-km (3.1 to 4.3-mi) radius buffer around 
the perches based on the average foraging distance of these predators, 
was 672,644 to 837,390 km2 (259,641 to 323,317 
mi2), or 32 to 40 percent of their assessment area. The 
actual impact on the area would depend on corvid and raptor densities 
within the area. The presence of a powerline may fragment sage-grouse 
habitats even if raptors are not present. Braun (1998; unpublished 
data) found that use of otherwise suitable habitat by sage-grouse near 
powerlines increased as distance from the powerline increased for up to 
600 m (660 yd) and based on that unpublished data reported that the 
presence of powerlines may limit sage-grouse use within 1 km (0.6 mi) 
in otherwise suitable habitat.
    Linear corridors through sagebrush habitats can facilitate the 
spread of invasive species, such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) 
(Gelbard and Belnap 2003; Knick et al. 2003; Connelly et al. 2004). 
However, we were unable to find any information regarding the amount of 
invasive species incursion as a result of powerline construction.
    Powerlines are common to nearly every type of anthropogenic habitat 
use, except perhaps some forms of agricultural development (e.g., 
livestock grazing) and fire. Although we were unable to find an 
estimate of all future proposed powerlines within currently occupied 
sage-grouse habitats, we anticipate that powerlines will increase, 
particularly given the increasing development of energy resources and 
urban areas. For example, up to 8,579 km (5,311 mi) of new powerlines 
are predicted for the development of the Powder River Basin coal-bed 
methane field in northeastern Wyoming (BLM 2003a) in addition to the 
approximately 9,656 km (6,000 mi) already constructed in that area. 
Although raptors associated

[[Page 2257]]

with powerlines may negatively impact individual greater sage-grouse 
and habitats, we could find no information regarding the effect of this 
impact on a rangewide basis.
Communication Towers
    Within sage-grouse habitats, 9,510 new communication towers have 
been constructed within recent years (Connelly et al. 2004). While 
millions of birds are killed annually in the United States through 
collisions with communication towers and their associated structures 
(guy wires, lights, etc.; Manville 2002), most documented mortalities 
are of migratory songbirds. We were unable to determine if any sage-
grouse mortalities occur as a result of collision with communication 
towers or their supporting structures, as most towers are not monitored 
and those that are lie outside the range of the species (Shire et al. 
2000; Kerlinger 2000). However, communication towers also provide 
perches for corvids and raptors (Steenhof et al. 1993; Connelly et al. 
2004). We could find no information regarding the potential impacts of 
communication towers to the greater sage-grouse on a rangewide basis.
    Fences are used to delineate property boundaries and for livestock 
management (Braun 1998; Connelly et al. 2000a). The effects of fencing 
on sage-grouse include direct mortality through collisions, creation of 
predator (raptor) perch sites, the potential creation of a predator 
corridor along fences (particularly if a road is maintained next to the 
fence), incursion of exotic species along the fencing corridor, and 
habitat fragmentation (Call and Maser 1985; Braun 1998; Connelly et al. 
2000a; Beck et al. 2003; Knick et al. 2003; Connelly et al. 2004).
    Sage-grouse frequently fly low and fast across sagebrush flats and 
new fences can create a collision hazard (Call and Maser 1985). Thirty-
six carcasses of sage-grouse were found near Randolph, Utah, along a 
3.2 km (2 mi) fence within three months of its construction (Call and 
Maser 1985). Twenty-one incidents of mortality through fence collisions 
near Pinedale, Wyoming, were reported in 2003 to the BLM (Connelly et 
al. 2004). Fence collisions continue to be identified as a source of 
mortality (Braun 1998; Connelly et al. 2000a; Oyler-McCance et al. 
2001; Connelly et al. 2004), although effects on populations are not 
understood. Fence posts also create perching places for raptors and 
corvids, which may increase their ability to prey on sage-grouse (Braun 
1998; Connelly et al. 2000b; Oyler-McCance et al. 2001; Connelly et al. 
2004). We anticipate that the effect on sage-grouse populations through 
the creation of new raptor perches and predator corridors into 
sagebrush habitats are similar to that of powerlines discussed 
previously (Braun 1998; Connelly et al. 2004). Fences and their 
associated roads also facilitate the spread of invasive plant species 
that replace sagebrush plants upon which sage-grouse depend (Braun 
1998; Connelly et al. 2000a; Gelbard and Belnap 2003; Connelly et al. 
2004). Greater sage-grouse avoidance of habitat adjacent to fences, 
presumably to minimize the risk of predation, effectively results in 
habitat fragmentation even if the actual habitat is not removed (Braun 
1998). More than 1,000 km (625 mi) of fences were constructed annually 
in sagebrush habitats from 1996 through 2002, mostly in Montana, 
Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming (Connelly et al. 2004). Over 51,000 km 
(31,690 mi) of fences were constructed on BLM lands supporting sage-
grouse populations between 1962 and 1997 (Connelly et al. 2000a). 
However, some of the new 1-3 wire fencing being erected across the 
range may pose less of a collision risk to sage grouse than woven 
Roads and Railroads
    Impacts from roads may include direct habitat loss, direct 
mortality, create barriers to migration corridors or seasonal habitats, 
facilitation of predators and spread of invasive vegetative species, 
and other indirect influences such as noise (Forman and Alexander 
1998). Interstates and major paved roads cover approximately 14,272 
km2 (22,835 mi2), less then 1 percent of their 
assessment area (Connelly et al. 2004). Secondary paved road densities 
within this area range to greater than 2 km/km2 (3.24 mi/
mi2). Sage-grouse mortality resulting from collisions with 
vehicles does occur (Patterson 1952), but mortalities are typically not 
monitored or recorded. Therefore, we are unable to determine the 
importance of this factor on sage-grouse populations. Data regarding 
how roads affect seasonal habitat availability for individual sage-
grouse populations by creating barriers and the ability of sage-grouse 
to reach these areas were not available. Road development within 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitats precluded movement of local populations 
between the resultant patches, presumably to minimize their exposure to 
predation (Oyler-McCance et al. 2001).
    Roads can provide corridors for predators to move into previously 
unoccupied areas. For some mammalian species, dispersal along roads has 
greatly increased their distribution (Forman and Alexander 1998; Forman 
2000). Corvids also use linear features such as primary and secondary 
roads as travel routes, expanding their movements into previously 
unused regions (Connelly et al. 2000b; Aldridge and Brigham 2003; 
Connelly et al. 2004). In an analysis of anthropogenic impacts, 
Connelly et al. (2004) reported that at least 58 percent of their 
analysis area has a high or medium presence of corvids, known sage-
grouse nest and chick predators (Schroeder and Baydack 2001). We have 
no information on the extent to which corvids prey on sage-grouse 
chicks and eggs. Additionally, highway rest areas provide a source of 
food and perches for corvids and raptors, and facilitate their 
movements into surrounding areas (Connelly et al. 2004). It has not 
been documented that sage-grouse populations are affected by predators 
using roads as corridors into sagebrush habitats.
    The presence of roads also increases human access and their 
resulting disturbance effects in remote areas (Forman and Alexander 
1998; Forman 2000; Connelly et al. 2004). Increases in legal and 
illegal hunting activities resulting from the use of roads built into 
sagebrush habitats have been documented (Patterson 1952; Connelly et 
al. 2004). However, the actual current effect of these increased 
activities on sage-grouse populations has not been determined. Roads 
may also facilitate access for habitat treatments (Connelly et al. 
2004), resulting in subsequent direct habitat losses. New roads are 
being constructed to support development activities within the greater 
sage-grouse extant range. For example, in the Powder River Basin of 
Wyoming, up to 28,572 km (17,754 mi) of roads to support coalbed 
methane development are proposed (BLM 2003a).
    The expansion of road networks has been documented to contribute to 
exotic plant invasions via introduced roadfill, vehicle transport, and 
road maintenance activities (Forman and Alexander 1998; Forman 2000; 
Gelbard and Belnap 2003; Knick et al. 2003; Connelly et al. 2004). 
Invasive species are not limited to roadsides (or verges), but have 
also encroached into the surrounding habitats (Forman and Alexander 
1998; Forman 2000; Gelbard and Belnap 2003). In their study of roads on 
the Colorado Plateau of southern Utah, Gelbard and Belnap (2003) found 
that improving unpaved four-wheel drive roads to paved roads resulted 
in increased cover of exotic plant species within the interior of 
adjacent vegetative

[[Page 2258]]

communities. This effect was associated with road construction and 
maintenance activities and vehicle traffic, and not with differences in 
site characteristics. The incursion of exotic plants into native 
sagebrush systems can negatively affect greater sage-grouse through 
habitat losses and conversions (see further discussion below).
    Additional indirect effects of roads may result from birds' 
behavioral avoidance of road areas because of noise, visual 
disturbance, pollutants, and predators moving along a road. The absence 
of screening vegetation in arid and semiarid regions further 
exacerbates the problem (Suter 1978). Male sage-grouse depend on 
acoustical signals to attract females to leks (Gibson and Bradbury 
1985; Gratson 1993). If noise interferes with mating displays, and 
thereby female attendance, younger males will not be drawn to the lek 
and eventually leks will become inactive (Amstrup and Phillips 1977; 
Braun 1986). Dust from roads and exposed roadsides can damage 
vegetation through interference with photosynthetic activities; the 
actual amount of potential damage depends on winds, wind direction, the 
type of surrounding vegetation and topography (Forman and Alexander 
1998). Chemicals used for road maintenance, particularly in areas with 
snowy or icy precipitation, can affect the composition of roadside 
vegetation (Forman and Alexander 1998). We were unable to find any data 
relating these potential effects to impacts on sage-grouse population 
    In a study on the Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming, sage-grouse hens 
that bred on leks within 3 km (1.9 mi) of roads associated with oil and 
gas development traveled twice as far to nest as did hens bred on leks 
greater than 3 km (1.9 mi) from roads. Nest initiation rates for hens 
bred on leks ``close'' to roads were also lower (50 vs 65 percent) 
affecting population recruitment (33 vs. 44 percent) (Lyon 2000; Lyon 
and Anderson 2003). Lyon and Anderson (2003) suggested that roads may 
be the primary impact of oil and gas development to sage-grouse, due to 
their persistence and continued use even after drilling and production 
have ceased. Braun et al. (2002) suggested that daily vehicular traffic 
along road networks for oil wells can impact sage-grouse breeding 
activities based on lek abandonment patterns. In a study of 804 leks 
within 100 km (62.5 mi) of Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming and 
northeastern Utah, Connelly et al. (2004) found that there were no leks 
within 2 km (1.25 mi) of the interstate and only 9 leks were found 
between 2 and 4 km (1.25 and 2.5 mi) along this same highway. The 
number of active leks increased with increasing distance from the 
interstate. Lek persistence and activity relative to distance from the 
interstate were also measured. The distance of a lek from the 
interstate was a significant predictor of lek activity, with leks 

further from the interstate more likely to be active. An analysis of 
long-term changes in populations between 1970 and 2003 showed that leks 
closest to the interstate declined at a greater rate than those further 
away (Connelly et al. 2004). What is not clear from these studies is 
what specific factor relative to roads (e.g., noise, changes in 
vegetation, etc.) sage-grouse are responding to, and Connelly et al. 
(2004) caution that they have not included other potential sources of 
indirect disturbance (e.g., powerlines) in their analyses.
    Railroads presumably have the same potential impacts to sage-grouse 
as do roads since they create linear corridors within sagebrush 
habitats. Railways were primarily responsible for the initial spread of 
cheatgrass in the intermountain region (Connelly et al. 2004). 
Cheatgrass, an exotic species that is unsuitable as sage-grouse 
habitat, readily invaded the disturbed soils adjacent to railroads, 
being distributed by trains and the cattle they transported. Fires 
created by trains facilitated the spread of cheatgrass into adjacent 
areas. Railroads cover 137 km2 (53 mi2) of the 
sage-grouse in Connelly et al.'s (2004) assessment area, but are 
estimated to influence an area of 183,915 km2 (71,000 
mi2), assuming a 3 km (1.9 mi) zone of influence (9 percent 
of their assessment area). Avian collisions with trains occur, although 
no estimates of mortality rates are documented in the literature 
(Erickson et al. 2001).
    The effects of infrastructure, particularly as related to energy 
development and urbanization, were identified by some members of the 
expert panel as an important factor contributing to the extinction risk 
for greater sage-grouse, particularly in the eastern part of the 
species range (Montana, Wyoming and Colorado). Across the entire range 
of the greater sage-grouse, infrastructure ranked second as an 
extinction risk factor by the expert panel.
    Bison, antelope and other ungulates grazed lands occupied by sage-
grouse prior to European immigrant settlement of the western United 
States in the mid to late 1800s. With settlement, from 1870 to the 
early 1900s, the numbers of cattle, sheep, and horses rapidly 
increased, peaking at the turn of the century (Oliphant 1968, Young et 
al. 1976) with an estimated 26 million cattle and 20 million sheep in 
the West (Wilkenson 1992). Livestock grazing is the most widespread 
type of land use across the sagebrush biome (Connelly et al. 2004); 
almost all sagebrush areas are managed for livestock grazing (Knick et 
al. 2003). Cattle and sheep animal unit months (AUMs; the amount of 
forage required to feed one cow with calf, one horse, five sheep, or 
five goats for one month) on all Federal land have declined since the 
early 1900s (Laycock et al. 1996). By the 1940s AUMs on all Federal 
lands were estimated to be 14.6 million, increasing to 16.5 million in 
the 1950s, and gradually declining to 10.2 million by the 1990s (Miller 
and Eddleman 2000). As of 2003, active AUMs for BLM lands in States 
where sage-grouse occur totaled about 10.1 million (BLM 2003b). Most of 
the 78.3 million acres of BLM-administered land within the current 
range of the greater sage-grouse are open to livestock grazing (BLM 
2004a). Knick et al. (2003) state that excessive grazing by domestic 
livestock during the late 1800s and early 1900s, along with severe 
drought, significantly impacted sagebrush ecosystems. Long-term effects 
from this overgrazing, including changes in plant communities and soils 
persist today.
    Few studies have directly addressed the effect of livestock grazing 
on sage-grouse (Beck and Mitchell 2000, Wamboldt et al. 2002, Crawford 
et al. 2004), and there is little direct experimental evidence linking 
grazing practices to sage-grouse population levels (Braun 1987, 
Connelly and Braun 1997). Native herbivores, such as pronghorn antelope 
(Antilocarpo americana), were present in the sagebrush steppe region 
prior to European settlement of western States (Miller et al. 1994), 
and sage-grouse co-evolved with these animals. However, many areas of 
sagebrush-steppe did not support herds of large ungulates, as large 
native herbivores disappeared 12,000 years before present (Knick et al. 
2003). Therefore, native vegetation communities within the sagebrush 
ecosystem developed in the absence of significant grazing presence 
(Knick et al. 2003).
    It has been demonstrated that the reduction of grass heights due to 
livestock grazing of sage-grouse nesting and brood-rearing areas 
negatively affects nesting success by reducing cover necessary for 
predator avoidance (Gregg et al. 1994; Delong et al. 1995; Connelly et 
al. 2000a). In addition, livestock consumption of forbs may reduce food 
availability for sage-grouse.

[[Page 2259]]

This is particularly important for pre-laying hens, as forbs provide 
essential calcium, phosphorus, and protein. A hen's nutritional 
condition affects nest initiation rate, clutch size, and subsequent 
reproductive success (Connelly et al. 2000a). This information 
indicates that grazing by livestock could reduce the suitability of 
breeding and brood-rearing habitat, subsequently negatively affecting 
sage-grouse populations (Braun 1987, Dobkin 1995, Beck and Mitchell 
2000). Exclosure studies have demonstrated that domestic livestock 
grazing also reduces water infiltration rates and cover of herbaceous 
plants and litter, as well as compacting soils and increasing soil 
erosion (Braun 1998). This results in a change in the proportion of 
shrub, grass, and forb components in the affected area, and an 
increased invasion of exotic plant species that do not provide suitable 
habitat for sage-grouse (Miller and Eddleman 2000). Hulet (1983, as 
cited in Connelly et al. 2000a) found that heavy grazing could lead to 
increases in ground squirrels that depredate sage-grouse nests. Thus, 
important factors of livestock operations related to impacts on sage-
grouse include stocking levels, season of use, and utilization levels.
    Other consequences of grazing include several related to livestock 
trampling. Outright nest destruction by livestock trampling does occur 
and the presence of livestock can cause sage-grouse to abandon their 
nests (Rasmussen and Griner 1938, Patterson 1952, Call and Maser 1985, 
Crawford et al. 2004). Call and Maser (1985) indicate that forced 
movements of cattle and sheep could have significant effects on nesting 
hens and young broods caught in the path of these drives. Livestock may 
also trample sagebrush seedlings thereby removing a source of future 
sage-grouse food and cover (Connelly et al. 2000a), and trampling of 
soil by livestock can reduce or eliminate biological soil crusts making 
these areas susceptible to cheatgrass invasion (Mack 1981 as cited in 
Miller and Eddleman 2000; Young and Allen 1997; Forman and Alexander 
    Livestock grazing may also compete directly with sage-grouse for 
rangeland resources. Cattle are grazers, feeding mostly on grasses, but 
they will make seasonal use of forbs and browse species like sagebrush 
(Vallentine 2001). Domestic sheep are intermediate feeders making high 
use of forbs, but also use a large volume of grass and browse species 
like sagebrush (Vallentine 2001). Pedersen et al. (2003) documented 
sheep consumption of rangeland forbs in areas where sage-grouse occur. 
The effects of direct competition between livestock and sage-grouse 
depend on condition of the habitat and grazing practices, and thus vary 
across the range of the species. For example, Aldridge and Brigham 
(2003) suggest that poor livestock management in mesic sites, which are 
considered limited habitats for sage-grouse in Alberta, results in a 
reduction of forbs and grasses available to sage-grouse chicks, thereby 
affecting chick survival.
    Some effects of livestock grazing may have positive consequences 
for sage-grouse. Evans (1986) found that sage-grouse used grazed 
meadows significantly more during late summer than ungrazed meadows 
because grazing had stimulated the regrowth of forbs. Klebenow (1981) 
noted that sage-grouse sought out and used openings in meadows created 
by cattle grazing in northern Nevada. Finally both sheep and goats have 
been used to control invasive weeds (Mosely 1996 as cited in Connelly 
et al. 2004; Olson and Wallander 2001; Merritt et al. 2001) and woody 
plant encroachment (Riggs and Urness 1989) in sage-grouse habitat.
    Although there are few studies which directly examine the effects 
of livestock grazing on greater sage-grouse, and no studies on a 
rangewide scale, the expert panel ranked grazing as a potential 
extinction risk factor. This ranking incorporates not only the direct 
effects of grazing, but all associated activities, such as vegetation 
management, fencing, overuse of riparian habitats by domestic 
livestock, etc. The expert panel also noted that the recovery of 
greater sage-grouse populations from the 1930s to the 1950s occurred 
during a period of a reduction in livestock grazing as well as a change 
in weather resulting in wetter conditions. However, the panel also 
noted that proper grazing management may be a beneficial tool for 
enhancing greater sage-grouse habitats where maintenance and 
enhancement of these habitats is identified as an objective, although 
this has not been rigorously tested.
    Free-roaming horses and burros have been a component of sagebrush 
and other arid communities since they were brought to North America at 
the end of the 16th century (Wagner 1983; Beever 2003). About 31,000 
wild horses occur in 10 western States, with herd sizes being largest 
in States with the most extensive sagebrush cover (Nevada, Wyoming, and 
Oregon; Connelly et al. 2004). Burros occur in five western States, 
with about 5,000 of these present (Connelly et al. 2004). Due to 
physiological differences, a horse consumes 20 to 65 percent more 
forage than would a cow of equivalent body mass (Wagner 1983; Menard et 
al. 2002). We are unaware of any studies that directly address the 
impact of wild horses or burros on sagebrush and sage-grouse. However 
some authors have suggested that wild horses could negatively impact 
important meadow and spring brood-rearing habitats used by sage-grouse 
(Crawford et al. 2004; Connelly et al. 2004). Other impacts from wild 
horse grazing may be similar to the impacts resulting from domestic 
livestock in sagebrush habitats, but these have not been documented.
    Sagebrush removal to increase herbaceous forage and grasses for 
domestic and wild ungulates is a common practice in sagebrush 
ecosystems (Connelly et al. 2004). Removal from chemical and mechanical 
means has been discussed previously. The elimination of sagebrush is 
usually followed with rangeland seedings to improve forage for 
livestock grazing operations (Knick et al. 2003; Connelly et al. 2004). 
Large expanses of sagebrush have been removed and reseeded with non-
native grasses, such as crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), to 
increase forage production on public lands (Shane et al. 1983, cited in 
Knick et al. 2003; Connelly et al. 2004). These treatments had the 
effect of reducing or eliminating many native grasses and forbs present 
prior to the seedings. Sage-grouse are affected indirectly through the 
loss of native forbs that serve as food and the loss of native grasses 
that provide concealment or hiding cover within the understories of the 
former sagebrush stands (Connelly et al. 2004). BLM reports that they 
no longer implement actions that result in removing large expanses of 
sagebrush and reseeding with non-native grasses (BLM 2004a).
    Water developments for the benefit of livestock on public lands are 
common (Connelly et al. 2004). Development of springs and other water 
sources to support livestock in upland shrub-steppe habitats can 
artificially concentrate domestic and wild ungulates in important sage-
grouse habitats, thereby exacerbating grazing impacts in those areas 
through vegetation trampling, etc. (Braun 1998). Diverting the water 
sources has the secondary effect of changing the habitat present at the 
water source before diversion. This could result in the loss of either 
riparian or wet meadow habitat important to sage-grouse as sources of 
forbs or insects.
    Development of mines within the distribution of the sage-grouse 
began before 1900 (Robbins and Ward 1994,

[[Page 2260]]

cited in Braun 1998). Surface mining for any mineral resource (coal, 
uranium, copper, bentonite, gypsum, oil shale, phosphate, limestone, 
gravel, etc.) will result in direct habitat loss for sage-grouse if the 
mining occurs in occupied sagebrush habitats. Direct loss of sage-
grouse habitat can also occur if the overburden and/or topsoil 
resulting from mining activities are stored in sagebrush habitats. The 
actual effect of this loss depends on the quality, amount, and type of 
habitat disturbed, the scale of the disturbance, and if non-breeding 
habitat is affected, the availability of adjacent habitats (Proctor et 
al. 1983; Remington and Braun 1991). Sage-grouse habitat losses from 
all sources of mining have occurred in Utah (Beck et al. 2003), 
Colorado (Braun 1986), and Wyoming (Hayden-Wing Associates 1983), but 
the actual amount of habitat loss has not been tabulated. Sagebrush 
habitat has also been lost to mining in other states within the range 
of sage-grouse although reliable estimates of the amount of loss are 
not available.
    Mined land reclamation is required by either the Federal or State 
governments in the greater sage-grouse states and Canada (Smyth and 
Dearden 1998). Due to the relatively recent nature of federal coal and 
Canadian regulation (27 and 41 years, respectively; Smyth and Dearden 
1998) there is limited long-term monitoring data. The laws generally 
allow for a change in post-mining land use from pre-mining conditions, 
and restoration of pre-mining sagebrush habitat may not occur if the 
surface owner determines an alternative habitat type is preferable. 
However, Federal coal reclamation requires restoration of diversity and 
density standards if the private landowner agrees. Early efforts to 
restore sage-grouse habitats on mined lands focused on creating 
artificial leks, which was largely unsuccessful (Tate et al. 1979; 
Proctor et al. 1983). Most efforts now rely on seasonal restrictions 
for lek destruction and restoration of sagebrush habitats (Proctor et 
al. 1983; Parrish and Anderson 1994). Regulation of non-coal mining in 
the United States is at the discretion of the individual States, and 
may or may not include wildlife habitat restoration as a criterion (Pat 
Deibert, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pers. comm. 2004).
    New vegetation types including exotic species may become 
established on mined areas (Moore and Mills 1977), altering their 
suitability for sage-grouse. Temporary habitat loss can stem from 
intentional planting to minimize erosion or for nurse crops (those 
crops planted to create suitable microhabitat conditions for the 
desired vegetative species). The length of this temporary conversion 
depends on the life of the mine, the success of reclamation, and 
whether or not reclamation is concurrent with mining disturbance. If 
reclamation plans call for the permanent conversion of the mined area 
to a different habitat type (e.g., agriculture) the habitat loss 
becomes permanent. Invasive exotic plants may also establish on the 
disturbed surfaces. Removal of the overburden and target mineral may 
result in changes in topography, subsequently resulting in changes in 
microclimates and microhabitats (Moore and Mills 1977). Significant 
topographical changes can affect the ability to successfully restore 
the mined area to pre-existing vegetative conditions (Moore and Mills 
1977). Additional habitat losses can occur if supporting 
infrastructure, such as roads, railroads, utility corridors, etc., 
become permanent landscape features after mining and reclamation are 
completed (Moore and Mills 1977).
    In Wyoming and Montana an estimated 38,833 ha (96,000 ac) of 
disturbed Federal and non-Federal surface are associated with existing 
coal mining operations (Kermit Witherbee, Bureau of Land Management, 
pers. comm. 2004). Over the next ten years, it has been estimated that 
approximately 20,243 ha (50,000 ac) will be disturbed for coal mining 
activities. This is less than 1 percent of the Connelly et al. (2004) 
assessment area. Of that, 14,170 ha (35,000 ac) should be reclaimed 
within the same time-period, resulting in a net annual disturbance of 
607 ha (1,500 ac). The actual impact to sage-grouse may be longer, as 
it takes 15 to 30 years for sagebrush regeneration to usable conditions 
(Connelly and Braun 1997). There will likely be additional losses of 
sagebrush habitat in other states as a result of mining activities (all 
types) although we are unable to quantify this.
    Mining infrastructure, such as roads, railroads, powerlines, etc., 
may impact sage-grouse, although those effects are not expected to be 
different than previously described. Presumably, direct habitat loss 
will not be as large from subsurface mining. However, the amount of 
supporting infrastructure and indirect effects may be similar as for 
surface mines (Thomas and Leistritz 1981). Other indirect effects from 
mining can include reduced air quality from gaseous emissions and 
fugitive dust, degradation of surface water quality and quantity, 
changes in vegetation, topography, land-use practices, and disturbance 
from noise, ground shock and human presence, and mortality from 
collision with mining equipment (Moore and Mills 1977; Brown and 
Clayton 2004). Gaseous emissions, created from the operation of heavy 
equipment, trains, etc., are usually quickly dissipated in the windy, 
open areas typical of sagebrush. Fugitive dust could affect local 
vegetative and insect resources through coating important respiratory 
surfaces. In extreme cases, plant photosynthesis may be restricted 
(Moore and Mills 1977). This may result in reduced food and cover 
resources for sage-grouse. Fugitive dust may also affect sage-grouse 
through direct irritation of mucus membranes and/or exposure to toxic 
minerals that are otherwise trapped in the soils (Moore and Mills 
1977). Most large surface mines are required to control fugitive dust, 
so these impacts are probably limited.
    Water quality can generally be reduced through increased sediment 
loads, leaching of toxic compounds or elements from exposed ore, waste 
rock and overburden, introduction of excess nutrients from blasting and 
fertilizers, or introduction of pathogens from septic systems and waste 
disposal associated with mining activity (Moore and Mills 1977). 
Contamination of water supplies through toxic elements can result in 
either direct mortality to wildlife, or long-term chronic health 
problems. Pathogens can also have a similar detrimental effect on 
wildlife. Water supplies may decline either through direct removal of 
wetlands from mining activity or reduction from use for fugitive dust 
suppression. Remaining wetlands may subsequently receive increased use 
from other wildlife or domestic livestock, resulting in habitat 
degradation. In Nevada, extensive de-watering of ground water results 
from open pit gold mining (Kevin Kritz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
pers. comm. 2004). The actual impact of these effects on sage-grouse is 
unknown. Since sage-grouse do not require free water (Schroeder et al. 
1999), we anticipate that impacts to water quality from mining 
activities have minimal population-level effects. The possible 
exception is degradation of riparian areas, which could result in brood 
habitat loss.
    If blasting is necessary for removal of overburden or the target 
mineral, ground shock may occur. The full effects of ground shock on 
wildlife are unknown, but given its temporary duration and localized 
impact area, impacts are considered minimal (Moore and Mills 1977). One 
possible exception is the repeated use of explosives during lekking or 
nesting, which could potentially result in nest and/or lek abandonment 
(Moore and Mills 1977).

[[Page 2261]]

We are unaware of any research on the impact of these factors to sage-
grouse. Noise from mining activities may limit sage-grouse use of 
surrounding suitable habitat. In a study of sharp-tailed grouse 
(Pedioecetes phasianellus) leks in northeastern Wyoming, data suggested 
that noise from an adjacent coal mine adversely affected leks by 
masking vocalizations, which resulted in reduced female attendance and 
yearling recruitment (Amstrup and Phillips 1977). In that study, the 
authors found that mining noise was continuous across days and seasons, 
and did not dissipate as it traveled across the adjacent landscape. The 
effects on sage-grouse of noise from mining are unknown, but sage-
grouse also depend on acoustical signals to attract females to leks 
(Gibson and Bradbury 1985; Gratson 1993). If noise does interfere with 
mating displays, and thereby female attendance, younger males will not 
attend the lek, and eventually leks will become inactive (Amstrup and 
Phillips 1977; Braun 1986).
    Mining can also impact sage-grouse through the increased presence 
of human activity, either through avoidance of suitable habitat 
adjacent to mines or through collisions with vehicles associated with 
mining operations (Moore and Mills 1977; Brown and Clayton 2004). An 
increased human population in an area, as a result of mine extraction 
activities, may result in increased hunting pressure, both legal and 
poaching (Moore and Mills 1977). Although these effects have not been 
quantified on sage-grouse populations, the State of Wyoming requires 
coal operators to educate their employees about wildlife regulations 
when they are hired. Sage-grouse may also be at increased risk for 
collision with vehicles simply due to the increased traffic associated 
with mining activities and transport (Moore and Mills 1977; Brown and 
Clayton 2004). However, we were unable to find any information 
regarding increased mortality of sage-grouse near mines as a result of 
this effect.
    We were only able to locate a few studies that specifically 
examined the effects of coal mining on greater sage-grouse (Tate et al. 
1979; Hayden-Wing Associates 1983; Braun 1986; Remington and Braun 
1991; Brown and Clayton 2004). In a study in North Park, Colorado, 
overall population numbers of sage-grouse were not reduced, but there 
was a reduction in the number of males attending leks within 2 km (0.8 
miles) of three coal mines, as well as a failure to recruit yearling 
males to these existing leks (Braun 1986; Remington and Braun 1991). 
New leks formed further from the mining disturbance (Remington and 
Braun 1991). Additionally, some leks adjacent to mine areas that had 
been abandoned at the onset of mining were re-established when mining 
activities ceased, suggesting disturbance rather than loss of habitat 
was the limiting factor. There was no decline in hen survival in a 
population of sage-grouse near large surface coal mines in northeastern 
Wyoming and nest success was apparently unaffected by the adjacent 
mining activity (Brown and Clayton 2004). However, the authors 
concluded that this population could only be sustained by aggressive 
land management to maintain suitable habitat, as the existing habitat 
will become fragmented by continued mining.
    Braun (1998) concluded that surface coal mining and all associated 
activities have negative short-term impacts on sage-grouse numbers and 
habitats near the mines. Sage-grouse will reestablish on mined areas 
once mining has ceased, but there is no evidence that population levels 
will reach their previous size. Additionally, the time span for 
population re-establishment may be 20 to 30 years (Braun 1998). Hayden-
Wing Associates (1983) concluded that the loss of one or two leks in a 
regional area from coal mining was likely not limiting to local 
populations in their study on the Caballo Rojo Mine in northeastern 
Wyoming. However, if several leks are affected, local population 
numbers may decline (Hayden-Wing Associates 1983).
    Hard rock mining impacts greater sage-grouse at the local level. 
The expert panel identified hard rock mining as a threat of relatively 
low importance compared to other threats. The effect of hard rock 
mining, when considered independently of other threats to the species, 
is likely of relatively low importance to the status of the species 
Non-Renewable and Renewable Energy Development
    Non-renewable energy development (petroleum products, coal) has 
been occurring in sage-grouse habitats since the late 1800s (Connelly 
et al. 2004). Interest in development of oil and gas has been sporadic 
and typically focused in limited geographical areas (Braun et al. 
2002). The re-authorization of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act 
in 2000 dictated re-inventory of Federal oil and gas reserves, which 
identified extensive reserves in the Greater Green River Basin of 
Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, the San Juan Basin of New Mexico and 
Colorado, and the Montana Thrust Belt and the Powder River Basin of 
Wyoming and Montana (Connelly et al. 2004). All of these basins are 
located in primarily sagebrush-dominated landscapes (Knick et al. 2003; 
Connelly et al. 2004).
    The development of oil and gas resources requires surveys for 
economically recoverable reserves, construction of well pads and access 
roads, subsequent drilling and extraction, and transport of oil and 
gas, typically through pipelines. Ancillary facilities can include 
compressor stations, pumping stations and electrical facilities 
(Connelly et al. 2004). Surveys for recoverable resources occur 
primarily through seismic activities, using vibroesis buggies 
(thumpers) or shothole explosives. Well pads vary in size from 0.10 ha 
(0.25 ac) for coalbed natural gas wells in areas of level topography to 
greater than 7 ha (17.3 ac) for deep gas wells (Connelly et al. (2004). 
Pads for compressor stations require 5 to 7 ha (12.4 to 17.3 ac; 
Connelly et al. 2004). Well densities and spacing are typically 
designed to maximize recovery of the resource and are administered by 
State and Provincial oil and gas agencies and the BLM (on Native 
American lands) (Connelly et al. 2004). Based on their review of 
project EIS's, Connelly et al. (2004) concluded that the economic life 
of a coalbed methane well averages 12 to 18 years and 20 to 100 years 
for deep oil and gas wells.
    Connelly et al. (2004) reviewed oil and gas development 
environmental impacts statements to determine that approximately 4,000 
oil and gas wells have been approved in the Green River Basin of 
Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, with approval of an additional 9,700 wells 
pending. In the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, 15,811 wells 
have been approved, and an additional 65,635 are being considered 
(Connelly et al. 2004). In the Uinta/Piceance Basin of Utah, 3,500 
wells have been drilled and another 2,600 are pending (Connelly et al. 
2004). Approximately 3,000 more permits will be issued annually for 
Montana, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming (Connelly et al. 2004). Nine 
million hectares (22.2 million ac) in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah 
and New Mexico are available for oil and gas leasing, and approval for 
29,000 new oil and gas leases is anticipated by 2005 (BLM 2003c). The 
BLM has not quantified the portion of these lands that provide sage-
grouse habitat. In September, 2004, the Utah BLM office sold 279 oil 
and gas leases, incorporating approximately 195,000 ha (481,000 ac) on 
both BLM and Forest Service surfaces (BLM 2004c). Based on a review of 

[[Page 2262]]

Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, there are 27,231 existing 
oil and gas wells in sagebrush habitats, and another 78,938 to 79,647 
are proposed.
    Potential impacts to sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats from the 
development of oil and gas resources include direct habitat loss, 
habitat fragmentation from vegetation removal, roads, powerlines and 
pipeline corridors, noise, gaseous emissions, changes in water 
availability and quality, and increased human presence (Suter 1978; 
Aldridge 1998; Braun 1998; Aldridge and Brigham 2003; Knick et al. 
2003; Lyon and Anderson 2003; Connelly et al. 2004). We found no 
information regarding the effects of gaseous emissions produced by oil 
and gas development. Presumably, as with surface mining, these 
emissions are quickly dispersed in the windy, open conditions of 
sagebrush habitats (Moore and Mills 1977), minimizing the potential 
effects on sage-grouse.
    Direct habitat losses result from construction of well pads, roads, 
pipelines, powerlines, and potentially through the crushing of 
vegetation during seismic surveys. For example, coal-bed methane 
development in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming is expected to result 
in the loss of an additional 21,711 ha (53,626 ac) of sagebrush habitat 
by 2011 (BLM 2003a). This is less than 1 percent of the Connelly et al. 
(2004) assessment area. Current sage-grouse habitat loss in the Basin 
from coal-bed methane is estimated at 2,024 ha (5,000 ac) (Braun et al. 
    Connelly et al. (2004) estimated that habitat loss from all 
existing natural gas pipelines in the conservation assessment area was 
a minimum of 4,740 km2 (1,852 mi2, 1.17 million 
ac, 474,000 ha; less than 1 percent of their assessment area). Proposed 
pipelines to support future oil and gas developments are not included 
in this figure. Although reclamation of short-term disturbances is 
often concurrent with project development, habitats would not be 
restored to pre-disturbance conditions for an extended period (BLM 
2003a). The amount of direct habitat loss within an area will 
ultimately be determined by well densities and the associated loss from 
ancillary facilities. Most Federal land management agencies impose 
stipulations to preclude exploration in suitable habitat during the 
nesting season.
    Reclamation of areas disturbed by oil and gas development can be 
concurrent with field development. As disturbed areas are reclaimed, 
sage-grouse may repopulate the area. However, there is no evidence that 
populations will attain their previous size, and re-population may take 
20 to 30 years, as habitat conditions are not immediately restored 
(Braun 1998). For most developments, return to pre-disturbance 
population levels is not expected due to a net loss and fragmentation 
of habitat (Braun et al. 2002). After 20 years, sage-grouse have not 
recovered to pre-development numbers in Alberta, even though well pads 
in these areas have been reclaimed (Braun et al. 2002). In some 
reclaimed areas, sage-grouse have not returned (Aldridge and Brigham 
    Habitat fragmentation impacts to sage-grouse resulting from 
vegetation removal, roads, powerlines and pipeline corridors are 
similar to those described previously. Fragmentation resulting from oil 
and gas development and the associated introduced infrastructure may 
have more effects on greater sage-grouse than the associated direct 
habitat losses, which may not be extensive. For example, of the total 
904,109 ha (2,234,103 ac) project area in the Powder River Basin, an 
estimated 23,735 ha (58,625 ac) of habitat will be directly disturbed 
by well construction (BLM 2003a). However, up to 8,579 km (5,311 mi) of 
powerlines, 28,572 km (17,754 mi) of roads, and 33,548 km (20,846 mi) 
of pipelines are also proposed for this project. The presence of these 
ancillary facilities may preclude sage-grouse from using suitable 
adjacent habitats (see previous discussion). As previously discussed, 
roads associated with oil and gas development were suggested to be the 
primary impact to greater sage-grouse due to their persistence and 
continued use even after drilling and production has ceased (Lyon and 
Anderson 2003).
    Noise can drive away wildlife, cause physiological stress and 
interfere with auditory cues and intraspecific communication, as 
discussed previously. Aldridge and Brigham (2003) reported that, in the 
absence of stipulations to minimize the effects, mechanical activities 
at well sites may disrupt sage-grouse breeding and nesting activities. 
Hens bred on leks within 3 km (1.9 miles) of oil and gas development in 
the upper Green River Basin of Wyoming selected nest sites with higher 
total shrub canopy cover and average live sagebrush height than hens 
nesting away from disturbance (Lyon 2000). The author hypothesized that 
exposure to road noise associated with oil and gas drilling may have 
been one cause for the difference in habitat selection. However, noise 
could not be separated from the potential effects of increased 
predation resulting from the presence of a new road. Above-ground noise 
is typically not regulated to mitigate effects to sage-grouse or other 
wildlife (Connelly et al. 2004). Ground shock from seismic activities 
may affect sage-grouse if it occurs during the lekking or nesting 
seasons (Moore and Mills 1977). We are unaware of any research on the 
impact of ground shock to sage-grouse.
    Water quality and quantity may be affected in oil and gas 
development areas. The impacts are similar relative to the 
contamination of water supplies by toxic elements and pathogens (see 
previous discussion), with the addition of potential oil contamination 
in settling and/or condensate ponds. In many large field developments, 
water produced during the gas dehydration process is stored in tanks, 
removing this potential threat. Where oil contamination of open water 
pits has occurred, no sage-grouse mortalities are known (Pedro Ramirez, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pers. comm. 2004). Water may also be 
depleted from natural sources for drilling or dust suppression 
purposes. Remaining wetlands may subsequently receive increased use 
from other wildlife or domestic livestock, resulting in habitat 
degradation. Since, sage-grouse do not require free water (Schroeder et 
al. 1999) we anticipate that impacts to water quality from mining 
activities have minimal effects on them. The possible exceptions are a 
reduction in habitat quality (e.g., trampling of vegetation, changes in 
water filtration rates), habitat degradation (e.g., poor vegetation 
growth), which could result in brood habitat loss. However, we have no 
data to suggest this is a limiting factor to sage-grouse.
    Water produced by coal-bed methane drilling may benefit sage-grouse 
through expansion of existing wetland and riparian areas, and creation 
of new areas (BLM 2003a). These habitats could provide additional brood 
rearing and summering habitats for sage-grouse. However, based on the 
recent discovery of West Nile virus in the Powder River Basin, and the 
resulting mortalities of sage-grouse (Naugle et al. 2004), there is 
concern that produced water could be a negative impact if it creates 
suitable breeding reservoirs for the mosquito vector of this disease. 
There is currently no evidence supporting a link between West Nile 
virus and coal-bed methane development (Naugle et al. 2004). Produced 
water could also result in direct habitat loss through prolonged 
flooding of sagebrush areas, or if the discharged water is of poor 
quality because of high salt or other mineral content, either of which 
could result in the loss of sagebrush and/or grasses and forbs 
necessary for foraging broods

[[Page 2263]]

(BLM 2003a). We do not have quantitative information on the extent of 
habitat influenced by produced water, nor the net effects on sage-
grouse populations.
    Increased human presence resulting from oil and gas development can 
also impact sage-grouse either through avoidance of suitable habitat, 
disruption of breeding activities, or increased hunting and poaching 
pressure (Aldridge and Brigham 2003; Braun et al. 2002; BLM 2003a). 
Sage-grouse may also be at increased risk for collision with vehicles 
simply due to the increased traffic associated with oil and gas 
activities (BLM 2003a).
    Only a few studies have examined the effects of oil and gas 
development on sage-grouse. While each of these studies reported sage-
grouse population declines, specific causes for the negative impacts 
were not determined. In Alberta, Canada, the development of well pads 
and associated roads in the mid-1980s resulted in the abandonment of 
three lek complexes within 200 m (220 yd) of these features (Braun et 
al. 2002). Those leks have not been active since that time. A fourth 
lek complex has gone from three to one lek with fewer numbers of sage-
grouse on it (Braun et al. 2002). The well pads have since been 
reclaimed, but sage-grouse numbers have not recovered (we do not have 
information on post-reclamation vegetation). Subsequent to the 
development of the Manyberries Oil Field in high quality sage-grouse 
habitat in Alberta, male sage-grouse counts fell to the lowest known 
level (Braun et al. 2002). Two additional leks were directly disturbed, 
and neither of these leks has been active within the past 10 years 
(Braun et al. 2002). The development of oil reserves in Jackson County, 
Colorado, was concurrent with decline of sage-grouse numbers in the oil 
field area (Braun 1998). Sage-grouse populations still occur in at 
least one long-term oil field development in Colorado where leks are 
not within line-of-sight of an active well or powerline (Braun et al. 
2002). Although the number of active leks has declined in this field, 
sage-grouse have been consistently documented there since 1973.
    Of particular relevance to estimating oil and gas development 
impacts is the fidelity of sage-grouse hens to nesting and summer brood 
rearing areas demonstrated by Lyon and Anderson (2003). Hens that have 
successfully nested will return to the same areas to nest every year. 
If these habitats are affected by oil and gas development, there is a 
strong potential that previously successful hens will return but not 
initiate nests (Lyon 2000). Depending on the number of hens affected, 
local populations could decline.
    Over 200 known leks occur within the coal-bed methane development 
area in Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming. Those leks have 
been affected by direct habitat losses, higher human activity, and 
powerlines (Braun et al. 2002). Since initiation of field development, 
28 percent of known sage-grouse habitat within the project area has 
been affected. On 30 leks within 0.4 km (0.25 mi) of a well, 
significantly fewer males have been recorded when compared with other, 
undisturbed leks. The rate of recruitment to the male breeding 
population on these leks is also lower when compared with increases on 
less disturbed leks (Braun et al. 2002; BLM 2003a). Powerlines have 
been constructed within 0.4 km (0.25 mi) of 40 leks within the project 
area. These leks also have lower recruitment rates, possibly due to 
increased raptor predation. Lower numbers of grouse have also been 
counted on leks within 1.6 km (1 mi) of compressor stations (Braun et 
al. 2002). In the Final EIS for this project, the BLM stated that local 
sage-grouse extirpations may occur as a result of the synergistic 
effects of all aspects of coal-bed methane development in this area 
(BLM 2003a).
    In the Jonah natural gas field in southwestern Wyoming, 10 of 24 
leks in or near the project area are no longer active, although data 
collection has not been consistent on 4 of those leks (BLM 2004d). Two 
leks were destroyed by the placement of well pads on the leks, and re-
establishment of those leks at that location is not anticipated (BLM 
2004d). Based on nest initiation and habitat fidelity results, Lyon and 
Anderson (2003) concluded that impacts occur greater than 0.4 km (0.25 
mi) from well pads, thus current no-surface-occupancy buffers around 
active sage-grouse based on that distance may not be adequate to avoid 
adverse effects. However, to our knowledge no information exists 
concerning whether leks are subsequently re-established.
    Protective wildlife stipulations are typically placed on individual 
oil and gas leases at the time of sale, including seasonal and temporal 
restrictions around important sage-grouse habitats (Connelly et al. 
2004). The protection afforded by these stipulations depends on the 
specific prescriptions, and whether or not important sage-grouse 
habitats are identified in the area proposed for development. 
Additional stipulations may be placed on oil and gas development, as 
identified in BLM land use plans, and through the NEPA process. Most 
lease stipulations have exception, waiver, and/or modification criteria 
that are included in BLM land use plans. Waivers, which are a permanent 
exemption, and modifications, which are changes to the terms of a 
stipulation, are described by BLM as being rare, and they also may 
require public notice (BLM 2004a). Exceptions are a one-time exemption 
to a lease stipulation. An example cited by BLM is a timing stipulation 
designed to avoid activity in wintering habitat, which could be the 
subject of an exception in a mild winter if a company requests an early 
entry to drill and BLM or the local wildlife agency make an on-the-
ground survey and find sage-grouse are not using the winter habitat or 
have left the area earlier than normal (BLM 2004a).
    On June 22, 2004, BLM issued an Instruction Memorandum (IM) 
establishing policy that BLM field offices consider Best Management 
Practices (BMPs) for oil and gas and other fluid mineral operations as 
part of NEPA documents. The purpose of the BMPs is to mitigate 
anticipated effects to surface and subsurface resources, and to 
encourage operators to consider BMPs during the application process for 
permits to drill (BLM 2004e). BLM expects that wells drilled using BMPs 
will have fewer impacted acres of sagebrush habitat than has been 
estimated in EISs (e.g., for the Powder River EIS) and consequently 
there will be less habitat loss and fragmentation (BLM 2004a). The 
effect of the IM and the BMPs is difficult to predict. Although the IM 
makes it BLM policy to consider the BMPs, their adoption is voluntary, 
not mandatory. The Service is available to provide BLM with technical 
assistance as they implement BMPs.
    The Forest Service can place additional seasonal or temporal 
stipulations to protect sage-grouse on oil and gas developments on 
lands they manage (Forest Service in litt. 2004). Development of oil 
and gas resources on private lands does not always require mitigation 
(Braun 1998; Connelly et al. 2004), and most States do not place 
wildlife stipulations on development occurring on their lands. In 
Canada, no current legislation commits energy development to adhere to 
recommendations by Alberta Fish and Wildlife to reduce impacts of 
drilling in important sage-grouse habitats (Braun et al. 2002).
    Renewable energy resources, such as windpower and geothermal 
energy, require many of the same features for construction and 
operation as do non-

[[Page 2264]]

renewable energy resources. Therefore, we anticipate that potential 
impacts from direct habitat losses, habitat fragmentation through roads 
and powerlines, noise, and increased human presence (Connelly et al. 
2004) will generally be the same as already discussed for nonrenewable 
energy development. Windpower may have additional mortalities resulting 
from sage-grouse flying into turbine rotors or meteorological towers 
(Erickson et al. 2001). One sage-grouse was found dead within 45 m (148 
ft) of a turbine on the Foote Creek Rim wind facility in south-central 
Wyoming, presumably from flying into a turbine (Young et al. 2003). 
During 3 years of monitoring operation, this is the only known sage-
grouse mortality at this facility. Sage-grouse hens with broods have 
been observed using Foote Creek Rim, under the turbines, during surveys 
for other species (David Young, WEST, Inc., pers. comm. 2004). 
Mortalities at other facilities within sagebrush habitats are unknown 
and may not be monitored. However, most developed windpower facilities 
are not located within sagebrush habitats, and the average above-ground 
height of windpower facilities is 107 m (350 ft; Erickson et al. 2001), 
above the normal height of short-distance sage-grouse flights (Johnson 
et al. 2000).
    Fifteen thousand wind turbines were projected to be operational in 
the United States by the end of 2001, not including the wind turbines 
located in California (Erickson et al. 2001). On September 10, 2004, 
the BLM released a draft programmatic EIS regarding the modification of 
land use plans in western States (including all States within the 
extant sage-grouse range) for the increased development of wind 
resources (BLM 2004f). Locations and potential impacts to sage-grouse 
were not discussed in specific detail.
    Development of hydropower energy may impact sage-grouse through 
direct habitat losses, and increases in human traffic and activity if a 
resulting reservoir provides recreational resources. During 
construction, there may also be additional impacts of fugitive dust, 
gaseous emissions, road construction, increased traffic, and increased 
poaching activities. We do not anticipate that the potential for 
impacts from these activities to sage-grouse are different from those 
discussed previously for infrastructure issues. During the mid-1900s, a 
number of hydroelectric dams were developed on the Columbia and Snake 
Rivers in Washington and Oregon. More than 400 dams were constructed on 
the Columbia River system alone. The irrigation projects formed by 
these reservoirs precipitated conversion of large expanses of upland 
shrub-steppe habitat in the Columbia Basin for irrigated agriculture 
adjacent to the rivers as discussed previously in the Agriculture 
section (65 FR 51578). The creation of these reservoirs also directly 
inundated hundreds of kilometers of riparian habitats used by sage-
grouse broods (Braun 1998). We were unable to find any information 
regarding the amount of sage-grouse habitat affected by hydropower 
projects in other areas of the species range beyond the Columbia Basin. 
We do not anticipate that future dam construction will result in large 
losses of sagebrush habitats. Although dam removal has been proposed 
for some areas, upland restoration goals, and the potential benefit to 
sage-grouse, are unknown.
    The development of geothermal energy requires intensive human 
activity during field development (Suter 1978). Toxic gases may be 
released, and the type and effect of these gases depends on the 
geological formation in which drilling occurs. The amount of water 
necessary for drilling and condenser cooling may be high (Suter 1978). 
Therefore, water depletions may be a concern if such depletions result 
in the loss of limiting brood-rearing habitats (see discussion above). 
Geothermal activity on public lands is primarily in California, with 
over 23 producing leases. Nevada, and Utah also have producing leases 
(BLM 2004g). Impacts to sage-grouse were not identified.
    We were unable to find any information regarding the commercial 
development of solar energy. We anticipate the effects from this 
resource will be those associated with direct habitat loss, 
fragmentation, roads, powerlines, increased human presence, and 
disturbance during facility construction, where solar energy 
development occurs.
    Energy development was identified by the expert panel as the most 
significant extinction risk to the greater sage-grouse in the eastern 
portion of its range (Colorado, Wyoming and Montana). Their primary 
concern was the rapidity of development and the persistent demand for 
petroleum products. On a rangewide scale, however, energy development 
alone (not including the infrastructure associated with it--see Roads 
and Railroads above) ranked as the sixth most important extinction risk 
factor. To better understand the actual mechanism by which energy 
development affects greater sage-grouse, the panel suggested excluding 
some areas from extraction activities so that comparative analyses 
could be conducted.
    The effects of fire on sagebrush habitats vary according to the 
species of sagebrush present, other plant species present (e.g., the 
understory) and the frequency, size and intensity of fires. Widely 
variable estimates of mean fire intervals have been described in the 
literature: 35 to 100 years (Brown 2000), greater than 50 years for big 
sagebrush communities (McArthur 1994), 12 to 15 years for mountain big 
sagebrush (Miller and Rose 1999), 20 to 100 years (Peters and Bunting 
1994), 10 to 110 years depending on sagebrush species and specific 
geographic area (Kilpatrick 2000), and 13 to 25 years (Frost 1998 cited 
in Connelly et al. 2004).
    In general, fire tends to extensively reduce the sagebrush 
component within the burned areas. Big sagebrush (A. tridentata spp.), 
the most widespread species of sagebrush (McArthur 1994), is killed by 
fire. It does not re-sprout after burning (Agee 1994, Braun 1998, 
Wrobleski and Kauffman 2003), and can take as many as 30 to 50 years to 
recolonize an area (Agee 1994, Telfer 2000, Wambolt et al. 2001). This 
suggests that these sagebrush subspecies evolved in an environment 
where wildfire was infrequent (interval of 30 to 50 years) and patchy 
in distribution (Braun 1998). However, as noted by the expert panel, 
fire has been an important component in sagebrush systems.
    A characteristic of natural fire in sagebrush stands is the 
incomplete burning that leaves areas of unburned sagebrush (sometimes 
referred to as islands of habitat) (Huff and Smith 2000). Huff and 
Smith (2000) noted that these unburned islands appear to be important 
to the future recolonization of the sagebrush community by providing 
sources of sagebrush seed. Prior to settlement by European immigrants, 
fire patterns in sagebrush communities were patchy, particularly in 
Wyoming big sagebrush, due to the discontinuous and limited fuels and 
unburned islands that remained after a fire (Miller and Eddleman 2000).
    Connelly et al. (2004) summarized fire statistics from records 
obtained for the sagebrush biome (both wild and prescribed fires). The 
total area burned and the number of fires increased across the 
sagebrush ecoregions from 1960 to 2003. In the Southern Great Basin and 
Wyoming basins, average fire size increased. In the 40.5 million ha 
(100 million ac) sagebrush-steppe ecoregion (essentially the northern 
distribution of sagebrush), or drier sagebrush areas fire regimes have 
shifted to more frequent

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fire episodes (Brown 2000). Fire was identified as the primary factor 
resulting in sage-grouse habitat conversion in Oregon (1.4 million ac; 
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in litt. 2004).
    In parts of the Great Basin (Nevada, Oregon and Utah) a decline in 
fire occurrence since the late 1800s has been reported in several 
studies, which coincides with fire suppression and reduction of fuels 
by introducing livestock (Touchan et al. 1995, Miller and Rose 1999, 
Kilpatrick 2000, Connelly et al. 2004). Long fire intervals and fire 
suppression can result in increased dominance of woody conifer species, 
such as western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) (Wrobleski and 
Kauffman 2003), resulting in a near total loss of shrubs and sage-
grouse habitat in localized areas (Miller and Eddleman 2000). 
Alternatively, invasion of exotic annuals, such as cheatgrass and 
medusahead (Taeniatherum asperum), has resulted in increases in the 
frequency and number of fires within the range of the greater sage-
grouse (Young and Evans 1973, Brown 2000, Wrobleski and Kauffman 2003, 
Connelly et al. 2004). Following fire, sagebrush will not re-establish 
on its own for long time intervals, while non-native grasses quickly 
recover from fire and increase, effectively preventing sagebrush 
return. Management to restore an area to sagebrush after cheatgrass 
becomes established is difficult and usually ineffective (Paysen et al. 
2000). As a result of this direct relationship between wildfire and the 
spread of invasive plants, large areas of habitat in the western 
distribution of the greater sage-grouse have already been converted to 
cheatgrass (Connelly et al. 2000c). The loss of habitat due to 
establishment of and dominance by non-native annual grasses results in 
the loss of sage-grouse populations (Connelly et al. 2000c).
    Wildfires have removed extensive areas of sagebrush habitat in 
recent years. For example, 30 to 40 percent of the sage-grouse habitat 
in southern Idaho was destroyed in a 5-year period (1997-2001) due to 
range fires (Signe Sather-Blair, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, quoted 
in Healy 2001). The largest contiguous patch of sagebrush habitat in 
southern Idaho occupied approximately 283,000 ha (700,000 ac), (Michael 
Pellant, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, quoted in Healy 2001). Of that 
total area, about 202,000 ha (500,000 ac) burned in the years 1999 to 
2001; half of the acres that burned for the first 3 to 5 years post 
fire, but accompanying forbs and surviving grasses increased biomass 
production. In another study, productivity of perennial herbs had 
increased by the second year post-burn to an average 2.2 times higher 
on burned verses control areas (Cook et al. 1994). In a 1998 prescribed 
burn on the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Crawford (1999) 
observed little change in species composition between unburned and 
burned areas. In the same general area, fall burning had no apparent 
effect on most primary foods although some Cichorieae species did 
increase (Pyle 1992). Fischer et al. (1996) also noted that vegetative 
cover of important forbs in the diets of sage-grouse was similar in 
unburned and burned habitat. In a review of 13 sites that had burned 
during a span of 2 to 32 years, Wambolt et al. (2001) reported that 
perennial grasses and forbs did not benefit from prescribed burning.
    A variety of techniques have been attempted at re-establishing 
sagebrush post-fire, with mixed success (Cadwell et al. 1996, Quinney 
et al. 1996, Livingston 1998). Restoration of the sagebrush biome 
following a fire has been complicated not only by the invasion of 
exotic annual plant species, but the difficulty associated with 
establishing sagebrush seedlings (Boltz 1994). Wirth and Pyke (2003) 
reported that forb response post-fire is dependant on the forb 
community pre-burn. Habitat rehabilitation following fires has become a 
major activity in recent years, increasing from 281 km\2\ (109 mi\2\ ) 
in 1997 to 16,135 km\2\ (6,230 mi\2\ ) in 2002 with most treatments in 
Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada (Connelly et al. 2004), but we have no data 
on the extent of actual sagebrush restoration.
    A clear positive response of greater sage-grouse to fire has not 
been demonstrated (Braun 1998). Call and Maser (1985) noted that fires 
could cause adverse conditions where cover is limited. Studies of 
prescribed fire in mountain big sagebrush at Hart Mountain National 
Antelope Refuge demonstrate short-term benefits in certain forbs, but 
the reduction in sagebrush cover potentially rendered habitat less 
suitable for nesting and brood rearing (Rowland and Wisdom 2002). 
Similarly, Nelle et al. (2000) reported that the removal of sage-grouse 
nesting and brood-rearing habitat by fire resulted in no increase in 
invertebrate abundance in the first year post-fire and hence, no 
benefit for sage-grouse chick foraging. This loss of nesting habitat 
created a long-term negative impact which would require 20 years of 
sagebrush re-growth before sufficient canopy cover was available for 
nesting birds (Nelle et al. 2000). Byrne (2002) reported the general 
avoidance of available burned habitats by nesting, brood-rearing, and 
broodless females. Connelly et al. (2000c) and Fischer et al. (1996) 
found that prescribed burning did not improve brood rearing habitat in 
Wyoming big sagebrush, as forbs did not increase and insect populations 
declined as a result of the treatment. Hence fire in this sagebrush 
type may negatively affect brood rearing habitat rather than improve it 
(Connelly and Braun 1997). However, Klebenow (1970), Gates (1983, as 
cited in Connelly et al. 2000c), Sime (1991 as cited in Connelly et al. 
2000a), and Pyle and Crawford (1996) all indicated that fire could 
improve brood-rearing habitat. Slater (2003) reported that sage-grouse 
using burned areas were rarely found more than 60 m (200 feet) from the 
edge of the burn. In southeastern Idaho, Connelly et al. (2000c) 
concluded that, even though age-grouse populations were in decline 
across the study area, population declines were more severe in the 
post-fire years. Fischer et al. (1997) concluded that habitat 
fragmentation, as a result of fire, may influence distribution or 
migratory patterns in sage-grouse. Hulet (1983, as cited in Connelly et 
al. 2000a) documented the loss of leks as a result of fire.
    The expert panel ranked wildfire as the second most important 
extinction risk factor for the greater sage-grouse in western portions 
of its range (the Great Basin--Utah, Idaho, Nevada, eastern Oregon), 
primarily due to the subsequent establishment of invasive species such 
as cheatgrass (see following discussion). Since invasive species has 
not become the problem in the eastern part of the greater sage-grouse 
range, the expert panel did not rank wildfire as high in that area. 
Across the species range, wildfire was identified as the third most 
important extinction risk factor by the expert panel.
Invasive Species/Noxious Weeds
    Invasive species have been defined as those that are not native to 
an ecosystem and whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, 
economic or environmental harm or harm to human health (Executive Order 
13112, 1999). A wide variety of plants are considered invasive within 
the range of sagebrush ecosystems that the greater sage-grouse occupies 
(Wamboldt et al. 2002, Crawford et al. 2004, Connelly et al. 2004). 
Invasive species often cause declines in native plant populations by 
reducing light, water, and nutrients, and they grow so quickly that 
they outcompete other species (Wooten et al. 1996). The rate of spread 
for noxious weeds is approximately 931 ha (2,300 ac) per day on BLM 
lands and 1862 ha

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(4,600 ac) per day on all public lands in the West (Knick et al. 2003). 
The area infested with exotic (non-native) invasive plants increased 
from 1.1 million ha (2.7 million ac) in 1985 to 3.2 million ha (7.9 
million ac) in 1994 on BLM lands (Knick et al. 2003). The replacement 
of sagebrush vegetation communities with exotic species such as Russian 
thistle (Salsola spp.), halogeton (Halogeton glomeratus) and 
medusahead, has resulted in sage-grouse habitat loss (Miller and 
Eddleman 2000).
    Young et al. (1972) found that plant communities of the Great Basin 
are highly susceptible to invasion by alien plants since native annuals 
are not adapted to occupy conditions created by intensive livestock 
grazing. Exotic plants can reduce and eliminate populations of plants 
that sage-grouse use for food and cover. As previously discussed, 
frequent fires with short intervals within sagebrush habitats favor 
invasion of cheatgrass, which is unsuitable as sage-grouse habitat 
(Schroeder et al. 1999). Cheatgrass then shortens the fire interval 
(from approximately 30 years down to 5 years), perpetuating its own 
persistence and spread, and exacerbating the effects of fire in 
remaining sage-grouse habitats (Connelly et al. 2004). Rehabilitation 
of an area to sagebrush after cheatgrass becomes established is 
extremely difficult (Connelly et al. 2004).
    Large areas of habitat in the western distribution of the greater 
sage-grouse have already been converted to cheatgrass (Connelly et al. 
2000a). Exotic plant communities are now dominant on more than 40 
million ha in the Intermountain West (Mack 1981, as cited in Miller and 
Eddleman 2000). This invasive species also occurs in lower abundance 
throughout the entire range of the sage-grouse. Connelly et al. (2004) 
estimated the risk of cheatgrass invasion into sagebrush and other 
natural vegetation areas in the western part of the range of greater 
sage-grouse (Southern and Northern Great Basin, part of the Columbia 
Basin, and most of the Snake River Plain), where cheatgrass currently 
is concentrated. Based on elevation, landform, and south-facing slope 
parameters, Connelly et al. (2004) projected that 80 percent of this 
land area is susceptible to displacement by cheatgrass and that in 65 
percent of this area cheatgrass is either already present or will be 
within 30 years. Wyoming-basin big sagebrush and salt desert scrub, 
which occupy over 40 percent of the Great Basin, are the cover types 
most susceptible to cheatgrass displacement (Connelly et al. 2004).
    We could not find any studies that document or attempted to 
document a direct relationship between cheatgrass expansion and sage-
grouse population declines. Yet the available evidence is clear that 
cheatgrass has invaded extensive areas in western parts of greater 
sage-grouse range, supplanting sagebrush plants upon which sage-grouse 
depend. Although there is a lack of evidence documenting that 
cheatgrass invasion causes sage-grouse declines, Connelly et al. 
(2000a) indicated that some sage-grouse populations have been affected 
and some will decline due to projected, continuing spread of cheatgrass 
domination in the absence of effective management.
    Invasive species was ranked as the primary extinction risk factor 
for the greater sage-grouse by the expert panel. This concern was based 
on the ability of invasive species to outcompete sagebrush, the 
inability to effectively control invasives once they become 
established, and the ease with which invasive species are spread 
through other factors on the landscape, such as wildfire and 
infrastructure construction. Additionally, one member of the panel 
indicated that once invasive species become established, the ecology of 
the system can be changed, resulting in increased opportunities for 
other invasive species to establish, and subsequently, permanent 
habitat loss. Although cheatgrass has been identified as the primary 
invasive species resulting in sagebrush habitat conversion, the expert 
panel also cautioned that many other invasive species (i.e., Japanese 
brome and various species of mustards and knapweeds) may be a greater 
threat in the future. The expert panel advised that based on current 
knowledge, prevention is the only effective tool to preclude large-
scale habitat loss from invasive species in the future. However, they 
did not believe that the current rate of invasive species spread was 
sufficient to result in the complete loss of sagebrush, and therefore 
the extinction of sage grouse within the reasonably foreseeable future.
    There has been an unprecedented expansion of pinyon-juniper 
woodlands, a native habitat type dominated by pinyon pine (Pinus 
edulis) and various juniper species (Juniperus spp.), with an estimated 
10-fold increase in the Intermountain West since European immigrant 
settlement (Miller and Tausch 2001). The expansion of pinyon-juniper 
forests has resulted in the loss of many bunchgrass and sagebrush-
bunchgrass communities that formerly dominated the Intermountain West 
(Miller and Tausch 2001). The major factor cited for the increase in 
the pinyon-juniper forest type is a decrease in fire return intervals 
(Miller and Tausch 2001). Other factors facilitating the increase 
include historical livestock grazing patterns, which reduced the 
buildup of fine fuels that more readily carry fire, and possibly 
increases in global carbon dioxide concentrations and climate change 
(Miller and Rose 1999, Miller and Tausch 2001).
    Connelly et al. (2004) estimated the risk of pinyon-juniper 
displacement of sagebrush for a large portion of the Great Basin, based 
on site elevation, proximity to extant pinyon-juniper, precipitation, 
and topography. Using these parameters, Connelly et al. (2004) 
projected the risk that sagebrush habitats would be displaced by 
pinyon-juniper within the next 30 years. They found that about 60 
percent of sagebrush in the Great Basin was at low risk of being 
displaced by pinyon-juniper, 6 percent of sagebrush is at moderate 
risk, and 35 percent of sagebrush habitats are at high risk of 
displacement (Connelly et al. 2004). Connelly et al. (2004) also found 
that mountain big sagebrush appears to be the sagebrush type most at 
risk for pinyon-juniper displacement. When juniper increases in 
mountain big sagebrush communities, shrub cover declines and the season 
of available succulent forbs is shortened due to soil moisture 
depletion (Crawford et al. 2004). Connelly et al. (2004) caution that 
additional field research is needed to support their estimates.
    Pinyon-juniper expansion into sagebrush habitats, with subsequent 
replacement of sagebrush shrub communities by woodland has been 
documented (Miller et al. 1999, Miller and Tausch 2001, Crawford et al. 
2004, Connelly et al. 2004). It is likely that further losses of 
sagebrush habitat due to pinyon-juniper expansion will occur within the 
western part of greater sage-grouse range, especially the southern 
Great Basin. We could find no documentation, however, that pinyon-
juniper expansion is a factor affecting sage-grouse habitat persistence 
in the eastern portion of the range (Wyoming Basin, Colorado Plateau, 
and silver sagebrush areas (Connelly et al. 2004)). Although we could 
not locate any studies that documented the effect of pinyon-juniper 
expansion on greater sage-grouse, Commons et al. (1999) found that the 
number of male Gunnison sage-grouse on leks in southwest Colorado 
doubled after pinyon-juniper removal and mechanical treatment of 
mountain sagebrush and

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deciduous brush. Hence we can infer that some sage-grouse populations 
have been affected and some will decline due to projected increases in 
the pinyon-juniper type, at least within parts of the Great Basin. The 
expert panel considered pinyon-juniper as an extinction risk for the 
greater sage-grouse in the western portion of its range, but only 
ranked it as a moderate risk across the entire species' range.
    Low densities of indigenous peoples have been present for more than 
12,000 years in the historical range of sage-grouse. By 1900, Connelly 
et al. (2004) reported that less than 1 person/km2 resided 
in 51 percent of the 325 counties within their assessment area, and 
densities greater than 10 persons/km occurred in 4 percent of the 
counties. By 2000, counties with less than 1 person/km2 
occurred in 31 percent of the 325 counties and densities greater than 
10 persons/km2 occurred in 22 percent of the counties 
(Connelly et al. 2004). Today, the dominant urban areas are located in 
the Bear River Valley of Utah, the portion of Bonneville Basin 
southeast of the Great Salt Lake, the Snake River Valley of southern 
Idaho, and in the Columbia River Valley of Washington (Rand McNally 
Road Atlas 2003, Connelly et al. 2004).
    Urban development has eliminated some sage-grouse habitat (Braun 
1998). Interrelated effects from urban/suburban development include 
construction of associated infrastructure (roads, powerlines, and 
pipelines) and predation threats from the introduction of domestic pets 
and increases in predators subsidized by human activities (e.g., 
landfills). More recent urban expansion into rural subdivisions is also 
resulting in direct habitat loss and conversion, as well as alteration 
of remaining sage-grouse habitats around these areas due to the 
presence of humans and pets (Braun 1998; Connelly et al. 2000a). In 
some Colorado counties, up to 50 percent of sage-grouse habitat is 
under rural subdivision development, and it is estimated that 3 to 5 
percent of all sage-grouse historical habitat in Colorado has already 
been converted into urban areas (Braun 1998). We are unaware of similar 
estimates for other States within the range of the greater sage-grouse, 
and therefore cannot determine the effects of this factor on a 
rangewide basis.
    Municipal solid waste landfills (landfills) have been shown to 
contribute to increases in common raven populations (Knight et al. 
1993, Restani et al. 2001, Webb et al. 2004). Ravens are known to prey 
on sage-grouse and have been considered a restraint on sage-grouse 
population growth in some locations (Batterson and Morse 1948, 
Autenrieth 1981, Altstatt 1995). Landfills are found in every State and 
a number of these are located within or adjacent to sage-grouse 
habitat. However, no studies could be found that linked landfill 
presence, common raven populations, and sage-grouse population levels. 
Urbanization was considered as a moderate extinction risk for the 
greater sage-grouse by the expert panel, primarily as a result of 
habitat loss and fragmentation from increasing resource needs to 
support expanding human populations.
Summary of Factor A
    Loss of sagebrush and greater sage-grouse habitat has been 
occurring since arrival of European settlers in the 1800s, as evidenced 
by the change in the sage-grouse's distribution and loss of local 
populations (Schroeder et al. 2004). Habitat loss and fragmentation 
continues today as a result of the many factors described in the 
preceding paragraphs. When the expert panel was asked to identify and 
rank extinction risk factors for the greater sage-grouse, the threats 
ranked highest in importance were, in order: invasive species, 
infrastructure as related to energy development and urbanization, 
wildfire, agriculture, grazing, energy development, urbanization, 
strip/coal mining, weather, and pinyon-juniper expansion. However, the 
majority of the expert panel did not believe that these threats were 
occurring at such a rate to cause the extinction of the greater sage-
grouse within the next 60 to 100 years. Other threats (e.g., disease 
and predation, hard-rock mining, hunting, contaminants) were considered 
by the expert panel to be of lesser importance to the sage-grouse. 
Several experts identified concerns with the synergistic effects of 
threat factors (e.g., infrastructure increases and invasive species 
expansion). The expert panelists also discussed that the range of the 
greater sage-grouse would likely contract and fragment due to habitat 
modifications and losses.
    Based on the information gathered through the scientific 
literature, industry, public comments and State and Federal agencies, 
as well as the opinions of the expert panel, Service biologists 
determined that the principal habitat-related threats are not 
proceeding at a rate that will threaten the continued existence of the 
species within the foreseeable future. In addition, the wide 
distribution of the species, presence of large ``core'' populations, 
recent population trends in some areas throughout the species range 
(indicating that populations are stable and/or increasing), and large 
blocks of sagebrush habitat are all factors that contributed to the 
determination that the greater sage-grouse is not in danger of 
extinction within the foreseeable future. Thus, based on the best 
available scientific and commercial data, we have concluded that 
present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the 
sage-grouse's habitat or range is not a factor that threatens or 
endangers the species over all or a significant portion of its range. 
In reaching this conclusion, we did identify that continued efforts to 
conserve sagebrush ecosystems and address habitat threats are important 
to long-term persistence of the greater sage-grouse.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Presently, there is no commercial trade in greater sage-grouse, and 
under State and Federal laws the sale of sage-grouse meat, feathers and 
body parts is illegal. Historically, the greater sage-grouse was 
heavily exploited by commercial and sport hunting in the late 1800s and 
early 1900s (Patterson 1952; Autenrieth 1981). Hornaday (1916) and 
others alerted the public to the risk of extinction to the species as a 
result of this overharvest. In response, many States closed sage-grouse 
hunting seasons by the 1930s (Patterson 1952, Autenrieth 1981). The 
impacts of hunting on greater sage-grouse during those historical 
decades may have been exacerbated by impacts from human expansion into 
sagebrush-steppe habitats (Girard 1937). With the increase of sage-
grouse populations by the 1950s, limited hunting seasons were again 
allowed in most portions of the species range (Patterson 1952, 
Autenrieth 1981).
    Greater sage-grouse are currently legally sport-hunted in 10 of 11 
States where they occur (Connelly et al. 2004), and hunting is 
regulated by State wildlife agencies. The hunting season for sage-
grouse in Washington was closed in 1988 (Stinson et al. 2004). In 
Canada sage-grouse hunting is not allowed (Connelly et al. 2004). Most 
State agencies base their hunting regulations on local population 
information and peer-reviewed scientific literature regarding the 
impacts of hunting on greater sage-grouse (Bohne in litt., Wyoming Game 
and Fish Department, 2003 ). Hunting seasons are reviewed annually, and

[[Page 2268]]

States change harvest management based on harvest and population data 
(Bohne in litt, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 2003). For example, 
Wyoming delayed their season to allow for more equitable distribution 
of hunting mortality across all age and sex classes, thereby reducing 
female mortality as compared to previous seasons (Bohne in litt., 
Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 2003).
    Relatively few studies have addressed the effect of recreational 
hunting on sage-grouse populations. These studies suggest that hunting 
may be compensatory (i.e., mortality that replaces deaths that would 
have happened otherwise due to other causes such as predation, or 
mortality that is compensated by increased productivity; Crawford 
1982), have no measurable effect on spring sage-grouse densities (Braun 
and Beck 1996), or may be additive (i.e., mortality that adds more 
deaths per year to the total otherwise attributable to other causes, 
and is not compensated by increased productivity; Zunino 1989, Connelly 
et al. 2000a). Johnson and Braun (1999) concluded that harvest 
mortality may be additive for the species if brood hens and young birds 
sustain the highest hunting mortality within a population. No studies 
have demonstrated that regulated hunting is a primary cause of 
widespread reduced numbers of greater sage-grouse (Connelly et al. 
    Hunting seasons that are managed so as to evenly distribute 
mortality across all age and sex classes are less likely to negatively 
affect subsequent breeding populations (Braun 1998). Connelly et al. 
(2000a) state that most greater sage-grouse populations can sustain 
hunting if the seasons are carefully regulated to keep total mortality 
within sustainable levels--but do not evaluate the extent to which such 
careful regulation has been successfully implemented. A maximum 
sustainable harvest rate has not been determined for greater sage-
grouse populations (Connelly et al. 2004). All States with hunting 
seasons have changed limits and season dates to more evenly distribute 
hunting mortality across the entire population structure by harvesting 
birds after females have left their broods (Bohne in litt., Wyoming 
Game and Fish Department, 2003). Total annual gun harvest of sage-
grouse across the 10 western States that have seasons was approximately 
24,000 birds in 2003 (Connelly et al. 2004). We could not locate any 
data to assess how those changes correlate with population trends.
    All 10 States that allow gun hunting of sage-grouse also allow 
falconers to hunt sage-grouse, although no falconers are currently 
hunting sage-grouse in South and North Dakota (John Wrede, South Dakota 
Game, Fish and Parks, pers. comm. 2004; Gerald Kobriger, North Dakota 
Game and Fish Dept., pers. comm. 2004). Montana (Rick Northrup, Montana 
Dept. Fish, Wildl. Parks, pers. comm. 2004), Oregon (Dave Budeau, 
Oregon Dept. Fish and Wildlife, pers. comm. 2004), and Idaho (Tom 
Hemker, Idaho Dept. Fish and Game, pers. comm. 2004) indicated that 
they do not have data on the level of harvest through falconry, but 
believe such harvest is low due to the few numbers of falconers and 
their dispersed activities. Wyoming reported a take of 63 sage-grouse 
by falconers. We are not aware of any studies that demonstrate that 
falconry take of greater sage-grouse influences population trends.
    We surveyed the State fish and wildlife agencies within the range 
of greater sage-grouse to determine what information they had on 
illegal harvest (poaching) of the species. Two states, South Dakota and 
North Dakota indicated that they had no known incidents of poaching 
(John Wrede, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, pers. comm. 2004; 
Gerald Kobriger, North Dakota Game and Fish Dept., pers. comm. 2004). 
None of the remaining States had any quantitative data on the level of 
poaching in their States. Based on these results, illegal harvest of 
greater sage-grouse poaching appears to occur at low levels. We are not 
aware of any studies or other data that demonstrate that poaching has 
contributed to sage-grouse population declines.

Religious, Scientific, and Recreational Use

    Some Native American tribes harvest sage-grouse as part of their 
religious or ceremonial practices. In Wyoming, Native American hunting 
occurs on the Wind River Indian Reservation, with about 20 males per 
year taken off of leks in the spring (Tom Christiansen, Wyoming Game 
and Fish Dept., pers comm. 2004), and a harvest of 30 males in the fall 
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in litt. 2004). No harvest by Native 
Americans for religious or ceremonial purposes occurs in South Dakota, 
North Dakota, Colorado, Washington, or Oregon (John Wrede, South Dakota 
Game, Fish and Parks affiliation pers. comm. 2004; Gerald Kobriger 
North Dakota Game and Fish Dept., pers. comm. 2004; Anthony Apa, 
Colorado Div. Wildl., pers. comm. 2004; Michael Schroeder, Washington 
Dept. Fish and Wildlife, pers. comm. 2004; and Dave Budeau, Oregon 
Dept. Wildl., pers. comm. 2004).
    Greater sage-grouse are the subject of many scientific research 
studies and some of these field studies include the capture and 
handling of the species. Of the 11 western States where sage-grouse 
occur, all except South Dakota and North Dakota (John Wrede, South 
Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, pers. comm. 2004; Gerald Kobriger, North 
Dakota Game and Fish Dept., pers. comm. 2004) reported some type of 
field studies on sage-grouse between 1999 to 2004 that included the 
capture, handling, and subsequent banding, or banding and radio-tagging 
of sage-grouse. For these 9 States, 2,491 birds were captured and 
processed over six years, of which 68 birds (about 2.7 percent of 
handled birds) died due to capture, handling, or radio-tagging 
processes. We are not aware of any studies that document that this 
level of taking has affected any sage-grouse population trends.
    Greater sage-grouse have been translocated in several States and 
the Province of British Columbia (Reese and Connelly 1997). Reese and 
Connelly (1997) documented the translocation of over 7,200 birds 
between 1933 and 1990, and additional translocation efforts have taken 
place since 1990. Only 5 percent of the translocation efforts 
documented by Reese and Connelly (1997) were considered to be 
successful in producing sustained, resident populations at the 
translocation sites. In 2004 the State of Nevada supplied the State of 
Washington with greater sage-grouse to increase the genetic diversity 
of geographically isolated populations. No information is available at 
this time regarding the success or effectiveness of this translocation. 
Given the low numbers of birds that have been used for translocation 
spread over many decades it is unlikely that the removals from source 
populations have contributed to greater sage-grouse declines, while the 
limited success of translocations has also likely had nominal impact on 
rangewide population trends.
    Greater sage-grouse are also subject to a variety of non-
consumptive uses such as bird watching or tour groups visiting leks, 
general wildlife viewing, and photography. Daily human disturbances on 
sage-grouse leks could cause a reduction in mating, and some reduction 
in total production (Call and Maser 1985). Only a few leks in each 
state receive regular viewing use visitation by humans during the 
strutting season, and most States report no known impacts from this use 
(John Wrede, South Dakota Game, Fish and

[[Page 2269]]

Parks, pers. comm. 2004; Rick Northrup, Montana Dept. Fish, Wildl. 
Parks, pers. comm. 2004; Tom Christiansen, Wyoming Game and Fish Dept., 
pers. comm. 2004; Tom Hemker, Idaho Dept. Fish and Game, pers. comm. 
2004). Only Colorado had data regarding the effects of non-consumptive 
use, which suggested that controlled lek visitation has not impacted 
sage-grouse (Anthony Apa, Colorado Div. Wildl., pers. comm. 2004). 
State agencies in Oregon, Nevada, and North Dakota report that there is 
potential for impacts at individual leks that are the most heavily used 
for viewing (Dave Budeau, Oregon Dept. Wildl., pers. comm. 2004; Shawn 
Espinosa, Nevada Divison of Wildl., pers. comm., 2004; Gerald Kobriger 
North Dakota Game and Fish Dept., pers. comm. 2004). The BLM has 
reported movement of a sage-grouse lek, and decreasing male numbers on 
the same lek apparently in response to lek viewing at that location 
(Jan Hanf, BLM, pers. comm. 2004). We were not able to locate any 
studies documenting how lek viewing, or other forms of non-consumptive 
recreational uses, of sage-grouse are related to sage-grouse population 
trends and we have no indication that they are contributing to 
declining trends.

Summary of Factor B

    The expert panel did not identify hunting as a primary threat 
factor for the greater sage-grouse. In their discussion of extrinsic 
threat factors, the expert panel identified that hunting occurs within 
a limited timeframe and at a time of the year when productivity is 
unlikely to be affected significantly. In addition, they noted that 
hunting is a regulated management technique that can be quickly 
adjusted to changing conditions. No data were collected suggesting that 
poaching, non-consumptive use, or scientific use limit greater sage-
grouse populations rangewide. Based on the best scientific and 
commercial data available, including input from the expert panel, we 
have concluded that overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes is not a factor that endangers or 
threatens the sage-grouse throughout all or a significant portion of 
its range.

C. Disease or Predation

    There have been few systematic surveys for parasites or infectious 
diseases of the greater sage-grouse, and therefore, their role in 
population declines is unknown for this species (Connelly et al. 2004). 
Some early studies have suggested that sage-grouse populations are 
adversely affected by parasitic infections (Batterson and Morse 1948). 
Parasites have also been implicated in sage-grouse mate selection, with 
potentially subsequent effects on the genetic diversity of this species 
(Boyce 1990; Deibert 1995), but Connelly et al. (2004) note that while 
these relationships may be important to the long-term ecology of 
greater sage-grouse, they have not been shown to be significant to the 
immediate status of populations. Connelly et al. (2004) have suggested 
that diseases and parasites may limit isolated sage-grouse populations. 
The potential effects of emerging diseases require additional study.
    Sage-grouse are hosts to many parasites (Connelly et al. 2004; 
Thorne et al. 1982). Only the protozoan, Eimeria spp., which causes 
coccidiosis (Connelly et al. 2004), has proven to be fatal, but 
mortality is not 100 percent, and young birds that survive an initial 
infection typically do not succumb to subsequent infections (Thorne et 
al. 1982). Infections tend to be localized to specific geographic 
areas. Most cases of coccidiosis in greater sage-grouse have been found 
where large numbers of birds congregated, resulting in soil and water 
contamination by fecal material (Connelly et al. 2004). While the role 
of this parasite in population changes is unknown, Petersen (2004) 
hypothesized that coccidiosis could be limiting for local populations, 
as this parasite causes decreased growth and significant mortality in 
young birds, thereby potentially limiting recruitment. However, no 
cases of sage-grouse mortality resulting from coccidiosis have been 
documented since the early 1960s (Connelly et al. 2004).
    Other parasites which have been documented in the greater sage-
grouse include, Sarcosystis ssp (another form of coccidea), blood 
parasites (including avian malaria, Leucocytozoon spp., Haemoproteus 
spp., and Trypanosoma avium), Tritrichomonas simoni, tapeworms, gizzard 
worms (Habronema spp. and Acuaria spp.), cecal worms, and filarid 
nematodes (Thorne et al. 1982; Connelly et al. 2004; Petersen 2004). 
None of these parasites have been known to cause mortality in the 
greater sage-grouse. Sub-lethal effects of these parasitic infection on 
sage-grouse have never been studied.
    Greater sage-grouse host many external parasites, including lice, 
ticks, and dipterans (midges, flies, mosquitoes, and keds) (Connelly et 
al. 2004). Most ectoparasites do not produce disease, but can serve as 
disease vectors or cause mechanical injury and irritation (Thorne et 
al. 1982). Many biologists contend that ectoparasites can be 
detrimental to their hosts, particularly when the bird is stressed by 
inadequate habitat or nutritional conditions (Petersen 2004). Some 
studies have suggested that lice infestations can affect sage-grouse 
mate selection (Boyce 1990; Spurrier et al. 1991; Deibert 1995), but 
population impacts are not known (Connelly et al. 2004).
    Greater sage-grouse are also subject to a variety of bacterial, 
fungal, and viral pathogens. The bacteria Salmonella spp., has caused 
mortality in the greater sage-grouse; the bacteria apparently 
contracted through of exposure to contaminated water supplies around 
livestock stock tanks (Connelly et al. 2004). Other bacteria found in 
sage-grouse include Escherichia coli, botulism (Clostridium spp.), 
avian tuberculosis (Mycobacterium avium), and avian cholera 
(Pasteurella multocida). These bacteria have never been identified as a 
cause of mortality in greater sage-grouse and the risk of exposure and 
hence, population effects, is low (Connelly et al. 2004). One case of 
aspergillosis, a fungal disease, has been documented in sage-grouse, 
but there is no evidence to suggest this fungus plays a role in 
limiting greater sage-grouse populations (Connelly et al. 2004; 
Petersen 2004).
    Viral diseases could cause serious diseases in grouse species and 
potentially influence population dynamics (Petersen 2004). However, 
prior to 2003 only avian infectious bronchitis (caused by a 
coronavirus) had been identified in the greater sage-grouse. No 
clinical signs of the disease were observed.
    West Nile virus (WNv; Flavivirus) was introduced into the 
northeastern United States in 1999 and has subsequently spread across 
North America (Marra et al. 2004). This virus was first diagnosed in 
greater sage-grouse in 2003, and has been shown to affect sage-grouse 
survival rates. Data from four studies in the eastern half of the sage-
grouse range (Alberta, Montana, Wyoming) showed survival in these 
populations declined 25 percent in July and August as a result of the 
WNv infection (Naugle et al. 2004). Populations of grouse that were not 
affected by WNv showed no similar decline. Additionally, individual 
sage-grouse in exposed populations were 3.4 times more likely to die 
during July and August, the ``peak'' of WNv occurrence, than birds in 
non-exposed populations (Connelly et al. 2004; Naugle et al. 2004). 
Subsequent declines in both male and female lek attendance in infected 
areas in 2004 compared with years

[[Page 2270]]

before WNv was detected in this area suggest outbreaks could contribute 
to local population extirpation (Walker et al. 2004). Lek surveys in 
2004, however, indicated that regional sage-grouse populations did not 
decline, suggesting that the initial effects of WNv were localized 
(Oedokoven, unpublished data, 2004). Five sage-grouse deaths resulting 
from WNv have been identified in 2004, four from the Powder River Basin 
area of northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana (Dave Naugle, U. 
Montana, pers. comm. 2004), and one from the northwestern Colorado, 
near the town of Yampa (Anthony Apa, Colorado Division of Wildlife, 
pers. comm. 2004). An additional three sage-grouse deaths in California 
from WNv were reported in 2004 (Scott Gardner, Ca. Dept. Fish Game, 
pers. comm. 2004). In 2004, WNv was detected in a variety of species in 
western Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, California and Oregon (U.S. 
Geological Service, National Wildlife Health Laboratory, 2004). Outside 
of the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, California and 
western Colorado, we are unaware of comprehensive efforts to track 
sage-grouse mortalities. Therefore, the actual distribution and extent 
of WNv in sage-grouse in 2004 is unknown.
    Greater than 300 serum samples taken from live-captured wild grouse 
in known WNv infected areas were negative for WNv antibodies, 
indicating that these animals had not been exposed to the virus (Todd 
Cornish, U. Wyoming, pers. comm. 2004). The lack of birds with 
antibodies suggests that sage-grouse do not survive a WNv infection 
because if any were surviving, at least some of the birds sampled from 
the exposed areas should be survivors with antibodies (Connelly et al. 
2004; Oedekoven 2004). All 25 wild sage-grouse brought into a 
controlled research laboratory and inoculated with various doses of 
WNv, including doses thought to be less than the amount that would be 
delivered by a typical mosquito bite, perished within 8 days of 
infection (Todd Cornish, U. of Wyoming, unpublished data, 2004). In 
addition, direct exposure of non-infected sage-grouse to infected sage-
grouse under laboratory conditions also resulted in 40 percent 
mortality of 6 individuals, in the absence of the mosquito vector for 
WNv (Culex tarsalis) (Todd Cornish, U. of Wyoming, unpublished data, 
2004). These experimental results, combined with field data, suggest 
that a widespread WNv infection could negatively impact greater sage-
    Late-summer habitat requirements of sage-grouse potentially 
increase their exposure to WNv. Sage-grouse hens and broods congregate 
in mesic habitats in the mid- to late summer, thereby placing them in 
the same potential habitats as the WNv mosquito vector when the 
mosquitoes are likely to be active. Surface water sources that have 
been created for agricultural, livestock, and oil and gas activities 
may increase the contact between sage-grouse and the mosquito vector 
(Naugle et al. 2004; Connelly et al. 2004; Walker et al. 2004). Losses 
from WNv come at a time of year when survival is otherwise typically 
high for adult females (Schroeder et al. 1999; Connelly et al. 2000a; 
Aldridge and Brigham 2003), thus potentially making these WNv deaths 
additive to other mortality sources and reducing average annual 
    Predation is the most commonly identified cause of direct mortality 
for sage-grouse (Schroeder et al. 1999, Connelly et al. 2000b). Greater 
sage-grouse have many predators, which vary in relative importance 
depending on the sex and age of the bird and the time of year. 
Predators of adult greater sage-grouse include coyotes (Canis latrans), 
bobcats (Lynx rufus), weasels (Mustela spp.), golden eagles (Aquila 
chrysaetos), red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), Swainson's hawks (B. 
swainsoni), and ferruginous hawks (B. regalis) (Hartzler 1974, 
Schroeder et al. 1999, Rowland and Wisdom 2002, Schroeder and Baydack 
2001). In the Strawberry Valley of Utah, Bambrough et al. (2000) noted 
that low survival of greater sage-grouse may have been due to an 
unusually high density of red foxes.
    Adult male greater sage-grouse are most susceptible to predation 
during the mating season as they are very conspicuous while performing 
their mating display. And, because leks are attended daily, predators 
may be attracted to these areas during the breeding season (Braun in 
litt. 1995). However, given the greater sage-grouse's breeding system, 
where only a few males are selected by all the females for mating, loss 
of some adult males on the lek is not likely to have significant 
population effects (Braun in litt. 1995).
    Adult female greater sage-grouse are most susceptible to predators 
while on the nest or during brood-rearing when they are with young 
chicks (Schroeder and Baydack 2001). Autenrieth (1981), referencing 
annual predator losses, concluded that predation of eggs was the most 
important population constraint in Idaho at that time.
    Juvenile grouse are susceptible to predation from badgers, red 
foxes, coyotes, weasels, American kestrels (Falco sparverius), merlins 
(F. columbarius), northern harriers (Circus cyaneus), and other hawks 
(Braun in litt. 1995; Schroeder et al. 1999). Gregg et al. (2003a, 
2003b) found that chick predation mortality ranged from 27 percent to 
51 percent in 2002 and 10 percent to 43 percent in 2003 on three study 
sites in Oregon. The juvenile mortality rate, during the first few 
weeks after hatching, was estimated to be 63 percent (Wallestad 1975 in 
Schroeder and Baydack 2001). While chicks are very vulnerable to 
predation during this period, other causes of mortality, such as 
weather, are included in this estimate.
    Nesting success is positively correlated with the presence of big 
sagebrush and relatively thick grass and forb cover (Schroeder and 
Baydack 2001). Losses of nesting adult hens and nests appear to be 
related to the amount of herbaceous cover surrounding the nest (Braun 
in litt. 1995; Braun 1998; Coggins 1998, Connelly et al. 2000b; 
Schroeder and Baydack 2001). DeLong et al. (1995) found a lower 
probability of nest predation at nest sites with tall grass and medium 
shrub cover in Oregon. Removal or reduction of this cover, by any 
method, can reduce nest success and adult hen survival. Similarly, 
habitat alteration that reduces cover for young chicks can increase the 
rate of predation on this age class (Schroeder and Baydack 2001). 
Losses of breeding hens and young chicks can influence overall greater 
sage-grouse population numbers, as these two groups contribute most 
significantly to population productivity.
    Agricultural development, landscape fragmentation, and human 
populations have the potential to increase predation pressure by 
forcing birds to nest in marginal habitats, by increasing travel time 
through habitats where they are vulnerable to predation, and by 
increasing the diversity and density of predators (Ritchie et al. 1994, 
Schroeder and Baydack 2001, Connelly et al. 2004; Summers et al. 2004). 
Increasing populations of predators that historically were relatively 
rare in the sagebrush landscape, and are very effective nest predators, 
such as red fox and corvids (Sovada et al. 1995), have the potential to 
increase rates of predation on sage-grouse. Connelly et al. (2000a) 
noted that ranches, farms, and housing developments have resulted in 
the introduction of nonnative predators including domestic dogs (Canis 
domesticus) and cats (Felis domesticus) into greater sage-grouse

[[Page 2271]]

habitats. Where greater sage-grouse habitat has been altered in 
localized areas, the influx of predators can limit populations (Gregg 
et al. 1994; Braun in litt. 1995; Braun 1998; DeLong et al. 1995; 
Schroeder and Baydack 2001). Habitat fragmentation and the resultant 
predation increase may be a limiting factor for the Gunnison sage-
grouse (Oyler-McCance et al. 2001).
    Research conducted to determine nest success and greater sage-
grouse survival has concluded that predation typically does not limit 
greater sage-grouse numbers (Connelly and Braun 1997, Connelly et al. 
2000a, Connelly et al. 2000b, Wambolt et al. 2002). The conclusion that 
predation is not generally a limiting factor is supported by evidence 
showing that predator removal does not have long-lasting effects on 
sage-grouse population size or stability over large regions (Cote and 
Sutherland 1997, Schroeder et al. 1999, Wambolt et al. 2002). For 
example, Slater (2003) demonstrated that coyote control failed to 
produce an effect on greater sage-grouse nesting success in 
southwestern Wyoming. In their review of literature regarding 
predation, Connelly et al. (2004) noted that only two of nine studies 
examining survival and nest success indicated that predation had 
limited a sage-grouse population by decreasing nest success. However, 
both studies indicated low nest success due to predation was ultimately 
related to poor nesting habitat. Connelly et al. (2004) further noted 
that the idea that predation is not a widespread factor depressing 
sage-grouse populations is supported by studies of nest success rates 
(which indicate nest predation is not a widespread problem), by the 
relatively high survival of adult birds, and by the lack of an effect 
on nesting success as a result of coyote control in Wyoming.
Summary of Factor C
    The expert panel did not identify disease or predation as primary 
extinction risk factors for the greater sage-grouse. The experts 
expressed concerns about the potential effects of future WNv outbreaks, 
but were unable to draw any definitive conclusions about extinction 
risk to sage-grouse posed by this disease because insufficient 
information is available to do so. Connelly et al. (2004) noted that 
prior to the recent emergence of WNv there was little evidence to 
suggest that pathogens or parasites were major threats to the greater 
    Although we have relatively poor understanding of the actual 
effects of disease or parasites on sage-grouse populations, since 
systematic surveys have never been conducted, we continue to be 
concerned about the potential effects of WNv on greater sage-grouse. We 
will closely monitor future infections and observed population effects 
to the greater sage-grouse. Predation has also not been identified as a 
limiting factor to sage-grouse populations, except in areas of habitat 
degradation and loss. Thus, based on the best scientific and commercial 
data available, we have concluded that disease and predation are not 
factors that endanger or threaten the sage-grouse throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range at this time.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

Local Laws and Regulations
    Approximately 27 percent of the sagebrush land in the United States 
is privately owned (Connelly et al. 2004). We are not aware of any 
county or city ordinances that provide protection specifically for the 
greater sage-grouse or their habitats on private land, although we 
recognize that such ordinances could be proposed as rural governments 
and local sage-grouse working groups investigate strategies to protect 
sage-grouse on private lands. We recognize that county or city 
ordinances that address agricultural lands, transportation, and zoning 
for various types of land uses have the potential to influence sage-
grouse (e.g., zoning that protects open space can retain suitable sage-
grouse habitat, and zoning that allows a housing development and 
associated roads can result in destruction and/or fragmentation of 
habitat occupied by sage-grouse during some part of their life cycle). 
However, we have no detailed information regarding the nature or extent 
of zoning efforts within the species range and its direct or indirect 
effects on populations and habitats.
State Laws and Regulations
    In the United States, greater sage-grouse are managed by State 
wildlife agencies on all lands within the State as resident native game 
birds (Connelly et al. 2004), except in Washington, where the bird was 
listed as a State-threatened species in 1998 and they are managed as a 
State-listed threatened species (Stinson et al. 2004). The 
classification as a resident game bird (with the exception of 
Washington) allows the direct human taking of the bird during hunting 
seasons authorized and conducted under State laws and regulations. 
Currently, harvest of greater sage-grouse is authorized by 10 of the 11 
western States where they occur (Connelly et al. 2004). Sage-grouse 
hunting is prohibited is Washington, where the season has been closed 
since 1988 (Stinson et al. 2004).
    Each State agency bases its hunting regulations on local population 
information and peer-reviewed scientific literature regarding the 
impacts of hunting on the greater sage-grouse (Bohne in litt., Wyoming 
Game and Fish Department 2003). Hunting seasons are reviewed annually 
by each State, and they implement adaptive management based on harvest 
and population data (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2004; 69 FR 21484; 
Montana Sage Grouse Work Group (MSGWG) 2004).
    State agencies directly manage 5 percent of the total landscape 
dominated by sagebrush in the United States and various State laws and 
regulations identify the need to conserve wildlife habitat (Connelly et 
al. 2004). As an example, in Colorado, ``wildlife and their 
environment'' are to be protected, preserved, enhanced and managed 
(Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 33, Article 1-101 in Connelly et al. 
2004). Laws and regulations in Oregon, South Dakota, and California 
have similar provisions, and allow for acquisition of funding to 
acquire and conserve wildlife habitat (Connelly et al. 2004). Some 
States also have the legal authority to make land purchases and/or to 
enter into easements with landowners regarding wildlife habitats. For 
example, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) has authority to 
acquire easements or purchase land directly to protect wildlife habitat 
(MSGWG 2004). The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WADFW) 
has designated sage-grouse habitat as a ``priority habitat'' which 
identifies this habitat as a priority for conservation and management, 
and provides species and habitat information to interested parties for 
land use planning purposes (Stinson et al. 2004). However, the 
recommendations provided under this program are guidelines, not 
regulations; thus, their use is not required.
    Alternatively, some States have laws that directly address the 
management of certain State lands and require that it be based on 
maximizing financial returns. For example, under a provision of the 
State Constitution (Article IX-Section 8), the Idaho Department of 
Lands (IDL) is directed to manage approximately 2.4 million acres of 
state endowment lands ``in such a manner as to secure the maximum long-
term financial return to the beneficiary institution to which 
granted.'' The IDL can take measures that protect or enhance wildlife 
habitat subject to their fundamental

[[Page 2272]]

requirement to secure maximum long-term financial returns (Idaho Dept. 
Fish and Game in litt. 2004). The Montana Department of Natural 
Resources and Conservation (MTDNRC) is responsible for managing 
approximately 5.1 million surface acres and 6.3 million acres of 
subsurface trust land distributed across the State (MSGWG 2004). Under 
State law, proceeds from the sale and management of this trust land are 
used to support and maintain public schools and various State 
institutions. The obligation for management and administration of these 
trust lands is to obtain the greatest benefit for the school trusts, 
and the monetary return must be weighed against the long-term 
productivity of the land to ensure continued future returns to the 
trusts (MSGWG 2004). State lands which are managed to enhance economic 
returns for the benefit of education trust funds may or may not include 
benefits for wildlife habitat. The Service does not have complete 
information pertaining to all State laws and regulations that directly 
or indirectly relate to greater sage-grouse habitat on these lands.
    All States within the extant range of the greater sage-grouse have, 
or are developing, conservation plans for the species and its habitats. 
These efforts are in addition to current research and monitoring 
efforts for the greater sage-grouse conducted by State agencies. The 
conservation plans are focused on addressing local sage-grouse or 
sagebrush habitat concerns through a variety of mechanisms (i.e., 
changes in regulations, habitat improvement projects, etc.). These 
plans are in various stages of development, and many have not yet begun 
implementation of actual habitat conservation practices. As previously 
stated, 20 of approximately 300 individual efforts contained within the 
27 plans we received met the standard in PECE (see 68 FR 15115) for 
having sufficient certainty of implementation and effectiveness (see 
the ``Status Review Process'' section, above, for further details 
regarding PECE). Of these 20 efforts, 15 involved state wildlife 
agencies (the other 5 involved the BLM or Forest Service). The members 
of the expert panel were provided with information regarding these 20 
projects, and were given the opportunity to re-evaluate their 
projections of extinction risk to the greater sage-grouse on a 
rangewide basis considering these. Only one panelist determined that 
these cumulative efforts would reduce the risk of extinction to the 
species. All the panelists agreed that local conservation efforts are 
necessary to the long-term conservation of the species, but the 
existing plans were too early in development and implementation to 
influence their opinion at this time.
United States Federal Laws and Regulations
    The greater sage-grouse is not covered or managed under the 
provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712). 
Federal agencies in the United States are responsible for managing 66 
percent of the sagebrush landscape (Connelly et al. 2004). The Federal 
agencies with the most sagebrush are the Bureau of Land Management 
(BLM), an agency of the Department of the Interior, and the U. S. 
Forest Service (USFS), an agency of the Department of Agriculture. The 
U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy, and several 
agencies in the Department of the Interior also have responsibility for 
lands and/or decisions that involve habitat of the greater sage-grouse.
    The BLM estimates that about 46 percent of greater sage-grouse 
habitat is on BLM-administered land, with approximately 78.3 million 
acres of BLM-administered lands falling within the range currently 
occupied by the greater sage-grouse (BLM 2004a). The Federal Land 
Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) is 
the primary federal law governing most land uses on BLM-administered 
lands. Section 102(a)(8) of FLPMA specifically recognizes wildlife and 
fish resources as being among the uses for which these lands are to be 
managed: ``The Congress declares it is the policy of the United States 
that the public lands be managed in a manner that * * * will provide 
food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals. * * *'' 
Regulations pursuant to FLPMA and the Mineral Leasing Act (30 U.S.C. 
181 et seq.) that address wildlife habitat protection on BLM-
administered land include 43 CFR 3162.3-1 and 43 CFR 3162.5-1; 43 CFR 
4120 et seq.; 43 CFR 4180 et seq.
    BLM policy and guidance for species of concern occurring on BLM 
managed land is addressed under BLM Manual 6840--Special Status Species 
Management (BLM 2001). In 1998 the greater sage-grouse was State-listed 
as a threatened species in Washington (Stinson et al. 2004), and 
therefore BLM decisions and actions involving greater sage-grouse 
habitat on BLM-administered lands in Washington have been subject to 
the policy guidance in BLM Manual 6840 since then. The BLM has 
designated the greater sage-grouse a sensitive species across all 11 
States in the sage-grouse range. BLM's policy regarding sensitive 
species is that ``The protection provided by the policy for candidate 
species shall be used as the minimum level of protection for BLM 
sensitive species'' (BLM 2001). The BLM policy regarding candidate 
species includes: implementation of management plans for conserving the 
species and its habitats; ensuring actions authorized, funded, or 
carried out by the BLM do not contribute to the need for the species to 
become listed; ensuring the species are considered in land use plans; 
developing and/or participating in management plans and species and 
habitat assessments; and monitoring the species for evaluating of 
management objectives (BLM 2001).
    Land use plans are the basis for all actions and authorizations 
involving BLM-administered lands and resources: they establish 
allowable resource uses, resource condition goals and objectives to be 
attained; program constraints and general management practices needed 
to attain the goals and objectives; general implementation sequences; 
and intervals and standards for monitoring and evaluating the plan to 
determine its effectiveness and the need for amendment or revision (43 
CFR 1601.0-5(k)). According to a draft Report provided to the Service 
by BLM, there are 98 land use plans that involve sage-grouse habitat 
(BLM 2004a). Based on information provided by BLM field offices, 13 of 
the 98 plans do not contain any direction that specifically pertains to 
the greater sage-grouse or its habitat (BLM 2004a). The other 85 plans 
contain standards and/or prescriptions that ``contribute positively to 
on-the-ground sage-grouse habitat conservation'' and/or ``contribute 
positively to on-the-ground sagebrush conservation.'' Examples include 
fencing areas with value to sage-grouse, and applying distance 
stipulations around leks (BLM 2004a). However, the BLM does not provide 
or describe the criteria or process used to determine that the 
standards and/or prescriptions listed in this report contribute 
positively to sage-grouse habitat or sagebrush conservation (BLM 
    Land use plans provide a framework and programmatic guidance for 
implementation (activity) plans, which are site-specific plans written 
to implement decisions made in a land use plan. Examples include 
allotment management plans (AMPs) that address livestock grazing, oil 
and gas field development, travel management, and wildlife habitat 
management. Implementation/activity plan decisions normally require 
additional planning and NEPA analysis. With regard to special status 
species, BLM Manual

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6840.22A states: ``Implementation-level planning should consider all 
site-specific methods and procedures which are needed to bring the 
species and their habitats to the condition under which the provisions 
of the ESA are not necessary, current listings under special status 
species categories are no longer necessary, and future listings under 
special status species categories would not be necessary.''
    On November 16, 2004, BLM Instruction Memorandum (IM) No. 2005-024 
transmitted information to all BLM field and Washington Office 
officials regarding the development of a National BLM Sage-grouse 
Habitat Conservation Strategy for BLM-administered lands. This strategy 
is described as the framework to address the conservation of sage-
grouse and risk to sagebrush habitats on lands and activities 
administered by the BLM. It commits the BLM to work with States and 
local interests on this issue. The IM instructed BLM State Directors to 
develop a process and schedule to update deficient land use plans to 
adequately address sage-grouse and sagebrush conservation needs no 
later than April 1, 2005. Implementation plans are also covered by this 
    BLM has the regulatory authority for oil and gas leasing, as 
provided at 43 CFR 3100 et seq., and they are authorized to require 
stipulations as a condition of issuing a lease. Program-specific 
guidance for fluid minerals (which include oil and gas) in the BLM 
planning handbook specifies that land use plan decisions will identify 
restrictions on areas subject to leasing, including closures, as well 
as lease stipulations (BLM 2000). This handbook further also specifies 
that all stipulations must have waiver, exception, or modification 
criteria documented in the plan, and notes that the least restrictive 
constraint to meet the resource protection objective should be used 
(BLM 2000). BLM states that some ``older'' oil and gas leases do not 
have stipulations that address sage-grouse (BLM 2004a), but we do not 
have information on how many of these leases are in this category. BLM 
has the regulatory authority to condition the application for drill use 
authorizations, conducted under a lease, that does not contain sage-
grouse conservation stipulations (BLM 2004a). Also, some oil and gas 
leases have a 200-meter (0.12-mile) stipulation, which allows movement 
of the drilling area by that distance (BLM 2004a). BLM states that many 
of their field offices work with the operators to move a proposed 
drilling site farther or justify such a move through the site-specific 
NEPA process (BLM 2004a).
    In developing stipulations for oil and gas the BLM considers the 
best available scientific information, including, but not limited to, 
the sage-grouse population and habitat management guidelines developed 
by the Western States Sage and Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Technical 
Committee under the direction of the Western Association of Fish and 
Wildlife Agencies, as published by Connelly et al. (2000a) (BLM 2004a). 
BLM states that a site-specific evaluation decision is required to 
implement conservation measures given the complexity and variability of 
the habitat and other variables (BLM 2004a).
    The oil and gas leasing regulations authorize BLM to modify or 
waive lease terms and stipulations if the authorized officer determines 
that the factors leading to inclusion of the term or stipulation have 
changed sufficiently to no longer justify protection, or if proposed 
operations would not cause unacceptable impacts (43 CFR 3101.1-4). The 
Service does not have information on the type or number, or the basis 
for, exceptions, modifications, or waivers of stipulations pertaining 
to the greater sage-grouse and/or their habitat that have been granted 
by BLM.
    The Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) of 2000 included 
provisions requiring the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a 
scientific inventory of all onshore Federal lands to identify oil and 
gas resources underlying these lands and the nature and extent of any 
restrictions or impediments to the development of such resources 
(U.S.C. Title 42, Chapter 77, section 6217(a)). On May 18, 2001, the 
President signed Executive Order 13212--Actions to Expedite Energy-
Related Projects (E.O. 13212) (66 FR 28357, May 22, 2001), which states 
that it is the Administration's policy that the executive departments 
and agencies shall take appropriate actions, to the extent consistent 
with applicable law, to expedite projects that will increase the 
production, transmission, or conservation of energy. The Executive 
Order specifies that this includes expediting review of permits or 
taking other actions as necessary to accelerate the completion of 
projects, while maintaining safety, public health, and environmental 
protections. The BLM has responded to these declarations with the 
issuance of several IM to their staff that may influence sage-grouse 
conservation during these actions, including providing guidance for 
land use planning relative to oil and gas operations and focusing 
efforts for resource recovery in seven areas, six of which are within 
occupied greater sage-grouse habitats ((IM 2003-137, April 3, 2003; IM 
No. 2003-233, July 28, 2003).
    As discussed previously, BLM land use plans and implementation 
plans may include BMPs, which are defined as ``a suite of techniques 
that guide, or may be applied to, management actions to aid in 
achieving desired outcomes. IM 2004-194 (June 22, 2004) addresses the 
integration of Best Management Practices (BMPs) into Application for 
Permit to Drill (APD) approvals and associated rights-of-way. This IM 
states that BLM Field Offices ``shall incorporate appropriate BMPs into 
proposed APDs and associated on and off-lease rights-of-way approvals 
after appropriate NEPA evaluation. The wildlife management criteria are 
broadly stated. For example, one BMP is: ``To minimize habitat loss and 
fragmentation, re-establish as much habitat as possible by maximizing 
the area reclaimed during well production operations. In many cases, 
this ``interim'' reclamation can cover nearly the entire site. It is OK 
to set up well workover operations or park on the restored vegetation. 
Just repair the damage when you are done.'' Another example is: 
``Consider drilling multiple wells from a single well pad to reduce the 
footprint of oil and gas activity on wildlife habitat.'' The Service 
has no information regarding the results of BLM monitoring and 
evaluation of the effectiveness of these or similar BMPs that may have 
been adopted previously in BLM planning documents or as part of other, 
more site-specific planning decisions.
    BLM regulatory authority for grazing management is provided at 43 
CFR part 4100 (Regulations on Grazing Administration Exclusive of 
Alaska). Livestock grazing permits and leases contain terms and 
conditions determined by BLM to be appropriate to achieve management 
and resource condition objectives on the public lands and other lands 
administered by the BLM, and to ensure that habitats are, or are making 
significant progress toward being, restored or maintained for BLM 
special status species (43 CFR 4180.1(d)). Grazing practices and 
activities subject to standards and guidelines include the development 
of grazing related portions of implementation/activity plans, 
establishment of terms and conditions of permits, leases and other 
grazing authorizations, and range improvement activities such as 
vegetation manipulation, fence construction, and development of water.

[[Page 2274]]

    The State or regional standards for grazing administration must 
address habitat for endangered, threatened, proposed, candidate, or 
special status species, and habitat quality for native plant and animal 
populations and communities (43 CFR 4180.2(d)(4) and (5). The 
guidelines must address restoring, maintaining or enhancing habitats of 
BLM special status species to promote their conservation, and 
maintaining or promoting the physical and biological conditions to 
sustain native populations and communities (43 CFR 4180.2(e)(9) and 
(10). BLM is required to take appropriate action not later than the 
start of the next grazing year upon determining that existing grazing 
practices or levels of grazing use are significant factors in failing 
to achieve the standards and conform with the guidelines (43 CFR 
4180.2(c)). BLM agreed to work with their Resource Advisory Councils to 
expand the rangeland health standards required under 43 CFR part 4180 
so that there are public land health standards relevant to all 
ecosystems, not just rangelands, and that they apply to all BLM 
actions, not just livestock grazing (BLM Manual 4180.06.A). All States 
within the range of greater sage-grouse have a resource advisory 
council, except Wyoming.
    The BLM states that 89 percent of lands are meeting standards, or 
are not meeting standards but appropriate actions have been implemented 
to ensure significant progress towards the standards (BLM 2004a). The 
remaining 11 percent are not meeting standards due to either livestock 
grazing or other causes. We have no information on how these rangeland 
health categories affect sage-grouse habitats.
    On December 8, 2003, BLM issued a proposed rule (68 FR 68452) that 
would modify the current grazing management regulation in two ways: (1) 
It provides that assessment and monitoring standards are needed to 
support a determination that livestock grazing significantly 
contributes to not meeting a standard or conforming with a guideline; 
and (2) It requires BLM to analyze, formulate and propose appropriate 
action within 24 months of the determination (rather than ``before the 
start of the next grazing year''). This proposed rule has not been 
    The Forest Service (USFS) has management authority for 8 percent of 
the sagebrush habitat in the United States (Connelly et al. 2004). 
Management of Federal activities on National Forest System lands is 
guided principally by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) (16 
U.S.C. 1600-1614, August 17, 1974, as amended 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 
1983, 1985, 1988 and 1990). NFMA specifies that all National Forests 
must have a land and resource management plan (LRMP) (16 U.S.C. 1600) 
to guide and set standards for all natural resource management 
activities on each National Forest or National Grassland. NFMA requires 
the USFS to incorporate standards and guidelines into LRMPs (16 U.S.C. 
1600). This has historically been done through a NEPA process, 
including provisions to manage plant and animal communities for 
diversity, based on the suitability and capability of the specific land 
area in order to meet overall multiple-use objectives. The Forest 
Service planning process is similar to BLM's.
    The 1982 NFMA implementing regulation for land and resource 
management planning (1982 rule, 36 CFR part 219), under which all 
existing forest plans were prepared, requires the Forest Service to 
manage habitat to maintain viable populations of existing native 
vertebrate species on National Forest System lands (1982 rule, 36 CFR 
219.19). Management indicator species were used to estimate the effects 
of each alternative on fish and wildlife populations, and were selected 
because their population changes are believed to reflect the effects of 
management activities (1982 rule, 36 CFR 219.19(a)). The regulation 
requires that during the planning process, each alternative considered 
needed to establish objectives for the maintenance and improvement of 
habitat for management indicator species, to the degree consistent with 
overall multiple use objectives of the alternative (1982 rule, 36 CFR 
219.19(a)). Fourteen National Forests identified greater sage-grouse as 
a Management Indicator Species, including Beaverhead National Forest, 
Little Missouri National Grassland, Thunder Basin National Grassland, 
Buffalo Gap National Grassland, White River National Forest, Ashley 
National Forest, Boise National Forest, Caribou National Forest, Curlew 
National Grassland, Humboldt National Forest, Toiyabe National Forest, 
Sawtooth National Forest, Inyo National Forest, and Modoc National 
    Revisions to the planning regulations adopted on November 9, 2000 
(65 FR 67514) did not retain the management indicator species 
requirement, but rather stated: ``Plan decisions affecting species 
diversity must provide for ecological conditions that the responsible 
official determines provide a high likelihood that those conditions are 
capable of supporting over time the viability of native and desired 
non-native species well distributed throughout their ranges within the 
plan area * * *'' (65 FR 67514). Further revisions have been proposed 
(67 FR 72770; December 6, 2002) but a final rule has not been 
promulgated. Until such time a rule is completed, officials responsible 
for planning decisions may use the management indicator provisions.
    As part of our status review process, the members of the expert 
panel and the Service's decision support team of senior Service 
biologists and managers were provided with information regarding NFMA 
and related regulations, including the 1982 and 2000 planning 
regulations and the recent interpretive rule, along with information 
explaining that the Forest Service had proposed, but not promulgated, 
changes to the 2000 regulation. Since the meeting by the expert panel 
and the Service's decision support team, the Forest Service has 
promulgated a final planning rule at 36 CFR 219 and eliminated the 2000 
planning rule. The new Forest Service planning regulation became 
effective when it was published in the Federal Register on January 5, 
2005 (70 FR 1023).
    As described by the Forest Service, plans developed under the new 
regulation will be more strategic and less prescriptive in nature than 
those developed under the 1982 planning rule (which has guided the 
development of all forest plans to date). For instance, plans 
previously might have included standards for a buffer for activities 
near the nest sites of birds sensitive to disturbance during nesting, 
whereas under the new rule a desired condition description and 
guidelines will be provided, rather than a set of prescriptive 
standards that would apply to projects. Planning and decisions for 
projects and activities will address site-specific conditions and 
identify appropriate conservation measures to take for each project or 
    Under the new rule, the purpose of forest plans is to establish 
goals and to set forth guidance to follow in pursuit of those goals. 
The rule calls for five components of plans: desired conditions, 
objectives, guidelines, suitability of areas, and special areas (36 CFR 
219.7(a)(2)). The rule states that these components are intended to 
provide general guidance and goals or other information to be 
considered in subsequent project and activity decisions, and that none 
of these components are commitments or final decisions approving 
projects and activities (36 CFR 219.7(a)(2)). Approval of a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision comprised of these five components may be 

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excluded from NEPA documentation (36 219.4(b)). In a separate Federal 
Register publication issued in conjunction with the new planning rule, 
the Forest Service announced a proposed revision to one of its 
handbooks (FSH 1909.15, Chapter 30) to include final decisions on 
proposals to develop, amend, or revise land management plans as one of 
the categories of actions that will not result in significant impacts 
on the human environment and which are therefore exempt from 
requirements to prepare further NEPA documentation (70 FR 1062; January 
5, 2005).
    The new rule requires that an environmental management system (EMS) 
be established for each unit of the National Forest System and the EMS 
may be established independently of the planning process (36 CFR 
219.5). Plan development, amendment, or revision must be completed in 
accordance with direction at 36 CFR 219.14 and with the EMS. The EMS 
must conform to the standard developed by the International 
Organization for Standardization (ISO), specifically ISO 14001: 
Environmental Management Systems--Specification With Guidance for Use 
(36 CFR 219.5)(b)).
    The new rule requires maintenance of three types of evaluation 
reports: (1) Comprehensive evaluation of current social, economic, and 
ecological conditions and trends that contribute to sustainability (to 
be updated at least every five years); (2) evaluation for a plan 
amendment, which must analyze issues relevant to the purposes of the 
amendment; and (3) annual evaluation of monitoring information (36 CFR 
191.6). The rule specifies that the plan must describe the monitoring 
program for the plan area, and describes general categories of items to 
be provided for in the monitoring program (e.g. determining the effects 
of various resource management activities on the productivity of the 
land) (36 CFR 219.6(b)). The new rule also includes a provision that 
the responsible official must take into account the best available 
science (36 CFR 219.11) in the planning process; the official also will 
consider public input, competing use demands, budget projects and other 
factors as appropriate.
    The new planning regulation does not include provisions regarding 
habitat for species viability. Rather, with regard to ecological 
sustainability, plans are to provide a framework to contribute to 
sustaining native ecological systems by providing ecological conditions 
to support diversity of native plants and animal species in the plan 
area (36 CFR 219.10 (b)). Ecosystem diversity is described as being the 
primary means by which a plan contributes to sustaining ecological 
systems (36 CFR 219.10 (b)), and the Forest Service states that this 
focus is expected to conserve most species. If the Responsible Official 
determines that provisions in plan components, beyond those addressing 
ecosystem diversity, are needed ``to provide appropriate ecological 
conditions for specific threatened and endangered species, species-of-
concern, and species-of-interest, then the plan must include additional 
provisions for these species, consistent with the limits of agency 
authorities, the capability of the plan area, and overall multiple use 
objectives'' (36 CFR 219.10(b)(2)). The rule defines species-of-concern 
as ``Species for which the Responsible Official determines that 
management actions may be necessary to prevent listing under the 
Endangered Species Act'' and defines species-interest as ``Species for 
which the Responsible Official determines that management actions may 
be necessary or desirable to achieve ecological or other multiple use 
objectives'' (36 CFR 219.16).
    The new rule does not include Management Indicator Species. It 
specifies that for national forest system units with plans developed, 
amended, or revised using the 1982 planning regulations, compliance 
with any obligations relating to management indicator species may be 
achieved by considered data and analysis relating to habitat (as 
compared to the 1982 regulation that required population trend data) 
unless the plan specifically requires population monitoring or 
population surveys for the species, and also specifies that site-
specific monitoring or survey of a proposed project or activity area 
(pertaining to such species) is not required in relation to such 
species (36 CFR 219.14(f)).
    For each unit of the National Forest System, the transition period 
for the new rule is three years or at the unit's establishment of an 
EMS, whichever comes first (36 CFR 219.14). A document approving a plan 
developed, revised, or amended using the new regulation must include a 
description of the effects of the plan on existing, permits, contracts, 
or other instruments implementing approved projects and activities (36 
219.8(a)). If not expressly excepted, approved projects and activities 
must be consistent with the applicable plan components, subject to 
provisions in 36 219.8(e) that provide options for addressing a use, 
project or activity that is not consistent with the applicable plan.
    The supplementary information provided with the new rule states 
that the Forest Service is developing planning directives (i.e., 
manuals and handbooks) regarding the use of this new rule, and that 
proposed changes in the directives will be available for public comment 
as soon as possible after adoption of the final rule.
    The greater sage-grouse is designated as a USFS sensitive species 
in Regions 1 (Northern Region--northern ID, MT, ND, and northern SD), 2 
(Rocky Mountain Region--CO, WY), 4 (Intermountain Region--southern ID, 
southwestern WY, UT, NV, eastern CA), 5 (Pacific Southwest Region--CA), 
and 6 (Pacific Northwest Region--OR, WA) (USDA Forest Service, in litt. 
2004). These regions encompass the entire range of the species in the 
United States (USDA Forest Service, in litt. 2004).
    Many forests within the range of sage-grouse provide important 
seasonal habitats for the species, particularly the Thunder Basin 
National Grassland and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (USDA 
Forest Service, in litt. 2004). While the 1982 planning regulation, 
including its provision for population viability, was used in the 
development of the existing Forest Plans, no information has been 
provided to the Service regarding specific implementation of the above 
regulations and policies for the greater sage-grouse. Also, we have no 
information regarding the results of sage-grouse population monitoring 
for those National Forests that identified it as a management indicator 
species, and thus were subject to the requirement in the 1982 rule to 
monitor population trends and determine relationships to habitat 
    Of the 34 National Forests within greater sage-grouse range, 
approximately half do not specifically address sage-grouse in their 
Forest Plans (USDA Forest Service, in litt. 2004). Reasons for this 
include lack of species occurrence, incidental use of the National 
Forest System lands by sage-grouse, or the Forest Plan pre-dated 
concern for sage-grouse conservation (pre-2000; USDA Forest Service, in 
litt. 2004). Direction for the conservation of sage-grouse and their 
habitats (at least indirectly) was provided in 15 plans relative to 
minerals management, 18 plans for fire and fuels management, 24 for 
livestock grazing actions, 10 for realty actions, 15 for recreation 
activities, 8 for recreation, and 20 for vegetation management (USDA 
Forest Service, in litt. 2004). The effectiveness of these efforts for 
sage-grouse and their habitats was not reported to us by the USFS (USDA 
Forest Service, in litt. 2004).
    The USFS incorporates conservation measures for sage-grouse 
protection at the project level through site-specific

[[Page 2276]]

NEPA analyses, using the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife 
Agencies Sage-grouse management guidelines (Connelly et al. 2000a) as a 
reference (USDA Forest Service, in litt. 2004). According to USFS, if a 
specific project location does not meet these guidelines, management 
use standards are developed and incorporated into the design of the 
project to achieve these conditions (USDA Forest Service, in litt. 
2004). Temporal and seasonal restrictions can also be implemented to 
protect sage-grouse resources.
    Other Federal agencies in the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. 
Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Interior (including 
the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National 
Park Service) are responsible for managing less than 5 percent of 
sagebrush lands within the United States (Connelly et al. 2004). The 
National Park Service Organic Act (39 Stat. 535; 16 U.S.C. 1, 2, 3 and 
4) states that the NPS will administer areas under their jurisdiction 
``* * * by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental 
purpose of said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to 
conserve the scenery and the natural and historical objects and the 
wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such 
manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the 
enjoyment of future generations.''
    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (16 U.S.C. 
668dd-668ee) provides guidelines and directives for administration and 
management of all areas in the National Wildlife Refuge system. This 
includes wildlife refuges, areas for the protection and conservation of 
fish and wildlife that are threatened with extinction, wildlife ranges, 
game ranges, wildlife management areas, or waterfowl production areas. 
Relatively few units within the Refuge system have habitat for the 
greater sage-grouse. Refuges are managed for species conservation, 
consistent with direction in the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act, as amended, and related Service polices and 
    The Department of the Army has developed Integrated Natural 
Resources Management Plans for their facilities within sage-grouse 
habitats. These plans ``reflect the mutual agreement of the facility, 
the Fish and Wildlife Service and the appropriate State fish and 
wildlife agency on the conservation, protection and management of fish 
and wildlife resources'' (Department of the Army, in litt. 2004). Six 
Army facilities have confirmed sage-grouse presence, and integrated 
plans have been developed for all. While some agencies have developed 
site-specific plans for conserving sage-grouse habitats on their lands 
(i.e., Yakima Training Center, Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge), we 
do not have monitoring data regarding the effectiveness of these 
management actions.
    In 1992, we entered into a voluntary Conservation Agreement with 
the Army and the WADFW for sage-grouse occurring at the Yakima Training 
Center (66 FR 22984) in Washington. The Conservation Agreement expired 
April 30, 2000 (66 FR 22984). Efforts to update and implement a revised 
Conservation Agreement for sage-grouse throughout Washington are 
ongoing (66 FR 22984). In our 2003 Candidate Notice of Review we 
concluded that the Army is implementing conservation measures and 
considerably less-than-planned training activities in Yakima and 
Kittitas Counties, the location of the sage-grouse that are part of the 
Columbia Basin DPS of the greater sage-grouse (69 FR 24875).
    The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. 
Department of Agriculture assists farmers, ranchers, and other private 
landowners in reducing threats to sage-grouse habitat by providing 
technical assistance and financial resources to support management and 
habitat restoration efforts; helping farmers and ranchers maintain and 
improve habitat as part of larger management efforts; and developing 
technical information to assist NRCS field staff with sage-grouse 
considerations when working with private landowners. The United States 
Congress recently appropriated $5 million for NRCS to use in 2005 to 
fund sage-grouse conservation efforts on public and private lands 
across the range of the greater sage-grouse (PL 108-447). One example 
of these conservation efforts is found in Douglas County, Washington, 
the site of the northern subpopulation of the Columbia Basin DPS. Large 
areas of privately-owned lands are currently withdrawn from crop 
production and planted to native and non-native cover under the NRCS' 
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) (69 FR 24875).
    Executive Order 13112 on Invasive Species (64 FR 6183) was signed 
on February 3, 1999. It seeks to prevent the introduction of invasive 
species and provide for their control and minimize their impacts 
through better coordination of federal agency efforts under a National 
Invasive Species Management Plan to be developed by an interagency 
Invasive Species Council. The Order directs all federal agencies to 
address invasive species concerns as well as refrain from actions 
likely to increase invasive species problems (E.O. 13112).
    Executive Order 13112 requires the National Invasive Species 
Council (Council) to produce a National Management Plan (NMP) for 
Invasive Species every two years (E.O. 13112). In January 2001, the 
Council released the first NMP, which serves as a blueprint for all 
federal action on invasive species. It provides goals and objectives 
for invasive species management, research needs, and measures to 
minimize the risk of species introductions. Although individual States 
have regulations regarding invasive species, we were unable to 
determine if these regulations will affect sage-grouse habitats.
Canadian Federal and Provincial Laws and Regulations
    Greater sage-grouse are cooperatively managed by Provincial and 
Federal governments in Canada. The species is afforded Federal legal 
protection under schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA; Canada 
Gazette, Part III, Chapter 29, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2002). Passed in 2002, 
the Species at Risk Act is similar to the Endangered Species Act and 
allows for habitat regulations to protect sage-grouse (Aldridge and 
Brigham 2003). The purpose of the SARA is to prevent the extinction or 
extirpation of any indigenous Canadian wildlife species, subspecies or 
distinct population segment. SARA also provides for the recovery of 
endangered or threatened wildlife and encourages the management of 
other species to prevent them from becoming species at risk (Connelly 
et al. 2004).
    Greater sage-grouse are classified as resident wildlife by the 
Provinces (Connelly et al. 2004). The species is listed as endangered 
at the Provincial level in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and neither 
Province allows harvest (Aldridge and Brigham 2003; Connelly et al. 
2004). Alberta manages greater sage-grouse under the statutory 
authority of Chapter W-10 of its Wildlife Act (Revised Statutes of 
Alberta (RSA) 2000). Individual birds are protected in Alberta, but 
their habitat is not. The Provincial laws also provide for the 
development of recovery strategies and plans (Connelly et al. 2004). 
Alberta has developed voluntary guidelines to protect leks (Aldridge 
and Brigham 2003). Provincial laws in Saskatchewan prevent sage-grouse 
habitat from being sold or from having native vegetation cultivated 
(Aldridge and Brigham 2003). The Saskatchewan Wildlife Act provides 
protection for sage-grouse nests and lek sites by

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providing spatial and temporal restrictions. No developments are 
permitted within 500 m (550 yards) of leks and no construction is 
allowed within 1,000 m (1,100 yards) of leks between March 15 and May 
15 (Aldridge and Brigham 2003).
Summary of Factor D
    Various regulatory mechanisms that guide the protection and 
conservation of the greater sage-grouse are in place. The members of 
the expert panel and the Service's decision support team were provided 
with more detailed information than we have summarized above regarding 
regulatory mechanisms pertaining to the greater sage-grouse. Based on 
the best scientific and commercial data available we have concluded 
that existing regulatory mechanisms do not endanger or threaten the 
greater sage-grouse throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. Based on the current status of the greater sage-grouse and the 
fact that the lands administered by the Forest Service comprise a 
relatively small percentage of sagebrush habitat (approximately 8 
percent) in the United States, the new Forest Planning regulation does 
not result in a change in our conclusion regarding the adequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    Few studies have examined the effects of pesticides to sage-grouse, 
but at least one has documented direct mortality of greater sage-grouse 
as a result of ingestion of alfalfa sprayed with organophosphorus 
insecticides (Blus et al. 1989, Blus and Connelly 1998). In this case, 
a field of alfalfa was sprayed with dimethoate when approximately 200 
sage-grouse were present; 63 of these sage-grouse were later found 
dead, presumably as a result of pesticide exposure (Blus et al. 1989, 
Blus and Connelly 1998). A comparison of applied levels of herbicides 
with toxicity studies of grouse, chickens, and other gamebirds (Carr 
1968, as cited in Call and Maser 1985) concluded that herbicides 
applied at recommended rates should not result in sage-grouse 
    Game birds that ingested sub-lethal levels of pesticides have been 
observed exhibiting abnormal behavior that may lead to a greater risk 
of predation (Dahlen and Haugen 1954, McEwen and Brown 1966, Blus et 
al. 1989). McEwen and Brown (1966) reported that wild sharp-tailed 
grouse poisoned by malathion and dieldrin exhibited depression, 
dullness, slowed reactions, irregular flight, and uncoordinated 
walking. Although no research has explicitly studied the indirect 
levels of mortality from sub-lethal doses of pesticides (e.g., 
predation of impaired birds), it has been assumed to be the reason for 
mortality among some study birds (McEwen and Brown 1966, Blus et al. 
1989, Connelly and Blus 1991). Both Post (1951) and Blus et al (1989) 
located depredated sage-grouse carcasses in areas that had been treated 
with insecticides. Exposure to these insecticides may have predisposed 
sage-grouse to predation. Sage-grouse mortalities were also documented 
in a study where they were exposed to strychnine bait type used to 
control small mammals (Ward et al. 1942 as cited in Schroeder et al. 
    A reduction in insect population levels resulting from insecticide 
application can potentially affect nesting sage-grouse females and 
chicks (Willis et al. 1993, Schroeder et al. 1999), although we could 
find no information on this specific issue for the greater sage-grouse. 
Eng (1952) noted that after a pesticide was sprayed to reduce 
grasshoppers, bird population levels decreased by 50 to 100 percent 
depending upon which chemical was used. He further stated that it 
appeared that nestling development was adversely affected due to the 
reduction in grasshoppers. Potts (1986 in Connelly and Blus 1991) 
determined that reduced food supply resulting from the use of 
pesticides ultimately resulted in high starvation rates of partridge 
chicks. In a similar study on partridges, Rands (1985) found that 
pesticide application adversely affected brood size and chick survival 
by reducing chick food supplies.
    Three approved insecticides, carbarayl, diflubenzuron, and 
malathion, are applied across the extant range of sage-grouse as part 
of implementation of the Rangeland Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket 
Suppression Control Program, under the direction of the Animal and 
Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) (APHIS 2004). Carbaryl is 
applied as bait, while the others are sprayed. Application rates are in 
compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. APHIS 
has general guidelines for buffer zones around sensitive species 
habitats. These pesticides are applied wherever grasshopper and Mormon 
cricket control are requested by private landowners (APHIS 2004). We 
were unable to find any information regarding the effects these 
pesticide applications may have on sage-grouse.
    Herbicide applications can kill sagebrush and forbs important as 
food sources for sage-grouse (Carr 1968 as cited in Call and Maser 
1985). The greatest impact resulting from a reduction of either forbs 
or insect populations is for nesting females and chicks due to the loss 
of potential protein sources that are critical for successful egg 
production and chick nutrition (Schroeder et al. 1999; Johnson and 
Boyce 1991).
    In summary, pesticides can result in direct mortality of 
individuals, and can also reduce the availability of food sources, 
which in turn could contribute to mortality of sage-grouse. Despite 
these potential effects we could find no information to indicate that 
the use of pesticides, at current levels, negatively affects greater 
sage-grouse populations (see also Schroeder et al. 1999), and many of 
the pesticides that have been shown to have an effect have been banned 
in the U.S. for more than 20 years.
    Across the range of the greater sage-grouse exposure to various 
types of environmental contaminants either occur, or may potentially 
occur, as a result of a variety of human activities, including 
agricultural and rangeland management practices, mining, energy 
development and pipeline operations, nuclear energy production and 
research, and transportation of materials along highways and railroads. 
Many of these potential exposures and their effects have been discussed 
above. In addition, numerous gas and oil pipelines occur across the 
range of the species. Exposure to oil or gas from spills or leaks could 
impact sage-grouse and cause mortalities or morbidity. Similarly, given 
the extensive network of highways and railroad lines that occur 
throughout the range of the greater sage-grouse there is some potential 
for exposure to contaminants resulting from hazardous materials spills 
or leaks along these transportation corridors. However these types of 
spills occur infrequently in only small portions of sage-grouse range 
and we could not locate any documented occurrences of impacts to sage-
grouse from them.
    There are no nuclear power plants within the area of current 
distribution of the greater sage-grouse and there is only one that 
occurs in range formerly occupied by the species (Nuclear Energy 
Institute Web page http://www.nei.org 2004). Sage-grouse do occur on 

the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering Laboratory 
in eastern Idaho (Connelly and Markham 1983). Exposure of sage-grouse 

[[Page 2278]]

radionuclides (radioactive atoms) has been documented at this site 
(Connelly and Markham 1983). Although researchers noted the presence of 
varying levels of radionuclides in greater sage-grouse at this site 
they did not report any harmful effects to the population (Connelly and 
Markham 1983).
    Indirect effects of contaminants on greater sage-grouse include 
loss of habitat components, such as food or cover. The indirect effects 
of contaminants from agriculture, mining operations, energy development 
and distribution, or hazardous waste spills along roads and railroad 
lines, can result in the killing of plants or insects that provide food 
for sage-grouse. Although the expert panel identified contaminants in 
the list of extinction risk factors for sage-grouse, it received the 
lowest ranking of relative importance.
Recreational Activities
    Studies have determined that non-consumptive recreational 
activities can degrade wildlife resources, water, and the land by 
distributing refuse, disturbing and displacing wildlife, increasing 
animal mortality, and simplifying plant communities (Boyle and Samson 
1985). Sage-grouse response to disturbance may be influenced by the 
type of activity, recreationist behavior, predictability of activity, 
frequency and magnitude, activity timing, and activity location (Knight 
and Cole 1995). Examples of recreational activities in sage-grouse 
habitats include hiking, camping, pets, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) 
use. Although we have not located any published literature concerning 
recreational effects on sage-grouse, they could disturb sage-grouse on 
leks and in nesting areas. Baydack and Hein (1987) reported 
displacement of male sharp-tailed grouse at leks from human presence 
resulting in loss of reproductive opportunity during the disturbance 
period. Female sharp-tailed grouse were observed at undisturbed leks 
while absent from disturbed leks during the same time period (Baydack 
and Hein 1987). Disturbance of incubating female sage-grouse could 
cause displacement from nests, increased predator risk, or loss of 
nests. Disruption of sage-grouse during vulnerable periods at leks, or 
during nesting or early brood rearing, however, could affect 
reproduction or survival (Baydack and Hein 1987). However, we were 
unable to find any published information regarding effects to sage-
grouse as a result of these factors. The presence of pets in proximity 
to sage-grouse can result in sage-grouse mortality or disturbance, and 
increases in garbage from human recreators can attract sage-grouse 
predators and help maintain their numbers at increased levels.
    Indirect effects to sage-grouse from recreational activities 
include impacts to vegetation and soils, and facilitating the spread of 
invasive species. Payne et al. (1983) studied OHV impacts to rangelands 
in Montana, and found long-term (2 years) reductions in sagebrush shrub 
canopy cover as the result of repeated trips in the area. Increased 
sediment production and decreased soil infiltration rates were observed 
after disturbance by motorcycles and four-wheel drive trucks on two 
desert soils in southern Nevada (Eckert et al. 1979). However, we could 
find no information that quantified impacts to the sagebrush community 
or to sage-grouse populations.
    We are unaware of scientific reports documenting direct mortality 
of greater sage-grouse through collision with off-road vehicles. 
Similarly, we did not locate any scientific information documenting 
instances where snow compaction as a result of snowmobile use precluded 
greater sage-grouse use, or affected their survival in wintering areas. 
Off-road vehicle or snowmobile use in winter areas may increase stress 
on birds and displace sage-grouse to less optimal habitats. However, 
there is no empirical evidence available documenting these effects on 
sage-grouse, nor could we find any scientific data supporting the 
possibility that stress from vehicles during winter is limiting greater 
sage-grouse populations.
    The expert panel identified human activities within greater sage-
grouse habitats as an extinction risk factor. However, this factor 
ranked relatively low.
Drought/Climate Change
    Drought is a common occurrence throughout the range of the greater 
sage-grouse (Braun 1998). Drought reduces vegetation cover (Milton et 
al. 1994; Connelly et al. 2004), potentially resulting in increased 
soil erosion and subsequent reduced soil depths, decreased water 
infiltration, and reduced water storage capacity. Drought can also 
exacerbate other natural events, such as defoliation of sagebrush by 
insects. Approximately 2,544 km\2\ (982 mi\2\) of sagebrush shrublands 
died in Utah in 2003 as a result of drought and infestations with the 
Aroga (webworm) moth (Connelly et al. 2004). Sage-grouse are affected 
by drought through the potential loss of vegetative habitat components 
and reduced insect production (Connelly and Braun 1997). These habitat 
component losses can result in declining sage-grouse populations due to 
increased nest predation and early brood mortality associated with 
decreased nest cover and food availability (Braun 1998; Schroeder et 
al. 1999).
    Sage-grouse populations declined during the 1930s period of drought 
(Patterson 1952; Willis et al. 1993; Braun 1998). Drought conditions in 
the late 1980s and early 1990s also coincided with a period when sage-
grouse populations were at historically low levels (Connelly and Braun 
1997). Although drought has been a consistent and natural part of the 
sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, drought impacts on the greater sage-grouse 
can be exacerbated when combined with other habitat impacts that reduce 
cover and food (Braun 1998). Many studies discuss the effects of 
decreased insect and forb production to sage-grouse, but we could find 
no research specifically addressing drought effects on sage-grouse 
    Short-term climatic cycles over timescales of decades can affect 
plant community dynamics, potentially resulting in a shift in 
successional stage (Connelly et al. 2004). Long-term changes in climate 
and atmospheric conditions over timescales of centuries will shift 
competitive advantage among individual plant species (Connelly et al. 
2004). Environmental changes resulting from climate change could 
facilitate invasion and establishment of invasive species or exacerbate 
the fire regime, thereby possibly accelerating the loss of sagebrush 
habitats (Connelly et al. 2004). Increases in the expansion of pinyon 
and juniper woodlands in the Great Basin may have resulted from a 
combination of poor habitat management and climate change (Connelly et 
al. 2004). The potential conversion of habitats as a result of climate 
change could have long-term effects on sage-grouse populations 
(Connelly et al. 2004). We have no evidence however, that past climate 
change has directly affected sage-grouse populations.
    One expert panelist identified climate change as the primary 
extinction risk factor for the greater sage-grouse. While the other 
panelists did not score this factor as highly, most acknowledged that 
long-term ongoing climate change will result in changes within the 
sagebrush ecosystem that may be negative for the greater sage-grouse.

[[Page 2279]]

Life History Traits Affecting Population Viability
    Sage-grouse have comparatively low reproductive rates and high 
annual survival (Schroeder et al. 1999; Connelly et al. 2000a), 
resulting in slower potential or intrinsic population growth rates than 
typical of other game birds. Therefore, recovery of populations after a 
decline from any reason may require years. Also, as a consequence of 
their site fidelity to breeding and brood-rearing habitats, measurable 
population effects may lag behind, negative habitat impacts that may 
occur (Wiens and Rotenberry 1985). While these natural history 
characteristics would not limit sage-grouse populations across large 
geographic scales under historical conditions of extensive habitat, 
they may contribute to local population declines when humans alter 
habitats or mortality rates.
    Sage-grouse have one of the most polygamous mating systems observed 
among birds (Deibert 1995). Asymmetrical mate selection (where only a 
few of the available members of one sex are selected as mates) should 
result in reduced effective population sizes (Deibert 1995), meaning 
the actual amount of genetic material contributed to the next 
generation is smaller than predicted by the number of individuals 
present in the population. With only 10 to 15 percent of sage-grouse 
males breeding each year (Aldridge and Brigham 2003), the genetic 
diversity of sage-grouse would be predicted to be low. However, in a 
recent survey of 16 greater sage-grouse populations, only the Columbia 
Basin population in Washington showed low genetic diversity, likely as 
a result of long-term population declines, habitat fragmentation, and 
population isolation (Benedict et al. 2003; Oyler-McCance et al., In 
press). The level of genetic diversity in the remaining range of sage-
grouse has generated a great deal of interest in the field of 
behavioral ecology, specifically sexual selection (Boyce 1990; Deibert 
1995). There is some evidence of off-lek copulations in sage-grouse 
(copulations that occur off the lek by subordinate males), as well as 
multiple paternity within one clutch (Connelly et al. 2004). Dispersal 
may also contribute to genetic diversity, but little is known about 
dispersal in sage-grouse (Connelly et al. 2004). However, the lek 
breeding system suggests that population sizes in sage-grouse must be 
greater than non-lekking birds to maintain long-term genetic diversity.
    Aldridge and Brigham (2003) estimated that up to 5,000 individual 
sage-grouse may be necessary to maintain an effective population size 
of 500 birds. Their estimate was based on individual male breeding 
success, variation in reproductive success of males that do breed, and 
the death rate of juvenile birds. We were unable to find any other 
published estimates of minimal population sizes necessary to maintain 
genetic diversity and long-term population sustainability in sage-
Summary of Factor E
    In our 90-day petition finding, we identified several other natural 
or manmade factors (i.e. endocrine disruption, competition with other 
bird species, and direct mortality from fires and snowmobiles) that 
might potentially pose a threat to the greater sage-grouse. However, 
for this analysis, we could find no supporting information to indicate 
that any of these are endangering or threatening sage-grouse 
    One expert panelist identified climate change, and resultant 
habitat changes from invasive species establishment, as the most 
significant threat factor for the sagebrush ecosystem. However, the 
imminent threats to this ecosystem were not thought to be sufficient to 
endanger or threaten the greater sage-grouse within the defined 
foreseeable future. Thus, based on the best scientific and commercial 
data available, including input from the expert panel, we have 
concluded that other natural and manmade factors do not endanger or 
threaten the sage-grouse throughout all or a significant portion of its 

Petition Finding

    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
faced by this species. We reviewed the three petitions, information 
available in our files, other published and unpublished information, 
and comments submitted to us during the public comment period following 
our 90-day petition finding, and we consulted with recognized experts 
and other resource agencies. On the basis of the best scientific and 
commercial information available, we find that the petitioned action to 
list the greater sage-grouse is not warranted at this time. Although 
sagebrush habitat continues to be lost and degraded in parts of the 
greater sage-grouse's range (albeit at a lower rate than historically 
observed), from what we know of the current range and distribution of 
the sage-grouse, its numbers are well represented. As a result, we find 
that the species is not in danger of extinction, nor is it likely to 
become endangered in the foreseeable future. We are encouraged that 
sage-grouse and sagebrush conservation efforts will moderate the rate 
and extent of habitat loss for the species in the future. We strongly 
encourage the continuation of these efforts.
    As described earlier in this document (see Status Review Process), 
the status review was conducted in two stages: (1) A risk analysis 
stage which consisted of compiling biological information, conducting 
the PECE analysis of conservation efforts, and conducting a facilitated 
extinction risk assessment by a panel of experts, and (2) a risk 
management stage where senior Service biologists and managers evaluated 
whether or not the greater sage-grouse qualifies as threatened or 
endangered under the Act.
    Prior to estimating the risk of extinction in the risk analysis 
stage, the expert panel agreed on the 19 most important threats to 
sage-grouse across its range. To better understand the impact of these 
threats to the survival of the species, each expert assigned a relative 
rank to each threat within each of three different geographical 
distinctions. These included the eastern and western portion of the 
range of the greater sage-grouse and the whole range of the species 
(Figure 1). Dividing the range of the species into an eastern and 
western region for the purposes of the expert panel exercises was 
intentional to help Service biologists and managers and the expert 
panelists understand the importance of the various threats to the 
species at different geographical scales. The relative rankings of the 
identified threats reflect that some threats are regional in nature 
while others express themselves across the whole range of the species. 
Threats that ranked low on a regional and rangewide basis were 
considered to operate at the local or site-specific level where they 
    In reaching these rankings the expert panelists reviewed an initial 
list of threats that was generated from the synthesis of biological 
information the Service had prepared, and through a discussion among 
the panelists held in front of the Service's decision support team, 
added to that list and modified it before agreeing to a list of the 
most important threats. Ranking of the relative importance of those 
threats occurred in two stages. First, each panelist was asked to 
anonymously rank the 19 threats from most to least significant. After 
an initial scoring by the experts occurred, the ranks were presented to 
the expert panel by a facilitator in front of the decision support team 
and the experts discussed

[[Page 2280]]

why they ranked as they did. After this discussion the experts rescored 
the threats. The threats that moved to the top of the list are, in 
order, invasive species, infrastructure as related to energy 
development and urbanization, wildfire, agriculture, grazing, energy 
development, urbanization, strip/coal mining, weather, and pinyon-
juniper expansion.
    The threat ranking component of the structured process was 
important for three reasons: (1) It provided an informed, science 
based, ranking of the threats to the species, (2) the discussions that 
occurred in formulating the threat list and the discussions among the 
experts after their initial scoring played a critical role in helping 
the Service's decision support team understand the magnitude of a 
threat and the geographical scale at which a threat operated, and (3) 
it provided via the threat ranking and the discussion among experts, 
the foundation for the expert panel to conduct an extinction risk 
    The highest ranking threats exert their influence primarily through 
habitat loss. Thus, our structured analysis process revealed that at 
this time habitat loss appears to be the most important threat to the 
greater sage-grouse, a conclusion consistent with the available 
biological information and our 90-day finding.
    It is clear there are various threats to the sagebrush steppe 
ecosystems upon which the greater sage-grouse depends. However, we are 
aware of no quantitative projections of extinction risk for the greater 
sage-grouse in the face of these rangewide, regional and local threats. 
This information gap is important because the Act's definitions of 
threatened and endangered are closely tied to risk of extinction. We 
therefore elicited quantitative estimates of time to extinction from 
the expert panelists. Besides their own expertise, the panelists 
prepared for estimating future risk by reading a wide variety of 
background materials, and they participated in two days of discussions 
of relevant sage-grouse life history attributes, threats (summarized 
above), the land ownerships and allocations, the regulatory setting and 
management challenges currently existing across the landscape, the size 
and distribution of the major sage-grouse population centers, and state 
by state indices of population status. After these deliberations, the 
expert panelists were asked to quantitatively express their beliefs 
about when the greater sage-grouse might go extinct.
    Panelists expressed their beliefs about most likely time to 
extinction on score sheets where the future was broken down into the 
following time intervals: 1-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80, 81-100, 101-200 
and more than 200 years. Panelists expressed biological uncertainty 
about the most likely time to extinction by spreading 100 points over 
the various time intervals. The experts were not uniform in their 
estimates of the most likely time to extinction although five of the 
seven panelists believed that the sage-grouse would not face extinction 
for at least 100 years. One panelist, for example, believed the most 
likely time to extinction is in the time period 61 to 80 years from 
present, one believed the most likely time is 81 to 100 years from 
present, 2 panelists believed the most likely time to extinction is in 
the period 101 to 200 years from present, 1 panelist split points 
equally between the 101 to 200 year and 200+ year categories, and 2 
panelists believed the most likely time to extinction was in the 200+ 
year category. Most of the panelists, for example spread points over 
several time intervals, from a period less than 100 years in the future 
to the greater than 200 years category, expressing individual 
uncertainty about the most likely time to extinction. On one count the 
experts performed very uniformly; no points were allocated by any 
panelist for the two time intervals within 40 years of present.
    In their deliberations about the most likely time to extinction, 
the experts engaged in wide-ranging discussions of future risk which 
included West Nile virus, management advances in addressing threats, 
the expectation that there will still be some vast areas of sagebrush 
habitat at least 100 years in the future, looking into the past to help 
predict the future, the difficulty of controlling invasive annual 
plants, the major native perennial grass communities and their 
resiliency in the eastern versus the western part of the range, the 
role and geographic extent of infrastructure development, role of 
population subdivision for population vulnerability, plant community 
oscillations, climate oscillations, limited role of predators, and the 
elusiveness of cause-effect relationships for sage-grouse population 
trends, especially the increases seen in the most recent sampling (1993 
to 2003).
    After the extinction risk estimate exercise was completed the 
experts were asked to describe data gaps that, if resolved, could 
reduce uncertainty in their scores or even change their estimates. This 
question generated a wide-ranging discussion of uncertainty and data 
gaps. In some cases research programs were proposed. Areas of 
uncertainty discussed by the experts included: systematic relationships 
among various grouse species; underlying mechanisms by which sage-
grouse populations respond to habitat changes; how to scale grouse 
habitat preference up to the level at which federal land is managed; 
lack of studies across the range limits inferences; effects of invasive 
plants; application of grazing techniques to favor sagebrush habitat; 
underutilization of the case study approach for sage-grouse management; 
future gas and oil development impacts; future advances in horticulture 
and fire suppression; the role of crested wheatgrass in sagebrush 
management; and the effectiveness of CRP program. No attempt was made 
to rank the effects of these and other areas of uncertainty on the 
estimates of future risk.
    This list of data gaps and uncertainties helps explain some of the 
biological uncertainty that limits our understanding of future risk to 
the greater sage-grouse. The Service, however, must make its decision 
about whether this species qualifies as threatened or endangered under 
the Act based on the best available scientific and commercial data, 
even if there is uncertainty. To help increase the chances of making an 
optimal decision about whether or not to list, the decision support 
team of senior Service biologists and managers (described above--see 
Status Review Process) participated in a structured analysis that 
included a discussion of the Act's statutory requirements, in 
particular the Act's definitions of threatened and endangered, and a 
review of the information from the risk analysis and all other compiled 
biological information. Finally they participated in an exercise where 
they compared the information about risk to sage-grouse, including 
explicit measures of uncertainty, against the statutory requirements of 
the Act. In this exercise, much like the extinction risk exercise 
described above, the decision support team was asked to express their 
beliefs about the optimal status category for the greater sage-grouse. 
The Act defines endangered and threatened as:

    Endangered species means any species in danger of extinction 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
    Threatened species means any species which is likely to become 
an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all 
or a significant portion of its range.

    The basic question facing the decision support team was whether the 
factors influencing the greater sage-grouse and its habitat place it in 
danger of extinction or whether they are likely to

[[Page 2281]]

cause it to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Estimates of 
extinction risk help address this question; however, neither general 
classification thresholds nor standardized criteria for establishing 
species-specific thresholds have yet been adopted for Service use.
    The Service decision support team discussed the extinction risk 
threshold concept generally, and discussed previous Service 
applications. With regard to the foreseeable future, team members 
agreed by consensus that given all of the uncertainties, a reasonable 
timeframe for ``foreseeable future'' for the threatened definition is 
approximately 30 to 100 years (about 10 greater sage-grouse generations 
to 2 sagebrush habitat regeneration cycles). The decision support team 
reflected on the ``significant portion of the range'' term, and 
discussed previous applications by the Service. The team reviewed the 
findings of the risk analysis phase and found that while different 
threats are asserting themselves at different rates in different parts 
of the range, it is difficult to find major variation in risk over 
significant portions of the range. Discussions by the expert panel in 
the risk analysis phase indicated that if the species continues to 
decline, the most likely scenario would include some combination of 
losses around the edges of some portions of the range, some localized 
losses and fragmentation of larger core areas, but these projected 
losses are geographically unknown at this time and difficult to 
predict. Thus, in the absence of major geographical variation in 
projected extinction risk, or any measure of the spatial extent or 
location of projected future losses, it was decided by consensus that 
there was not a significant portion of the range in which threats to 
sage-grouse are greater than range-wide threats.
    To help further inform the Service's finding, the decision support 
team's final exercise assessed their beliefs about what the appropriate 
petition finding should be: not-warranted, threatened, or endangered. 
The team had read the compiled background materials, observed the two-
day risk assessment discussions of the expert panelists, which included 
explicit measures of uncertainty, and participated in general and 
specific discussions about the application of the Act's definitions of 
the threatened and endangered categories.
    None of the decision support team assigned any of their 100 points 
to the endangered category; however, all decision support team members 
placed some of their points in the threatened category. The average 
number of points assigned to the not-warranted and threatened 
categories were, respectively, 74 (range 50-85) and 26 (range 15-50). 
The fact that all decision support team members placed some of their 
points in the threatened category reflects a degree of biological 
uncertainty associated with making scientific decisions. Nevertheless, 
the ``not warranted'' finding was based on the best scientific and 
commercial information available at the time of their recommendation.
    The best available scientific and commercial information, as 
summarized within this finding and in the Conservation Assessment of 
Greater Sage-Grouse and Sagebrush Habitats prepared by WAFWA, clearly 
reflect that there are a myriad of changes occurring within the 
sagebrush ecosystem that can impact sage-grouse. Our structured 
analysis process not only confirmed that many of these changes are 
indeed threats to the sage-grouse but it clarified the relative 
importance of these threats at different geographical scales which is 
an important factor when making a listing determination of such a 
widely dispersed species. The results reflect the opinion of the expert 
panelists that some threats are clearly important across the range of 
the sage-grouse while others are important on a regional scale.
    In determining that the greater sage-grouse does not warrant 
protection under the Act, the Service biologists and managers who 
participated in the structured analysis process acknowledged that there 
are real threats to the sage-grouse and its habitat. However, in 
formulating their recommendation, these biologists and managers noted 
that there is uncertainty in how these threats will impact the grouse 
in the future and that there were reasons to be encouraged by current 
assessments of grouse population status, trends and distribution.
    The higher ranking threats, while rangewide and regional in scale, 
are to a large degree prospective in nature (e.g., invasive species, 
infrastructure, wildfire, oil and gas development and conifer 
invasion). Neither the Service nor the expert panelists could predict 
how these threats will develop over time or interact with each other or 
with different less important threats to accelerate habitat loss or 
other impacts to the grouse. This uncertainty was explicitly noted by 
several of the Service biologists and managers as part of the reason 
for a not-warranted recommendation. The Act requires the Service to 
make a decision based on what is known at the time of listing. However, 
most Service biologists and managers on the decision support team also 
noted the future health of both the sagebrush system and the sage-
grouse would depend on how the threats are expressed and how managers 
responded to them in the next 5 to 20 years. This uncertainty about the 
future impact of the threats to sage-grouse may also be reflected in 
why some experts projected sage-grouse extinction risk at 60 years 
while others felt that beyond 200 years was more realistic.
    It is clear that the number of greater sage-grouse rangewide has 
declined from historically high levels, with well documented declines 
between 1960 and 1985. However, the most recent data reflect that 
overall declines have slowed, stabilized or populations have increased. 
These data and the fact that 92% of the known active leks occur in 10 
core populations across 8 western states, and that 5 of these 
populations ``were so large and expansive that they were subdivided 
into 24 subpopulations to facilitate analysis'' (Connelly et al. 2004: 
page 13-4), was cited by managers on the decision support team as part 
of the reason for their not warranted recommendation.
    Although the decision support team referenced the prospective 
nature of the higher ranking threats in reaching their recommendation, 
they also acknowledged and considered the fact that these threats were 
currently occurring at some level across the range of the sage-grouse 
or in smaller regions within the range. However, because of the 
relatively long projected risk of extinction, in many cases greater 
than 200 years, which was minimally 100 years beyond the foreseeable 
future the Service considered in this case, combined with considering 
the variety of sources of information generated for and during the risk 
analysis phase, including the expert panel deliberations and the 
Conservation Assessment from WAFWA, the decision support team found 
that the levels of these existing threats, although very real, when 
considered against the status, trends and distribution of the current 
population, were not sufficient to result in the greater sage-grouse 
becoming an endangered species in the next 40 to 100 years.
    Other factors cited by the managers as most important for their 
beliefs about the appropriate listing category included, the large size 
of the current range, the slow pace with which some of the threat 
factors are exerting themselves, synergistic effects between threats, 
large blocks of existing sagebrush habitat, expected range 
contractions, relative stability of core population areas, expected 
increases in

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infrastructure development in areas that currently have little or none, 
expected population losses to increase the impact of stochastic events, 
resiliency of sagebrush habitats to some threats, recent sage-grouse 
population trends as stable or increasing, and some evidence of 
positive changes on the sagebrush landscape.
    Factors contributing most to uncertainty among the decision support 
team members included the prospective nature of some of the threats, 
uncertainty about how pending threats will be managed, and uncertainty 
about how and if leks can persist in the presence of disturbances.
    Since the publication of our 90-day finding we have compiled 
additional materials and information on the greater sage grouse. We 
believe we have a fairly complete compilation of the existing relevant 
information and much of it is summarized above. We also convened a 
panel of experts and conducted a structured analysis of risk. A 
decision support team of Service biologists and managers read selected 
background materials and observed the deliberations of the expert 
panel. To further inform the Service's final petition response, the 
decision support team participated in a structured analysis of the 
optimal listing category where they assessed whether the greater sage 
grouse qualifies as threatened or endangered. After considering the 
compiled information, the risk assessment, the applicable conservation 
actions, and the assessment of the decision support team, we find that 
the petitioned actions are not warranted at this time.
    We will continue to monitor the status of the greater sage-grouse 
and sagebrush ecosystems, and to accept additional information and 
comments from all governmental agencies, the scientific community, 
industry, or any other interested party concerning this finding.


    A complete list of references used in the preparation of this 
finding is available upon request from the Wyoming Field Office (see 
ADDRESSES section).


    The primary author of this document is Wyoming Field Office, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Cheyenne, Wyoming (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: January 6, 2005.
Steve Williams,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 05-583 Filed 1-10-05; 8:45 am]