[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 212 (Friday, November 1, 2019)]
[Pages 58734-58736]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-23894]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-ES-2019-N125; FXES11130600000-190-FF06E00000]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Draft Recovery 
Plan for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of document availability for review and comment.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the 
availability of a draft recovery plan for Gunnison sage-grouse, a bird 
species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. We are 
requesting review and comment from the public on this draft plan. The 
draft recovery plan includes objective, measurable criteria, and site-
specific management actions as may be necessary to remove the species 
from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

DATES: We must receive any comments on the draft recovery plan on or 
before December 31, 2019.

    Document availability: Copies of the draft recovery plan are 
available at http://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/recovery-plans.html. 
Alternatively, you may request a copy by U.S. mail from the Colorado 
Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 445 
West Gunnison Avenue, #240, Grand Junction, CO 81501-5711; or via 
telephone at 970-628-7181.
    Submitting comments: If you wish to comment on the draft recovery 
plan, you may submit your comments in writing by email to 
gusgrecoveryplan@fws.gov, or by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to the Field 
Supervisor at the address above.
    Viewing public comments: Comments and materials the Service 
receives will be available for public inspection by appointment during 
normal business hours at the address above.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ann Timberman, Field Supervisor, 
Colorado Ecological Services Field Office, Grand Junction, at the above 
U.S. mail address or telephone number (see ADDRESSES).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service), announce the availability of a draft recovery plan for 
Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus; hereafter, GUSG), a bird 
species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (Act; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). We are requesting review and 
comment from the public on this draft recovery plan.


    Restoring an endangered or threatened animal or plant to the point 
where it is again a secure, self-sustaining member of its ecosystem is 
a primary goal of the Service's endangered species program. Recovery 
means improving the status of a listed species to the point at which 
listing is no longer necessary according to the

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criteria specified under section 4(a)(1) of the Act. The Act requires 
recovery plans for listed species unless such a plan would not promote 
the conservation of a particular species. To help guide recovery 
efforts, we prepare recovery plans to promote the conservation of the 
    The purpose of a recovery plan is to provide a recommended 
framework for the recovery of a species so that protection of the Act 
is no longer necessary. Pursuant to section 4(f) of the Act, a recovery 
plan must, to the maximum extent possible, include: (1) A description 
of site-specific management actions as may be necessary to achieve the 
plan's goal for the conservation and survival of the species; (2) 
objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would support a 
determination under section 4(a)(1) of the Act that the species should 
be removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species; and (3) 
estimates of time and costs required to carry out those measures needed 
to achieve the plan's goal and to achieve intermediate steps toward 
that goal.
    We used our new recovery planning and implementation (RPI) process 
to develop the draft recovery plan for Gunnison sage-grouse. The RPI 
process helps reduce the time needed to develop and implement recovery 
plans, increases the relevancy of the recovery plan over longer 
timeframes, and adds flexibility so that the recovery plan can be more 
easily adjusted to new information and circumstances. Under our RPI 
process, a recovery plan will include the three statutorily required 
elements for recovery plans--objective and measurable criteria, site-
specific management actions, and estimates of time and cost--along with 
a concise introduction and our strategy for how we plan to achieve 
species recovery. The RPI recovery plan is supported by a separate 
species status assessment (SSA) report, which provides the scientific 
background information and threat assessment for the species, which are 
key to the development of the recovery plan. A third, separate working 
document, called the recovery implementation strategy (RIS), steps down 
the more general descriptions of actions in the recovery plan to detail 
the specifics needed to implement the recovery plan, which improves the 
flexibility of the recovery plan. The RIS will be adaptable, with new 
information on actions incorporated, as needed, without requiring a 
concurrent revision to the recovery plan, unless changes to the three 
statutory elements are required.
    On November 20, 2014, we listed GUSG as a threated species (79 FR 
69192) and concurrently designated critical habitat for the species (79 
FR 69312). On April 25, 2018, we agreed to complete a recovery plan in 
order to receive a stay of litigation. We conducted a SSA for the 
species and documented our analysis in an SSA report (Service 2019), 
which is an in-depth, scientific review of the species' biology and 
threats, an evaluation of its biological status, and an assessment of 
the resources and conditions needed to support populations over time. 
The SSA report provides the scientific background and threats 
assessment for our draft recovery plan.
    In accordance with our July 1, 1994, peer review policy (59 FR 
34270; July 1, 1994); our August 22, 2016, Director's Memo on the Peer 
Review Process; and the Office of Management and Budget's December 16, 
2004, Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review (revised June 
2012), we solicited independent scientific reviews of the information 
contained in the SSA report. Results of this structured peer review 
process can be found at https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/science/peerReview.php. We also submitted our SSA report to our Federal, State, 
and Tribal partners for their scientific review. We incorporated the 
results of the peer and partner review in the SSA report, as 
appropriate. The SSA report is the scientific foundation for the draft 
recovery plan.
    This notice opens the public review and comment period for our 
draft recovery plan for the GUSG. Section 4(f) of the Act requires that 
we notify the public and provide an opportunity for public review and 
comment during the development of recovery plans. We will consider all 
information we receive during a public comment period when preparing 
the recovery plan for approval, and particularly look for comments that 
provide scientific rationale or background. The Service and other 
Federal agencies will take these comments into consideration in the 
course of implementing an approved final recovery plan.

Species Information

    Gunnison sage-grouse (or GUSG) is a small bird in the grouse family 
that lives exclusively in sagebrush steppe ecosystems of southwestern 
Colorado and southeastern Utah. GUSG are closely associated with 
sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems in North America (Young et al. 
2015, p. 1). GUSG rely on ecosystems with relatively contiguous and 
healthy sagebrush stands for food and shelter year round, while grasses 
and forbs in the understory provide cover and food during the nesting 
and early brood-rearing periods (Connelly et al. 2000, p. 971).
    Since the 1900s, the GUSG's occupied range has contracted, due 
largely to habitat loss associated with the conversion of sagebrush 
habitats to agriculture and residential and commercial development. 
GUSG now occupies an estimated 10 percent of its historical range 
(Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 370). Currently, GUSG are found in eight 
small populations distributed across eight counties in Colorado and one 
county in Utah, with seven populations located in Colorado (Gunnison 
Basin, Poncha Pass, Crawford, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa (CSCSM), 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa, San Miguel, and Dove Creek) and one population in 
Utah (Monticello). These eight populations occupy six different 
ecoregions, or areas delineated by common geology, landforms, soils, 
vegetation, climate, land use, wildlife, and hydrology (EPA 2018), 
which represent distinct ecological differences in habitat between the 
    A number of threats continue to affect GUSG populations, including: 
Habitat loss due to commercial and residential development; improperly 
managed grazing; encroachment by pi[ntilde]on-juniper; the effects of 
small population size; and regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to 
protect the species from these threats.

Recovery Strategy

    Below, we summarize components from our draft recovery plan for 
GUSG. Please reference the draft recovery plan for full details (see 
    The draft recovery plan describes the recovery goal as the survival 
and conservation of GUSG. In general, GUSG need a sufficient number of 
resilient populations distributed across the overall range to maximize 
ecological and genetic diversity to withstand environmental 
stochasticity and catastrophes, and to adapt to environmental change. 
Recovery for GUSG will be signified by at least five resilient 
populations (Gunnison Basin, San Miguel Basin, Pi[ntilde]on Mesa, 
Crawford, and Monticello) and improved habitat in two populations (Dove 
Creek and CSCSM). These conditions provide sufficient representation 
and redundancy across the species' range through the occupancy of 
multiple ecoregions, the number of populations, and a broad 
    Recovery criteria in the draft plan include: (1) Maintaining 

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high male counts (HMCs) for at least 7 out of 9 years (specific targets 
are described in the draft recovery plan); and (2) reducing or 
ameliorating threats associated with habitat loss and degradation in 
all populations, via regulatory mechanisms or other conservation plans 
or programs. To help meet these criteria, the draft recovery plan 
identifies recovery actions from the following general categories: 
Translocating GUSG to augment populations; conserving and restoring 
habitat; managing motorized routes on Federal lands; and continued 
research and monitoring.

Request for Public Comments

    The Service solicits public comments on the draft recovery plan. 
All comments we receive by the date specified (see DATES) will be 
considered prior to approval of the plan. Written comments and 
materials regarding the plan should be sent via the means in the 
ADDRESSES section.
    We are specifically seeking comments and suggestions on the 
following questions:
     Understanding that the time and cost presented in the 
draft recovery plan will be fine-tuned when localized recovery 
implementation strategies are developed, are the estimated time and 
cost to recovery realistic? Is the estimate reflective of the time and 
cost of actions that may have already been implemented by Federal, 
State, county, or other agencies? Please provide suggestions or methods 
for determining a more accurate estimation.
     Do the draft recovery criteria provide clear direction to 
State partners on what is needed to recover the species? How could they 
be improved for clarity?
     Are the draft recovery criteria both objective and 
measurable given the information available for this species now and 
into the future? Please provide suggestions.
     Understanding that specific, detailed, and area-specific 
recovery actions will be developed in the RIS, do the draft recovery 
actions presented in the draft recovery plan generally cover the types 
of actions necessary to meet the recovery criteria? If not, what 
general actions are missing? And, are any of the draft recovery actions 
unnecessary for achieving recovery? Have we prioritized the actions 

Public Availability of Comments

    We will summarize and respond to the issues raised by the public in 
an appendix to the approved final recovery plan. Before including your 
address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying 
information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire 
comment--including your personal identifying information--may be made 
publicly available at any time. You may request at the top of your 
comment that we withhold this information from public review; however, 
we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.


    The authority for this action is section 4(f) of the Endangered 
Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1533(f).

    Dated: September 20, 2019.
Noreen Walsh,
Regional Director, Lakewood, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 2019-23894 Filed 10-31-19; 8:45 am]