U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks comment on sage grouse

The Gunnison sage grouse, an endangered species with a very small population in San Juan County, is the focus of a draft recovery plan recently released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The federal agency is asking for public comments on the conservation actions necessary to stop population declines and achieve recovery of the birds.

The bird was listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened in November 2014. Now, the Service seeks public comments on a draft plan, especially from local communities and species experts.

The Gunnison sage grouse makes its home exclusively in sagebrush country. Federal agencies state that sagebrush habitats serve as the lifeblood of western rural economies, supporting American agriculture, energy, and small business while providing clean air and water for people and over 350 species of wildlife. 

Since the 1900s, the available habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse has shrunk by approximately 90 percent, which agency officials state is primarily due to the conversion of its sagebrush habitats for agricultural, residential, and commercial purposes. 

In San Juan County, agriculture, residential, and commercial uses of the sage grouse habitat appear to have decreased rather than increased. Despite this reality, the size of the local sage grouse populations has decreased, similar to the populations in other areas.

Once native to southwestern Colorado, northern New Mexico, southeastern Utah, and northeastern Arizona, today Gunnison sage grouse are found in eight populations exclusively in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah 

The draft recovery plan outlines that the Gunnison sage grouse needs at least five resilient populations that can withstand catastrophe and adapt to environmental change.

These populations must be distributed across their range in order to maximize the species’ ecological and genetic diversity.

Therefore, the Monticello, Gunnison Basin, San Miguel Basin, Piñon Mesa, and Crawford populations each have specific targets in the plan. In addition, the plan identifies a need for improved habitat conditions in the Dove Creek and Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa populations.

The Cortez Journal recently reported that the sage grouse population in the Dove Creek area has not included a male bird in the past four years. 

Recovery is the process that stops the decline of an endangered or threatened species by removing or reducing threats, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the long-term survival of the species in the wild.

Recovery plans describe the detailed, site-specific management actions necessary for each species, criteria for its delisting, and time and cost estimates for implementation of those actions.

They are not regulatory documents and instead serve as guidance for federal, state, and private cooperators on how to best help imperiled plants and animals meet recovery goals.

The draft plan was developed with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and further refined through collaboration with local land management agencies, counties in the range of the Gunnison sage grouse, and local experts.

Comments will be accepted on the draft recovery plan until December 31, 2019, which is available at https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?sId=6040. To submit comments electronically, email them to GUSGrecoveryplan@fws.gov

Submit comments in person or by mail to: Colorado Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 445 West Gunnison Avenue, #240, Grand Junction, CO 81501-5711.

For more information on the Gunnison sage grouse, visit: www.fws.gov/sagebrush/wildlife/gunnison-sage-grouse/.

San Juan Record

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