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Feds launch greater sage-grouse website

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Dwindling birds caught in a tangled web of science and politics

Staff Report

FRISCO — Just a couple of weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $25 million in funding for greater sage-grouse conservation in California and Nevada, the federal government took another step in the long-running process to protect the dwindling birds by launching a new website.

Coordinated by three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service information specialists, the new site emphasizes the collaborative nature of the conservation effort to protect the birds and their oft-overlooked sage-steppe habitat.

The scruffy badlands that stretch patchily between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada may look empty, but there’s more than meets the eye, the USFWS explains on the new site’s intro page. Sage may dominate big slices of the landscape, but the ecosystem is threatened because not much of it is protected. Continue reading

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Report: Local measures won’t save sage grouse

Gunnison sage-grouse

A male Gunnison sage-grouse struts as part of its spring mating ritual. Photo courtesy BLM.

Federal protections needed to protect dwindling Gunnison sage-grouse

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new report by conservation biologists suggests that local and state-based measures to protect Gunnison sage-grouse won’t prevent the species from sliding toward extinction.

With only about 5,000 remaining birds, the population is already at a high risk, and only strict federal conservation measures under the Endangered Species Act will help, according to Megan Mueller, a senior conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild.

The once-abundant species has dwindled dramatically as its habitat has been fragmented by energy and community development, as well as over-grazing. Continue reading

Opinion: No GOP love for sage grouse

Click on the image for more information on greater sage-grouse.

While Republican lawmakers play election-year politics, sage grouse are going extinct

Western Republicans looking to strip protections for dwindling species

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A group of right wing western lawmakers want to kill federal protections for dwindling sage grouse for at least 10 years with a proposed law that would specifically prevent the iconic birds from being listed as threatened or endangered under federal law.

Using the twisted Orwellian doublespeak that’s become common in anti-environmental GOP circles, the proposed bill is called  the Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act — which would strip federal biologists of their authority to make an accurate, science-based determination about the status of the birds. Continue reading

Biodiversity: More wrangling over Gunnison sage-grouse

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Gunnison sage-grouse during mating ritual. Photo courtesy BLM.

Federal biologists to take another look at sage-grouse science after getting an earful from Colorado stakeholders

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists will take another hard look at the science before making a final decision how much protection Gunnison sage-grouse need under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now says it will make a final decision in six months, with a new public comment period ending Sept. 3, 2013. The agency first proposed an endangered species listing, as well as critical habitat, in January of this year. The announcement stirred dismay in Colorado, where the key population of the birds is clustered in the Gunnison Valley. Continue reading

Feds extend comment period on Gunnison sage-grouse

Will political meddling outweigh conservation science?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse in Colorado and Utah.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse in Colorado and Utah.

Gunnison sage-grouse. Photo courtesy BLM.

Gunnison sage-grouse. Photo courtesy BLM.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With only about 4,000 to 5,000 Gunnison sage-grouse left in a few population pockets in Utah and Colorado, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in January to list the birds as an endangered species. At the same time, the federal agency proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for the birds.

The announcement elicited a critical response from state wildlife officials and local stakeholders, who say they’ve developed locally based conservation plans that will help protect the birds.

Since then, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and other lawmakers have urged the USFWS to extend the public comment period on the listing and critical habitat proposals to give affected communities more time to weigh in on the federal plans. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds propose endangered species listing, critical habitat designation for rare Gunnison sage-grouse

Colorado wildlife officials disappointed by listing proposal

Colorado Gunnison Sage-grouse critical habitat map

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse in Colorado and Utah.

Gunnison sage-grouse

A male Gunnison sage-grouse struts as part of its spring mating ritual. Photo courtesy BLM.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite ongoing voluntary conservation measures, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week that the best available science indicates that the Gunnison sage-grouse is in danger of extinction and needs protection under the Endangered Species Act.

By some estimates, there are only about 4,000 to 5,000 of the iconic western birds remaining, scattered in eight small population pockets in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. As a result, the USFWS has proposed listing the species as endangered and also proposed designating about 1.7 million acres of critical habitat.

The proposal triggers a 60-day public comment period, with input due by March 12. The agency will also hold a series of public meetings to take input from residents and landowners in areas that could be affected by the listing. The meetings will likely be held in Gunnison, Montrose, Delta and Cortez, Colorado, or in Monticello, Utah and will be advertised at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/. Continue reading

No federal protection for Gunnison sage-grouse

No endangered species listing for Gunnison sage-grouse. PHOTO COURTESY COLORADO DIVISION OF WILDLIFE.

Conservation groups frustrated with Obama administration’s lack of progress on endangered species protection

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — In a setback for a rare Colorado bird, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists said Monday the Gunnison sage grouse won’t get protection under the Endangered Species Act — even though the species qualifies for listing, and existing conservation measures don’t go far enough.

Gunnison sage grouse live only in a few isolated areas in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. The federal agency said the species qualifies for listing based on the best available scientific information, but claimed it lacks the resources to finalize a listing rule, and that other species are in greater need of protection. Best estimates indicated there are only about 4,000 breeding individuals left.

The federal agency acknowledged that state and local collaborative conservation efforts are not adequate to address the threats to the bird. Research shows the birds need large expanses of unfragmented blocks of sagebrush habitat. Residential development, road building and oil and gas drilling are the main threats to  Gunnison sage grouse habitat. Continue reading

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