Public Comment Period Open; Meeting Scheduled for Montrose, Dove Creek
WESTERN SAN JUANS – A 60-day public comment period has been opened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to gather information from the public and the scientific community concerning the agency’s recommendation to list the Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
Fish and Wildlife officials announced the proposed listing on Jan. 10.
Current scientific evidence, officials say, suggests that the species is in danger of extinction.
“It’s our proposal to list it as endangered with designated critical habitat,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Western Colorado Supervisor Patty Gelatt said last week. “A 60-day comment period started [on Jan. 11] and will be open until March 12. We are encouraging the public to make comments.”
The large, ground-nesting bird known for its elaborate courtship displays on its breeding grounds now occupies only seven percent of its historic range. Fish and Wildlife officials believe there are approximately 5,000 breeding birds remaining in various sagebrush habitats in and around the Gunnison Basin and southeastern Utah.
State conservation agencies, in partnership with federal agencies, are working on landscape-level, voluntary conservation planning efforts to conserve Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Those efforts have been effective as the largest remaining Gunnison sage grouse population has been relatively stable over the past 12 years. Work remains to stabilize six other remaining populations in the region.
“The Gunnison population remains relatively stable but the six satellite populations have been declining in recent years,” Gelatt said. “Sage grouse need these large scale landscapes of contiguous habitat and when you start to fragment those areas, it’s a threat to the species.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service is required to also propose potential critical habitat. In accordance with that requirement, the agency has proposed 1.7 million acres of critical habitat. Specifying the habitat essential for the conservation of the species, as required by law, helps federal agencies identify where to focus their efforts to benefit the species. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama directed that any future designations of critical habitat carefully consider all public comments on relevant science and economic impact, including those that suggest methods for minimizing regulatory burdens. If the listing is finalized, any potential critical habitat designation will include a full analysis of economic impact, including impact on jobs, and will strive, to the extent permitted by law, to avoid unnecessary burdens and costs on states, tribes, localities, and the private sector.
While Sheep Mountain Alliance Executive Director Hilary Cooper said it is unfortunate that the species is close to being listed as endangered, she believes further habitat conservation work will eventually pay off.
“An endangered species listing is the last tool we have to use to protect the habitat of a species and it is extremely unfortunate that we are there,” Cooper said. “It is an indication that our land use impacts are out of balance with nature. However landowners and ranchers in San Miguel County have been working diligently to preserve and improve habitat for the bird and in the process have recognized that sagebrush restoration, healthy rangelands and preservation of land values are symbiotic. The San Miguel Basin Working Group has been effective in bringing a diverse coalition of stakeholders together to proactively address habitat restoration and perhaps with this listing and even greater awareness and action we will see the bird come back in our region and across the west.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife is hosting two more public meetings to disseminate information about the proposed endangered species listings. Meetings will be held at the Montrose Holiday Inn Express will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 30, and in Dove Creek at the Dove Creek Community Center on Thursday, Jan. 31. Both meetings are from 5-7 p.m. A first meeting was held on Jan. 23 in Gunnison.
Comments on each proposed rule must be received within 60 days, on or before March 12.
Comments can be submitted electronically at regulations.gov. In the Keyword box, enter Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2012–0108, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document
Type heading, check on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. Anyone can submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!” Comments can also be submitted by mail addressed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R6–ES–2012–0108; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
For more information about the Gunnison sage-grouse and copies of each proposal, fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/birds/gunnisonsagegrouse.