Agency agrees to take longer look at bird’s listing

Heeding “loud and clear” public comment to look more closely at the science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to take another half-year to decide whether the Gunnison sage-grouse should be declared endangered.

The decision announced today follows a written request Friday by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, for a six-month extension on the matter.

Fish and Wildlife said in a news release Monday that an additional 45-day public comment period will begin on its proposal to protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act and designate more than 1.7 million acres of critical habitat in western Colorado and eastern Utah. It postponed decisions on those proposals until March 31 of next year, and will accept public comments through Sept. 3.

“We heard loud and clear from many people invested in Gunnison sage-grouse conservation that there is additional scientific information we should consider during our decision-making process,” Noreen Walsh, director of the agency’s Mountain-Prairie Region, said in the release.

It said comments received to date already have indicated “substantial disagreement regarding interpretation of scientific literature, and literature that may not have been fully considered.

“This information includes Gunnison sage-grouse population trends, the scope of and effectiveness of Gunnison County’s regulatory mechanisms in addressing threats to Gunnison sage-grouse, projections about the extent of future residential development within the range of the species, and what constitutes historical habitat and important current habitat for the species.”

An estimated 5,000 breeding Gunnison sage-grouse are known to live in the Gunnison Basin and in southeastern Utah.

In their letter last week to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Tipton, Udall and Bennet pointed to efforts already undertaken in Colorado that have resulted in more than $30 million in public and private funds being spent to protect the bird and its habitat.

“Thanks to these initiatives we’ve made great progress — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service … data now show the population of Gunnison sage grouse has increased in the Gunnison Basin,” the letter says.

It also notes a recent agreement signed by 10 Colorado counties and one in Utah summarizing ways to help the sage-grouse.

“The coalition members believe these measures will ultimately achieve or exceed the species protection goals of a possible Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing,” the letter says.


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