BLM reaffirms plans for Gunnison sage-grouse in deal with conservationists
Revisions of Bureau of Land Management plans in Colorado and Utah to protect the Gunnison sage-grouse will commit the agency to continuing with measures it already has undertaken, a BLM spokesman says.
The BLM has agreed to update the plans as part of an Interior Department agreement with WildEarth Guardians. The conservation group wanted the plan amendments to be a condition of not opposing the government’s request for a delay in deciding whether to list the bird for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
A federal judge on Tuesday agreed to the request, which means the Fish and Wildlife Service now has until Nov. 12 to issue its decision. That agency previously faced a May 12 deadline under a lawsuit settlement agreement with WildEarth Guardians.
The Gunnison sage-grouse breeding population is estimated at 4,000 to 5,000, centered in the Gunnison Basin, but with smaller numbers in places including Mesa County and Utah. Fish and Wildlife has proposed listing it as endangered, but in its extension request indicated it is now considering a threatened listing. That would allow for adoption of special, more lenient protection rules aimed at addressing public concern over the restrictions that go along with a listing.
Entities such as the state of Colorado and Gunnison County oppose a federal listing, arguing that ongoing conservation measures are adequate.
Mitch Snow, a spokesman for the BLM’s national office, said the BLM has worked extensively with other partners on conservation measures, but until they are memorialized in local resource management plans across the bird’s range, the BLM isn’t obligated to continue implementing them. One factor Fish and Wildlife has to consider in its decision is regulatory certainty, he said.
“Having these things in the (plans) provides much greater regulatory certainty,” he said.
Jim Cochran, wildlife conservation coordinator for Gunnison County, said that in the Gunnison Basin a conservation agreement to protect the sage-grouse covers recreation, grazing permits and other activities on federal lands. He said the county is encouraging the BLM to work on such agreements in other areas where the bird lives.
“We’ve got a template here and I think it will be one of the conservation actions that we see move forward during the six-month extension,” he said.
Under the extension agreement with WildEarth Guardians, Fish and Wildlife also has committed to designate critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse by Nov. 12 if it lists the species for protection, rather than potentially delaying that decision.