State seeks to keep type of grouse off feds’ list

State wildlife officials are mounting a last-ditch effort to fend off a listing of the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened or endangered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is due to decide by Nov. 12 whether to list the bird, the greatest population of which lives in the Gunnison River basin.

A small population of fewer than 200 birds, or 3 percent of the total population, lives on Piñon Mesa in Mesa County.

State officials have amassed a great deal of information about the bird that they hope to present to Fish and Wildlife Service officials in a well-organized and easily managed fashion, Kathy Griffin, statewide species coordinator for sage grouse for the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, said Wednesday in a meeting of officials who deal with grouse-related issues.

“We want to help Fish and Wildlife make a determination,” Griffin said. “We’re trying to move the bar at the last possible minute.”

State officials have noted that the largest population of the birds is on the increase. It’s healthy enough that 93 birds have been transplanted from there to Piñon Mesa since 2010 and that population has grown, though it remains below targeted levels.

Officials are planning to transplant more birds into Piñon Mesa this year, Griffin said.

Griffin is meeting this month with officials in several locations as part of the effort to circumvent action on the Gunnison sage-grouse.

“We’re getting momentum here,” said John Swartout, who Gov. John Hickenlooper selected to act as the state’s point man on cases of the Gunnison and greater sage grouse. “We’ve got a fighting chance.”

Participants in meetings near concentrations of Gunnison sage-grouse have offered up new approaches, such as seasonal road closures and easements, even as the deadline for the Forest Service approaches, Swartout said.

Colorado is willing to sue to avert a listing of the Gunnison sage-grouse, Swartout has said.

Federal legislators have taken note of the effort to avoid a listing.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo,, whose 3rd District includes most of the Gunnison sage-grouse habitat, attended the meeting in Grand Junction. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., attended a similar session on Tuesday in Gunnison County.

“I think we have good scientific information that’s credible,” Tipton said. “I hope the federal government will recognize that.”

It’s difficult, however, “not to harbor the suspicion that the decision is already made and they’re just going through the motions,” Tipton said.

Efforts by Gunnison County ranchers are “a powerful example of communities working together to protect the species while safeguarding Coloradans’ special way of life,” Udall said. “I’m going to keep working with (Interior Secretary Sally) Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to promote the real successes happening here in Gunnison.”

The greater sage-grouse, a larger cousin of the Gunnison, also is under consideration for listing as threatened or endangered.


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