The Gunnison sage-grouse working group meeting scheduled for Jan. 9 in Hotchkiss was postponed last week. That was to give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service time to finalize a proposal to protect the Gunnison sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
The following day, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced, "After an extensive review conducted in compliance with a court-approved settlement agreement, the agency found that current scientific evidence suggests that the Gunnison sage-grouse is in danger of extinction."
The agency stressed that this was a proposal and that a final decision would be made following a 60-day public comment period. A number of public meetings will be held to gather information from the public and scientists.
"Regardless of whether the species is ultimately added to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, the Service will continue working with agencies and landowners to facilitate ongoing and future efforts to advance its conservation and long-term recovery," a Jan. 10 agency press release stated.
"We applaud the combined efforts of our many agency and local partners, as well as private landowners across the species' range, for their efforts to address the significant challenges faced by the Gunnison sage-grouse," said Noreen Walsh, regional director of the Service's Mountain-Prairie Region. "In particular, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has worked diligently to conserve habitat through easements and conservation agreements with landowners. Continuation of these efforts will be essential for the recovery of the species, and we look forward to receiving additional scientific and technical information about the species from our partners and the public before making a final decision."
On Friday, Jan. 11, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published notices in the Federal Register proposing the endangered status and designation of 1.7 million acres as critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse.
Public comment will be accepted on both proposals until March 12.
Doug Homan of the Gunnison sage-grouse working group said the local meeting will be rescheduled.
A total of 45 Gunnison sage-grouse were transplanted from Gunnison to Crawford in 2011 and last spring. While tracking and counting the birds on the lek, Homan found that the birds present were offspring from transplanted birds or ones previously living in the area.
Homan believes many of the latest transplants are staying near a Crawford elk ranch rather than join the Gunnison sage-grouse main habitat area. Local birds were staying in the habitat improved last year through hydroaxing.
"The mission of the local working group was not to keep the [Gunnison sage-grouse] from being listed," Homan said. "The mission of the working group was to make sure the population in Crawford didn't become extinct."
Homan said, "There may be some advantages to having [the Gunnison sage-grouse] listed. There may be funding opening up." Listing the bird may generate more interest in increasing its numbers.
Rancher Charles Klaseen believes, "It will definitely affect [livestock] grazing."
Homan wants to find out from the Fish and Wildlife Service if the proposed endangered species listing would cause the entire Gunnison sage-grouse range to be under one set of regulations. "What if the Crawford area has done the right things with grazing management and all the other habitat work we've done, [will] the restrictions in Crawford have to be the same as in other parts of the range in Gunnison or Dove Creek or in the San Miguel basin?" Some people have told Homan the rules and regulations would have to be range-wide, but that the Fish and Wildlife has said they are willing to look at the issue.
"I hope what we have done will allow the users of public lands to still use them the way they have been," Homan said.blog comments powered by Disqus