A coalition of conservation groups that sued to list the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered instead of threatened species has reached an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The parties agreed to stay the lawsuit while Fish and Wildlife prepares a recovery plan for the rare bird, which is known for its elaborate courtship rituals.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, and WildEarth Guardians filed the lawsuit in 2015 after the bird was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in November 2014.
An estimated 4,000 birds exist, mostly within the Gunnison Valley, with smaller populations near Dove Creek and in southeast Utah.
The stay agreement maintains the bird’s threatened status and establishes a 30-month time line for Fish and Wildlife to develop a recovery plan. Current listing and critical habitat rules will remain in place. An endangered species is one that is deemed in danger of becoming extinct; a threatened species is one that is rare and might become an endangered species in the future.
The agreement says the recovery plan should:
Identify impediments to recovery and possible ways to reach recovery.Establish population targets and include criteria that may result in removing the bird from protection under the Endangered Species Act.Detail all threats to the bird and identify site-specific management actions to minimize threats.Consider the impact of livestock grazing on the grouse and identify management actions to minimize the impacts.Release a draft recovery plan to the public for review by October 2019 and submit a final recovery plan to the Federal Register by October 2020.“Our agreement ensures the Gunnison sage grouse will get a recovery plan before it is too late to save these magnificent birds,” said Ryan Shannon, an attorney for Center for Biological Diversity.
Habitat loss due to residential growth, grazing, and oil and gas development are believed to harm grouse populations, along with predation and climate change.
“Past and current conservation efforts have failed this magnificent bird,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “We are hopeful a robust, science-based recovery plan will finally get Gunnison sage grouse on the road to recovery.”