Colorado DOW Continues Greater Sage-Grouse Work

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The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) will continue to work aggressively with federal agencies and private landowners to support and expand greater sage-grouse populations in the wake of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recent decision to include the chicken-sized bird on the endangered species list.

"Colorado has been front and center in sage-grouse research, conservation management for over four decades," said DOW director Tom Remington. "The Fish and Wildlife Service decision places a responsibility on federal and state agencies and private industry to sustain and increase greater sage-grouse populations and we are committed to making that happen."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to include the greater sage-grouse on the endangered species list as "warranted but precluded" means the agency believes threats to the species justify listing it, but the immediate proposal of a regulation implementing the petition action is precluded by higher priority listing actions on 250 species. The greater sage-grouse occurs in northwestern Colorado and ten other western states. A conservative estimate of Colorado's greater sage-grouse population is more than 20,000 - which is on the order of four percent of the nationwide population.

The DOW has developed a collaborative statewide conservation plan for greater sage-grouse and works with local groups to develop local conservation plans. More than 300,000 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat has been improved since 2004 by the DOW and its many private and governmental partners.

Under the "warranted but precluded" finding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the greater sage-grouse will not receive immediate statutory protection under the ESA. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encourages cooperative conservation efforts for these species because, by definition, they warrant future protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Warranted but precluded species, also referred to as "candidate species," each receives a priority number from 1 to 12 based upon the magnitude of threats they face, the immediacy of the threats and their taxonomic uniqueness. Full species have a higher priority number than subspecies. The species' listing priority dictates the relative order in which proposed listing rules are prepared, with the species at greatest risk (listing priority 1 through 3) being proposed first.

In its recent ruling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded greater sage-grouse a priority number of eight. The status of each candidate species, including population and habitat trends and conservation actions that have been undertaken, is reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service every year. The review can determine whether the species is listed as threatened or endangered, removed from the candidate species list, or have its priority number reduced or increased.

How does the DOW View the Listing?

The status of individual greater sage-grouse populations across the West is not uniform and neither are the threats facing those populations. Data suggests there are several hundred thousand greater sage-grouse populations widely distributed throughout the West. Based upon recent listing decisions, the DOW believed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would list distinct imperiled population segments instead of finding that sage-grouse range-wide were warranted (but precluded) for listing.

Colorado has been at the forefront of making greater sage-grouse a high priority for conservation and management since the 1970s. DOW data suggests the state's populations have been generally stable since the mid-1990s.

The DOW believes resident wildlife is most effectively conserved and managed by state wildlife agencies and maintains that no one wins if the greater sage-grouse is ultimately listed as threatened or endangered. It is in everyone's best interest to work together to reduce threats and enhance populations so that the need to list is eliminated. The DOW will continue to look for new and more efficient ways to work with private landowners, industry, federal agencies and other stakeholders to maintain healthy sage-grouse populations.

DOW and Partner Accomplishments

When announcing the listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service emphasized the need to implement and fund projects that restore sagebrush rangelands and address the need for additional considerations for greater sage-grouse in oil and gas development areas. These efforts are similar to rules adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission to protect habitat for sage-grouse and other species following passage of House Bill 1298 in 2007.

Conservation plan for greater sage-grouse. The state works with local groups established for each population in Colorado to develop local conservation plans. More than 300,000 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat has been improved since 2004 by the DOW and its many private and governmental partners.

Since 2008, the DOW, in partnership with energy companies and private groups, has been researching ways that oil and gas can be developed while protecting greater sage-grouse, identifying important seasonal habitats, and creating methods to successfully re-vegetate disturbed habitats and implemented several other strategies that benefit grouse.

To view Colorado's Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan please visit: this page.