Hailey, ID.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing rule and critical habitat designation for the Gunnison sage-grouse that will designate the species as Endangered and provide 1.7 million acres of critical habitat in Colorado and Utah.

Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) has a more restricted range than the closely-related Greater sage-grouse (C. urophasianus), but both birds face the same threats from livestock grazing: livestock eat the plants that sage-grouse depend on and permanently alter sage-grouse habitat.   “We’re pleased that Gunnison’s sage-grouse will receive Endangered Species Act protection,” said Jon Marvel, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Sage-grouse are an indicator species for the health of the sagebrush landscape of the American West. Now, Fish and Wildlife Service needs to buckle down and tackle the needs of Greater sage-grouse, which face the same threats across the West as Gunnison sage-grouse.”

The proposed ESA listing for the bird describes the effects of livestock grazing on sage-grouse habitat, including enabling invasive species infestations, adding fences and other destructive infrastructure, directly trampling nests and causing nest abandonment, increasing predation and decreasing successful reproduction.   The proposed listing rule also describes the process by which the federal land management agencies evaluate livestock impacts– or not. Many of the federally managed lands within sage-grouse habitats have never been evaluated for ecological health, and a large percentage of the lands that have been assessed fail to meet even the minimum standards for native plant community.

Because public lands compose the majority of sage-grouse habitats throughout the west, insufficient and ineffective agency oversight is part of what is dooming these birds.   “The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service want to keep grazing livestock as usual,” said Marvel. “But this listing proposal should be a wake-up call that you can’t protect these declining populations and keep doing what you are doing.  It is time for the government to enable permanent voluntary retirement of public land grazing permits.  Such legislation will enable recovery of sage-grouse more than any other governmental action.”

Sage grouse range

Sage Grouse historic and current distribution. (click for larger view)

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

6 Responses to Endangered Species Act Protection is Proposed for Gunnison Sage-grouse

  1. Ken Cole says:

    The USFWS must still determine the status of the Bi-State population on the border of Nevada and California. The range of this subpopulation has contracted greatly and the population is in decline too. They are warranted but precluded for protection but they have a higher priority designation for protection than the greater sage grouse population.

    The Columbia population in Washington needs protection too. They are extremely isolated from other populations and are in big trouble.

    The larger population of greater sage grouse is being pounded by livestock and energy development. Last year over 1 million acres of very important habitat in northwest Nevada and southeast Oregon burned in just two fires. The BLM is currently planting crested and Siberian wheatgrass which will make it more likely to burn again soon.

  2. Leslie says:

    Is there any progress on the listing of the Greater Sage Grouse?

    • Ken Cole says:

      The USFWS has to make a decision on greater sage grouse by 2015 as required by a settlement made with WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity.

  3. Louise Kane says:

    Ken If the species is listed won’t they have a hell of a time with habitat issues, how will this work? given that restrictions will apply throughout their range?

    “It is time for the government to enable permanent voluntary retirement of public land grazing permits. Such legislation will enable recovery of sage-grouse more than any other governmental action.”

  4. DLB says:


    Would you mind summarizing the implications of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse being listed? It seems that this could have a huge impact on how the affected lands are managed. How strong of a reaction are you expecting from affected parties?


January 2013


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey