Gunnison Sage Grouse Downgraded to “Threatened,” Allowing Oil and Gas Development and Other Threats to Continue

WASHINGTON— Bowing to political pressure, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated the Gunnison sage grouse as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act instead of the more protective “endangered” status proposed in January 2013. Downgrading the grouse to “threatened” will let the agency propose a special pro-industry rule to continue allowing activities threatening the grouse’s habitat, including oil and gas development, livestock grazing and urban sprawl. The grouse has been recognized as endangered since 2000 and is at severe risk of extinction.

“The undeniable reality is that the Gunnison sage grouse is in on the verge of disappearing forever,” said Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It needs the full suite of legal protections that only recognition as an endangered species can provide.”

The Gunnison sage grouse’s range has declined to 7 percent of its historic range with most of the remaining populations in grave danger. The Service has acknowledged for 14 years the species needs protection under the Endangered Species Act but, following years of political interference, did not begin the listing process until after it entered into a pair of settlement agreements with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians in 2011.

“The Gunnison sage grouse has been recognized as endangered for 14 years and nothing the Fish and Wildlife Service has said today makes that any less true,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “This decision suggests that the Fish and Wildlife Service, in contradiction with its mandate, has placed other priorities above protection of the Gunnison sage grouse.”

The listing process for the Gunnison sage is being handled by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region, located in Denver, which has repeatedly bowed to political pressure in recent months, having denied much-needed Endangered Species Act protection to the Montana grayling, wolverine and two Rocky Mountain plants.

“The efforts by agencies, counties, and the State of Colorado to conserve the Gunnison sage grouse are a step in the right direction, but full protection is needed in order to save this charismatic bird,” said Atwood.

The Gunnison sage grouse’s historic range included parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, but the species now occurs only in seven small populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, with only about 4,700 individuals remaining. Livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling, motorized recreation and urbanization have contributed to the ongoing decline of the bird.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project works to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in the West through education, public policy initiatives and legal advocacy.






  1. jimT Avatar

    Complete. Total. Political Crap.

    Can I just say that the Obama Administration, and its Interior Dept and parts have been just AWFUL on species and land issues? Sellouts.

    Yeah..I seem to remember Obama saying his administration was going to be ruled by SCIENCE on these issues. My ass.

  2. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Bowing to political pressure

    The theme of this Administration on these issues.

  3. jimt Avatar

    This is from the now X Senator from Colorado..

    “I am deeply disappointed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision. Colorado’s ranchers, conservationists, and state and local leaders have worked tirelessly together for more than 20 years to protect the Gunnison sage grouse, support local jobs and strengthen our special way of life,” Udall said. “I have been proud to support this collaborative work, including the recent effort to request a delay of this decision so that additional conservation measures could be enacted. I will continue to champion this collaborative effort. Today’s decision, however, threatens to unravel much of the grassroots and science-based progress Colorado has made preserving the Gunnison sage grouse.”

    1. jimt Avatar

      I could go on and on about why Mark Udall lost his race to a Tea Party thrall.. but this statement is a pretty good indication of why Mark lost his environmental base here in Colorado, and likely the reason why he lost the election. Mark evidently drank the Kool-Aid of Collaboration; that might explain his abandonment of his own career as a environmental advocate, not to mention his avoidance of the proud history and legacy in environmental protection of his family, particularly Stu and Mo Udall. This man who said these things is a stranger who has lost his way. The fact that he issued this statement with a Governor who is in the pockets of the oil and gas industry; and a Republican who is a Tea Party supporter after his election loss leaves me speechless; there was no campaign pressures here.

      We need a new model of the Western Democratic politician. I suggest we look to Raul Grijalva as a mentor and model if we are to make any progress…or stave off declines…on the protection of species and lands and resources.

      One more point. Mr. Udall mentions “science-based progress” in managing the rapid decline of the sage grouse and habitat over the last 20 years. If anything, the science supported a full commitment of the USFWS to an ESA determination of endangered species status. I wonder if Mr. Udall is once again straddling the middle rail on environmental issues in an attempt to find life after the Senate. One would have thought 6 years of that position on environmental issues would have caused enough pain. Evidently not.

      1. Louise Kane Avatar

        “evidently drank the Kool-Aid of Collaboration”


      2. WM Avatar

        Perhaps because he and wife Maggie live in Boulder? I am thinking, to some degree, that is a perception of where the spiked Kool-Aid is. Not exactly representative of interests of the entire state of CO. The alternative was a young, good looking chap with a law degree and some rural roots might who might be a promise of a refreshing change. Sort of a Hank Brown incarnate, and an R behind his name.

        I have always thought of CO as being a pretty common sense state in its politics, not swinging too far left or right, except the Tim Wirth days when he jumped aboard the telcom break up, destroying the most efficient and cost-effective and highly regulated telecommunications system in the entire world.

        1. jimT Avatar

          Mark left Boulder; went to Eldorado Springs, I suspect in some sort of staff-advised PR move. For those of us who have known him and family for decades, it seemed silly to us, like somehow someone from Garfield County was going to vote for him now. And that was one of the weaknesses of the campaign..chasing votes where there were no votes to be had. And his rush to the middle, and his perceived abandonment of the public lands and species aspect of his past and his campaign stands hurt him in terms of turnout and people working for him on the campaign. As for Cory Gardner…he was told by the party to change positions that he held for years just to get elected; I have no respect for that regardless of party. He is anti women, anti environment, anti immigration reform, and lied about his sponsorship of a personhood bill in the House. He is a Tea Party hack; just watch his votes…He benefited from a set of circumstances…poor campaign strategy by the incumbent; outside attack ads, whipped up sentiment against Obama, poor student turnout and the fact that the all mail ballots seemed to increase the turnout of the over 65 crowd tremendously and they usually vote for the GOP…

          This statement by Mark was totally unnecessary in terms of political cover or damage. And if he really believes that those 20 years of knee-jerk efforts to do the minimum to avoid ESA designations instead of a full faith effort supported by science…then he really has changed from the guy we knew in the 80s and beyond…

  4. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    Ravens! Duck!

  5. Amre Avatar

    I’m not even surprised anymore when it comes to USFWS bowing to political pressure.

    1. jimT Avatar

      No, not anymore. I remember a “discussion” here about Obama when he first elected, and there were those of us who thought Salazar was a harbinger of things to come, and some who argued to give him a chance. Well… I think we all have our answer about Obama, Western Dems, and state leaders like Hickenlooper about where their priorities are when it comes to ESA and public lands issues. With the pressures from the Sagebrush folks to once again pressure DC into ceding public lands to state control..given the propensities of this Administration…I am afraid it has more of a chance now than at any point in our history. Kochland-Glacier(less) National (Amusement) Park anyone?

  6. WM Avatar

    Really good article (CSM has good journalists) on the listing and how CO governor is a bit pissed, with a video link (NY Times) on plight of sage grouse, generally:

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      They do have good articles. Getting this bird listed as ‘threatened’ is quite an achievement I guess, rather than continue with state delaying tactics.

      1. jimT Avatar

        Ida, it is just another indication of the politics of these Western issues ruling the science. This is Hickenlooper mouthing off because it is well known here in Colorado that he is a bought and paid for hack for the oil and gas industry, and this threatens to actually force the fracking folks to pay attention to species well being. The GOP person…expected. But Udall? Folks I know here who know Mark are shaking their heads and wondering ever happened to him on the environment, especially now when there is no risk for him actually walking his talk.

    2. JB Avatar

      Not sure what he is pissed about; FWS delayed the listing to allow voluntary measures time to work, then reduced the listing status to threatened. Given the FWS’s newly-minted interpretation of the SPR phrase, further loss of range means fewer areas the FWS needs to worry about protecting them. So–given their limited resources–they now have an incentive to do just what they did in the case of the GSG; that is, delay as long as they can. That way their listing of a species (a)affects fewer people (which means fewer folks are pissed off), (b)requires them to protect and restore animals to a reduced portion of their range (again, making developers and politicians happy), and (c) ultimately requires less effort.

      Congress and successive administrations have reduced this agency to a mere shadow of its former self.

      1. jimT Avatar

        He is pissed because the oil and gas lobby has told him his position, and they are pissed at ANY restriction…

        1. WM Avatar

          Does the listing also not affect the ability of the town of Gunnison’s (population 6,000 w/o college students) urban growth area to increase over time, as well as Gunnison County, generally?

          Seems the governor might have other interests to protect incluing this small college town.

          1. jimT Avatar

            Have you been to Gunnison??

            1. WM Avatar

              I have, and realize there is not much going on in Gunnison (sure can get cold there in winter), but ya never know, and a governor is reluctant to take a high profile stand that has the potential for closing doors especially where votes might be, anywhere on the Western Slope. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time on the Western slope, including Crested Butte. Some of my time was as a grad student-researcher gathering environmental data during the exploitation of the oil shale, and ski-area development in the 1970’s, and then for recreation and work many years after that.

              Agree the Udall move to Eldorado Springs makes one scratch their head. A move to Denver or even Greeley would have made more sense.

              1. jimT Avatar

                Gunnisson and the surrounding lands are heavily dependent on the recreation dollar; relatively very little ranching going on near the town boundaries, so don’t really see how habitat protection will affect the majority of the folks who live there. The big worry now in the area is the buying up of large tracts of land by Aspen Wannabes along the North Forth corridor because they can’t afford the real thing anymore. And those tracts will be locked up to locals, I would imagine. I haven’t seen the habitat map yet…

                Wife was one of the SC Legal Defense lawyers who first worked on the Red Lady and moly cases..said the whole town were clients, and it was a wonderful time of humorous guerrilla theatre and very resolute souls to save that mount. So far, so good. We almost bought a building lot with views back then; a friend did..two side by side lots with protected views of the mountains. Can’t imagine what they are worth now. CB is one of our favorite places to just be, hike, eat surprisingly good food, and chat with old friends…

                As for Hick..well, he is feeling pretty immune right now from critics. And he is term limited, so the last two years will be spent trying to figure out what to do…There will be no Senate seat, and I think that is above his pay grade…and then again…there are Gardner,Cruz, Ryan..and others to refute that assertion..:*)

                Mark did a good job on fighting for privacy and he is threatening to release the CIA torture report in an article in today’s paper, but I never did understand his silence and avoidance on the species and lands issues..

  7. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    Ken Cole, who wrote this article. I did not see a reference.

  8. Yvette Avatar

    Where there is oil and gas, extinctions are soon to follow.

    It is now the way of our world. I no longer know who to be angry with, or even if my anger is worth the energy expended. I’m trying to avoid becoming so jaded by American politics, and environmental and conservation policy that I give up all hope.

  9. Larry Avatar

    “…4,700 individuals remaining.” In the late 1960’s during the winter, I routinely saw 1,000 or more individuals in a single flock in Lincoln County, Idaho. These birds are as good as gone if the leading wildlife agency for the nation doesn’t step up and lead.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole