Lawsuit Launched to Strengthen Protections for Gunnison Sage Grouse

Down to 7 Percent of Historic Range and Declining, Grouse Needs Stronger Federal Protection

WASHINGTON— Conservation groups today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision to designate the Gunnison sage grouse as a “threatened” rather than “endangered” species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency’s less protective designation allows it to craft a rule creating broad exemptions for continued oil and gas development and other activities that threaten the grouse, which was originally proposed as an endangered species in January 2013 but formally listed as threatened in a rule published only today.

“Before this stunning reversal, the Fish and Wildlife Service had recognized the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species for 14 years,” said Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The reversal is not based on more grouse in more places but rather on vague promises by those with a direct stake in destroying the grouse’s habitat. This is just too much of a fox guarding the henhouse situation.”

The Gunnison sage grouse’s total range has declined to 7 percent of its historic range, with most of the remaining populations in danger of disappearing. The Service has acknowledged for 14 years the species is in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Gunnison sage grouse is in fact an endangered species,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “For it to have any chance at survival, the Gunnison sage grouse needs the full protections of the Endangered Species Act.”

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 4,000 breeding individuals remaining. Livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling, motorized recreation and urbanization have contributed to the ongoing decline of the bird.

“The efforts by Governor Hickenlooper and others 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, and that’s why we’re taking this to court,” said Atwood.

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. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    The most obvious difference between this sage grouse and others in the west is that they are smaller than the other subspecies. There is a discussion of the history of this situation including this recent action at:

  2. TC Avatar

    They’re not a subspecies of greater sage-grouse – they are a distinct species (urophasianus versus minimus). There is not a lot of agreement about greater sage-grouse having true subspecies, although incomplete evidence suggests the Mono Basin population may be a distinct subspecies or even a new species.

  3. Susan Carter Avatar
    Susan Carter

    With the proposal of BLM’s 2.0 Landscape Approach, let’s just get done what needs to be done. Develop Eco-Regions with Wilderness cores and buffer zones. Relegate cattle to the very utmost edges and to private property and be done with it.

  4. Charles Sisco, Environmental Resouces Avatar

    1. Researchers at Western CO College, Gunnison, CO discovered unique DNA pattern as a DISTINCT species- NO DEBATE just facts please;
    2. How to REquest DATA on Gunnison sage grouse listing? A
    FOIA request/search to USFWS &BLM on active leks…they had NO monitoring data & BLM leks were ALL gone except for 2 leks- out of the last 10 in 2010! No data, no listing, no controversy.. just keep grazing, mining, dewatering, etc.
    3. The LAST 2 active leks were on high passes left OUT of
    critical habitat designation under ESA- all 275K acres;
    4. ONLY 3 mm acres of habitat left, Just 3 million; BLM & USFWS will protect only 275,000 acres…what were they doing for last 15 years? Destroying the last of the Gunnison Sage Grouse leks..then they got caught!
    5. Interested? Then FOIA or Freedom of Information ACT request data on grazing permits/impacts to grass & sage lands during our 20 yr. drought- impacts to wetlands, listed species to BLM in Utah, CO, NV, WY.
    6. IF you’re interested, via FOIA ask BLM, USFWs, USFS for documents on mine activities. Why? Their NEPA docs lack any mention/analysis for cumulative impacts on BLM lands: water use, oil/gas APDs, abandon mines, toxic chemicals like arsenic, lead and uranium released into air/water, Native Americans ignored, costs to you the taxpayer and best of all NOT ONE PENNY to the US Treasury for all the BILLiONS in gold, silver, uranium mined under a 1896 Mine law- just $$50 Billion reclamation & toxic metals cleanup costs per GAO report! Americans don’t worry about grouse, wolves, grizzly bears but touch their pocket books…yikes- that get’s their attention.


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