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Draft Federal Gunnison Sage-Grouse Plan Raises Concern for Species’ Recovery


August 12, 2016

Media Contact: Catalina Tresky, ctresky@defenders.org or (202) 772-0253


Draft Federal Gunnison Sage-Grouse Plan Raises Concern for Species’ Recovery

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last night the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its draft resource management plan amendment for the Gunnison sage-grouse, an imperiled ground-dwelling bird found only in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Unfortunately, proposed management prescriptions in the draft fall short of the science-based measures needed to protect and recover the species on public lands.

The Gunnison sage grouse was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2014, due in part to a lack of protections for the species on BLM land. More than 40 percent of the bird’s remaining habitat is located on BLM land, and almost all of it was designated critical habitat to support the species’ recovery. BLM’s plan amendment is supposed to ensure that development and land use activities, such as oil and gas drilling, construction of transmission lines and livestock grazing, are conducted in a manner that avoids degrading Gunnison sage-grouse habitat and contributes to the species’ conservation. The final plan, expected in 2017, must be markedly improved from the draft to achieve these goals.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

“The Gunnison sage-grouse has long been recognized as one of the most endangered birds in North America. Every effort must be made to protect this rare species and its sagebrush habitat.

“The Bureau of Land Management has a key role and prime opportunity to protect the Gunnison sage-grouse, but the agency’s draft plan doesn’t cut it.

“Fortunately, there is substantial local support for recovering the Gunnison sage-grouse. A recent poll shows that 66 percent of people living in Gunnison sage-grouse range support protecting the grouse until it is fully recovered. Defenders looks forward to working with the Bureau of Land Management and other stakeholders to improve the final plan and save this iconic bird of the American West.”


Gunnison sage-grouse range has been reduced by an estimated 90 percent of its historic distribution. There are an estimated 4,800 Gunnison sage-grouse remaining. The largest population, about 4,000 birds, inhabits Colorado’s Gunnison Basin. The Gunnison sage-grouse is related to but rarer than the greater sage-grouse, which is the focus of a separate debate over federal protection.

The BLM’s range-wide planning area consists of more than 600,000 acres of public land in Chaffee, Delta, Dolores, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray, Saguache, and San Miguel counties in Colorado, and Grand and San Juan counties in Utah. BLM’s preferred management alternative would fail to protect sage-grouse breeding and nesting habitat and essential wintering areas from development and disturbance. It proposes inadequate prescriptions for locating transmission lines, roads and other rights-of-way in core habitat areas, permitting new oil and gas development in Gunnison sage-grouse range and ensuring that livestock grazing does not adversely affect the grouse and their seasonal habitats.

A poll released at the fourth Gunnison Sage-Grouse Summit in March 2016 shows that a majority of voters (66 percent) from across the political spectrum who live in the heart of the Gunnison sage-grouse range support protecting the iconic bird as threatened under the ESA until they are fully recovered. The poll also reflects results from other recent polling in Colorado and nationwide that found broad support for the ESA.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org. For the latest news from Defenders, follow us at @DefendersNews. To learn more about Defenders' work, follow Jamie Rappaport Clark at @JClarkprez