Sep 212015
 

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, joined by four Western governors, the directors of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Geological Survey, and the chiefs of the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, "will make a major announcement related to the historic conservation effort for the greater sage-grouse" in Colorado tomorrow.

News organizations have widely reported that Jewell and the assembled agency heads (along with a rancher from Nevada and an executive with Audubon Rockies) will be announcing the long-awaited decision on whether listing of the greater sage-grouse is "warranted" under the Endangered Species Act.

Given the hoopla surrounding the event, the attendance by the governors of Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado and Montana, and the wording of the Interior Department's media advisory, it appears unlikely that the outcome can be anything other than "not warranted."

Of course, that is speculation, but it's informed speculation. Hardly a week has gone by in the last few months without a news release about a new commitment of money and or/land to conserve the iconic sagebrush species, along with a mention of the "unprecedented" landscape-scale effort undertaken by the feds, states and ranchers.

The advisory followed the same script.

"[T]he long-term decline of the greater sage-grouse and its sagebrush habitat has sparked an unprecedented collaborative, science-based conservation effort across 11 western states." It hardly seems possible that the dignitaries are showingup to hear about a proposed listing of the bird.

Indeed, last week Jewell told media attending a briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that she was "optimistic that a not warranted [decision] is possible," according to an article in the Washington Examiner with the wishful headline, "Interior chief sees no endangered species listing for sage grouse."

""What has happened in this collaborative work is really the way I think the Endangered Species Act should work," she said.

One example of that collaboration is the Colorado Habitat Exchange, announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper last week.

"The Colorado Habitat Exchange works to engage ranchers in voluntary conservation efforts by offering financial incentives to create, maintain and improve habitat on their property," the governor's office said in a news release. "Landowners earn conservation credits for these activities, which they can sell to industry to compensate for development, such as roads, oil and gas facilities and other infrastructure that impact species and habitat."

The state has asked FWS and BLM to "recognize" the exchange. “No one wants to see this bird on the Endangered Species List, and this program is our best chance of keeping the bird off the list, now and in the future,” said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

But Erik Molvar, Sagebrush Sea Campaign Director for WildEarth Guardians, warned that although voluntary conservation is "laudable," conservation banking cannot be used "as an alternative to having real sage grouse protections."

So far, banking's track record is not enviable, he said, pointing to efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken as an example.

Molvar also said he doesn't know what the final decision will be. The government, he said is keeping the announcement "close to the vest."

"There is a growing sense, though no certainty, that the bird will not be listed — at least for now," a story in today's Los Angeles Times said.

More coverage:

Gunnison sage grouse listed as threatened

 Posted by on November 12, 2014
Nov 122014
 

New: Transcript of teleconference (added Wed., Nov. 13, 12:30 pm)

See tweets at https://twitter.com/ESWR_Update

Press release announcing listing of GSG as threatened.

It's official: The Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened. The service is about to make the announcement on a teleconference, but FWS Director Dan Ashe decided to spill the beans early in a meeting at The Denver Post, whose editorial board does not believe the species should be listed.

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the decision. See below.

Ashe remarks (from teleconference):

"what has been called the Sagebrush Sea...has been in decline."

"we did that [proposed it as endangered] primarily due to habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation."

conservation efforts have reduced threats to the bird (leading to threatened, not endangered, listing)

If anything happens to core population, satellite populations would be essential to help species rebound.

Have been in contact with governor's office to determine what protections are in place now (in preparation for 4(d) rule)

Will be working with NRCS and Farm Services Administration to develop Biological Opinion.

Re: Gunnison sage grouse decision as "predicate" for greater sage-grouse decision:

"These are separate species and a much different fact pattern. The F&WS makes decisions on the facts and the science as we see it in each case. We respond to information that's presented to us."

Greater sage-grouse has a wider range, larger population, he says

Conference opinion: A process has been underway for a month. That conference opinion is with NRCS, in a process of review. We expect to have that completed by time is rule is effective.

Thabault: Basic things that will be covered with NRCS: Implementtion of pro-active measures; Farm Bill programs: Water developments, range management plans.

Earlier version of this story:

The Fish and Wildlife Service will announce its decision whether to list the Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act at 11 a.m. Mountain Time -- 1 p.m. Eastern Time.

That's when the service will hold a teleconference to announce its final judgment, which the state of Colorado tried to delay at the last minute.

Gunnison sage-grouse displaying (Credit: Nop Paothong)

That effort was unsuccessful, however. The court-mandated deadline for a final listing decision is today, and FWS will meet it, spokesmen told ESWR.

The service proposed listing the bird as endangered in January 2013. At the time, FWS said it had determined that

the principal threat to Gunnison sage-grouse is habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation due to residential, exurban, and commercial development and associated infrastructure such as roads and power lines. The human population is increasing throughout much of the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, and data indicate this trend will continue. With this growth, we expect an increase in human development, further contributing to loss and fragmentation of Gunnison sage-grouse habitats. Other threats to the species include improper grazing management; predation (often facilitated by human development or disturbance); genetic risks in the declining, smaller populations; and inadequate local, State, and Federal regulatory mechanisms (e.g., laws, regulations, zoning) to conserve the species. Other factors that may not individually threaten the continued existence of Gunnison sage- grouse but, collectively, have the potential to threaten the species, include invasive plants, fire, and climate change, and the interaction of these three factors; fences; renewable and non-renewable energy development; piñon-juniper encroachment; water development; disease;, drought; and recreation.

Erik Molvar, director of WildEarth Guardians' Sagebrush Sea Campaign, said he would be surprised if the species were not listed.

Federal agencies have been slow to include Gunnison sage grouse habitat protections in their management plans in the bird's range in Southwest Colorado and Eastern Utah, he said this morning. "There's not much protection from federally permitted activities."

Locally, some counties with sage grouse "have been fairly active," he said. Others have not done anything. But "no county has decisively acted to protect Gunnison sage grouse on private land," he said.

Even Gunnison County, which supports some 80 percent of the remaining sage-grouse (which number about 5,000 in total), "has never denied a permit to build or subdivide" in sage grouse habitat, Molvar said.

------------------

PRESS RELEASE 11/12/2014

Contacts:

Clait Braun, Sage Grouse Scientist, (520) 529-4614
Erik Molvar, WildEarth Guardians, (307) 399-7910
Todd Tucci, Advocates for the West, (208) 724-2142
Shelley Silbert, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, (970) 385-9577

Sage Grouse Scientist, Conservationists Challenge Feds'
Failure to Adequately Protect the Gunnison Sage Grouse

Critically imperiled bird needs stronger safeguards to survive and recover

DENVER, CO – A coalition including leading sage grouse expert Dr. Clait Braun and several western conservation organizations announced today a challenge to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to adequately protect the imperiled Gunnison sage grouse. Fewer than 5,000 Gunnison sage grouse remain, yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to protect the imperiled bird as an “endangered” species, choosing instead a less protective status as “threatened.”

"I have been researching and monitoring Gunnison sage grouse populations and habitat for almost 40 years,” said Dr. Clait Braun, a retired sage grouse expert with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “Today, Gunnison sage grouse stand at the precipice of extinction due to the impacts of grazing, oil and gas development, residential subdivisions, and other factors; and existing conservation plans and strategies are inadequate to stop this decline. Only science-based approaches to conservation will save Gunnison sage grouse, and it past time to let science dictate appropriate conservation measures.”

“The Endangered Species Act provides the safety net for saving our most endangered wildlife from extinction when other efforts are failing,” added Todd Tucci of Advocates for the West. “But it only works if the most imperiled species, like the Gunnison sage grouse, get real protections on the ground, including adequate critical habitat.”

In January 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bird as ‘endangered’ citing ongoing threats and the inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms to prevent the disappearance of the birds in each of the seven remaining populations. Gunnison sage grouse are absent from 90 percent of their historic range. As of January 2013, fewer than 5,000 Gunnison sage grouse remain in just seven isolated populations, six of which are below minimum viable population numbers, meaning those populations are facing serious, short term risk of extinction.

“Imperiled by irresponsible grazing, oil and gas drilling, residential development, roads, powerlines and the cumulative impacts of these threats, the fewer than 5,000 remaining Gunnison sage grouse need the strongest possible protections to ensure they survive and recover,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “The science is clear, this spectacular dancing bird is endangered and should be afforded the highest level of protection.”

A recent analysis by WildEarth Guardians and Rocky Mountain Wild found that state, federal, and local protections currently in place cannot successfully address the multiple threats to the Gunnison sage grouse and its habitat. Livestock grazing, rural subdivision development, habitat fragmentation by infrastructure such as roads and powerlines, and oil and gas development continue to threaten the survival of the bird. Voluntary conservation efforts are not enforceable and have not led to recovery for the Gunnison sage grouse.

“We can’t gamble on the survival of this bird with the voluntary or scientifically inadequate protections that could be allowed under a ‘threatened species’ designation,” said Molvar. “This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Our generation cannot make the same mistakes of doing too little, too late to prevent the extinction of this iconic bird.”

“As a society, we love wide open landscapes, water, and wildlife. The decline of the Gunnison sage grouse is a symptom of our failure as a society to maintain the health of the Four Corners region,” said Shelley Silbert, Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “By protecting the sage grouse, we can restore the sagebrush ecosystem, benefitting many other species of wildlife and respecting the importance the connection to the land holds for our families and communities.”

Advocates for the West will represent Dr. Braun, WildEarth Guardians, Wild Utah Project, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness in the expected legal action.