The Bureau of Land Management has released the Gunnison Sage Grouse Rangewide Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a 90-day public comment period, which started Friday, Aug. 12.
The bird, which exists only in Southwest Colorado and southeast Utah, was listed as a “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in November 2014.
In its draft plan, the BLM examines the adequacy of current conservation measures for Gunnison sage grouse and considering measures on a landscape scale. The plan could amend up to 11 Resource Management Plans in Colorado and Utah to create a consistent strategy for managing public lands. The strategy will build upon actions the BLM has outlined through national and local agreements, policies and planning efforts.
“We are considering a wide range of alternatives designed to ensure consistent conservation of important sagebrush habitat on BLM-managed lands in order to facilitate the delisting of Gunnison sage grouse as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ruth Welch, state director of BLM Colorado. “We have been working with our cooperating agencies to incorporate local expertise and information. Public input in reviewing this draft is the next important step.”
The draft considers four management options that range from leaving management of Gunnison sage grouse habitat as it is under the applicable management plans, to creating a standardized approach that focuses primarily on conservation of Gunnison sage grouse habitat and recovery of the species. The preferred alternative reflects a combination of strategies to balance Gunnison sage grouse protection, resource uses and mitigation. It is broken down into sub-alternatives with management objectives tailored to individual sage-grouse populations.
There are about 5,000 Gunnison sage grouse among seven populations in Southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. The largest population, about 4,000 birds, inhabits the Gunnison Basin in Colorado. Individual populations in Colorado are known as the Piñon Mesa, Crawford, San Miguel Basin, Gunnison Basin, Poncha Pass, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa, and Dove Creek. The Utah population is near Monticello.
The BLM manages about 623,000 acres, or 37 percent, of Gunnison sage grouse habitat. According to Fish and Wildlife, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse occupies about 7-10 percent of the species’ historic range.
The Gunnison Sage-Grouse requires large expanses of sagebrush with a diversity of grasses and forbs as well as healthy wetland and riparian ecosystems. Sagebrush provides the Sage-Grouse with cover and fall and winter food.
Six smaller populations centered on Monticello, Utah, and Dove Creek are reportedly in decline, numbering in the hundreds.
The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Gunnison Sage-Grouse as threatened in 2014.
Dolores County is heavily farmed and includes substantial oil-and-gas development, limiting ideal sage-grouse habitat. Gunnison sage grouse require large expanses of sagebrush for cover and food as well as healthy wetland and riparian ecosystems.
In 2001, there were 350 birds in the Dove Creek/Monticello region. That dropped to 162 birds in 2007, and declined again to 147 birds in 2012, according to Fish and Wildlife.
Fish and Wildlife points to habitat fragmentation from roads, pipelines, and housing development as reasons for the bird’s demise. Others say the agricultural landscape, steep canyons, and alkali flats of the Dove Creek area are not ideal habitat for Fish and Wildlife’s populations goals for the sage grouse population.
“The decline is not fragmentation of land, rather the bird is heavily preyed on by ravens, crows, eagles, hawks, and coyotes,” Julie Kibel, a Dolores County commissioner, said before the listing.
Review the documentsGo to www.bit.ly/gunnison_sage-grouse.
Comments related to the Gunnison Sage-Grouse Rangewide Draft RMP Amendment/Draft EIS should be submitted by Nov. 12, , using the comment form at: http://1.usa.gov/1Uusw8C, via email to [email protected], via fax at 303-239-3699 or via mail to Gunnison Sage-Grouse EIS, Colorado State Office, 2850 Youngfield St., Lakewood, CO 80215.