For Immediate Release, July 7, 2020

Contact:

Dr. Clait E. Braun, Grouse Inc., (520) 529-4614, sgwtp66@gmail.com
Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, (307) 399-7910, emolvar@westernwatersheds.org
Ryan Shannon, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6407, rshannon@biologicaldiversity.org
Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians, (720) 443-2615, tjones@wildearthguardians.org

Gunnison Sage-Grouse in Dire Straits as Population Numbers Continue to Decline

DENVER, Colo. ­– A new survey of the Gunnison sage-grouse by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows the imperiled bird’s three-year running average count has hit a historic low, with fewer than 1,600 birds remaining in 2020.

“The only way to save Gunnison sage-grouse is to immediately suspend further degradation of their habitat,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “This means stopping livestock use of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat and denying requests for new housing developments. New oil and gas permits must be denied. Anything less turns us all into accomplices to extinction.”

“This is devastating news for the Gunnison sage-grouse, but no one should be shocked,” said Clait Braun, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s former Avian Program Manager, who discovered the Gunnison sage-grouse was a separate species in the late 1990s. “Despite the clear downward trend in recent years, Colorado and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have yet to develop robust or meaningful protections for the species. Protecting the species has to be more than a paper exercise justifying business as usual.”

In the latest survey, 86% of all remaining sage-grouse were counted in the Gunnison Basin subpopulation. However, despite the fate of the species hinging on the survival of this key subpopulation, livestock grazing and housing development continue unchecked, and so-called Gunnison sage-grouse protections have proven ineffective at arresting population declines.

“Clearly the status quo here is devastating these iconic birds,” said Ryan Shannon, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re to have any hope of saving this species, land managers on both the federal and state level have to stop relying on outdated, ineffective management plans. They need to take immediate action to protect the few surviving grouse.”

Sage-grouse are frequently considered an indicator species for sagebrush habitats and the Gunnison sage-grouse’s decline spells trouble for other species that also rely on such habitats in Colorado, like mule deer, Brewer’s sparrow and elk.

“We’re watching Gunnison sage-grouse go extinct in real time,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate with Wildearth Guardians. “But Colorado is losing something more than just this iconic bird. It's losing ecosystem resilience, habitat stability, and a suite of other values that cannot be recovered.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group founded in 1993 with 11,000 members and supporters whose mission is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and litigation.

WildEarth Guardians (www.wildearthguardians.org) is a conservation non-profit whose mission is to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. Guardians has offices in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Follow Guardians on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.