For Immediate Release, September 23, 2020

Contact:

Ryan Shannon, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6407, rshannon@biologicaldiversity.org
Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, (307) 399-7910, emolvar@westernwatersheds.org

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Colorado’s Critically Imperiled Gunnison Sage Grouse

Immediate Protection From Livestock Grazing Needed to Prevent Extinction

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project notified the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Parks Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today of their intent to sue over the agencies’ failure to adequately protect the Gunnison sage grouse in the Gunnison Basin, where the majority of remaining birds survive.

The group’s letter alerts the agencies that their reliance on the Gunnison Basin Candidate Conservation Agreement, which was developed in 2013 to minimize risks and harms from the agencies’ authorization of grazing, development and recreation in the Gunnison Basin, is unlawful. Based on outdated conservation measures that ignore a decade and a half of new information about the species’ needs, the agreement has failed to protect the grouse, whose numbers in the Basin have plummeted to historic lows while the agencies have failed to carry out required conservation measures.

“The Gunnison sage grouse stands on the brink of extinction, and we need all hands on deck to save these magnificent birds,” said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center. “These federal agencies need to step up and take meaningful action on livestock grazing and other threats destroying the grouse, before it’s too late.”

Since the conservation agreement was adopted, the Gunnison sage-grouse population in the Gunnison Basin has declined dramatically from 3,149 in 2013 to only 1,667 in 2020 — a more than 40% decline in just six years.

Surveys of the male birds on their “leks,” or mating grounds, in the Gunnison Basin conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife detected only 363 males in 2019 — down from 848 in 2013, when the agreement was developed. While numbers rebounded slightly in 2020, the species is still in dire straits.

“The conservation measures in the agreement have never been adequate to protect this species, especially now in light of the species’ shocking decline rangewide,” said Talasi Brooks, a staff attorney with Western Watersheds Project. “It’s never been clearer that Gunnison sage grouse need enforceable protections based upon modern science.”

In the latest survey, 86% of all remaining sage grouse were counted in the Gunnison Basin subpopulation. 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.

Sage grouse are indicator species for sagebrush habitats, and the Gunnison sage grouse’s decline spells trouble for many other species dependent on this uniquely North American ecosystem.

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.