Gunnison Sage Grouse Headed for Extinction – Conservation Groups Seek Emergency Protection


March 17, 2004


* Mark Salvo, American Lands Alliance (503) 757-4221
* Jacob Smith, Center for Native Ecosystems (303) 546-0214
* Rob Edward, Sinapu (303) 447-8655
* Amy Atwood, Western Environmental Law Center (541) 485-2471 x 105

The Gunnison sage grouse is on the brink of extinction, conservation organizations charged in a lawsuit filed yesterday afternoon in federal court. The coalition filed litigation in Washington, D.C. district court asking the court to order the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to emergency list the Gunnison sage grouse as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Division of Wildlife, and related working groups have failed to recover the species, despite years of collaborative planning and processes,” said Mark Salvo, Grasslands and Deserts Advocate for American Lands Alliance. “Without emergency protection, we might lose this bird.”

“The Gunnison sage grouse is struggling to hang on,” said Jacob Smith, Executive Director of Center for Native Ecosystems. “And now the discovery of West Nile virus in the Gunnison Basin could ravage the largest remaining population.” Many bird species, including sage grouse, are susceptible to West Nile virus, a disease carried by mosquitoes that is spreading across the West. Livestock grazing, drought, motorized recreation, and poor land use planning also threaten the species’ continued existence.

“The Gunnison sage grouse is the proverbial canary in a coal mine,” said Sinapu’s Rob Edward, Carnivore Restoration Director. “In this case, the bird’s potential extinction foreshadows the withering health of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem in Colorado. We owe it to our grandchildren to save this bird by protecting its dwindling habitat.”

Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) (soon to be renamed simply as “Gunnison grouse” by the American Ornithologists’ Union) is a distinct species of sage grouse that occurs in small, isolated populations in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. Conservationists petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the grouse in 2000, when the total population comprised approximately 3,500 individuals. However, the species has continued to decline by as much as 30 percent in the past two years, to less than 2,700 birds.

Bureaucratic foot-dragging by the Fish and Wildlife Service persists, even while the Gunnison sage grouse continues its decline toward extinction, the groups point out. “It is time for the Service to finally grant the species the protection it legally deserves,” contends attorney Amy Atwood of Western Environmental Law Center.

Organizations filing the litigation include American Lands Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, The Larch Company, and Sinapu. They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center. For more information, and a downloadable photograph of the Gunnison sage grouse, please visit


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