Bennet, Udall, Tipton Applaud Fish and Wildlife Service for Six-Month Extension on Gunnison Sage Grouse Decision

Extension Announcement Comes on Heels of Bipartisan Congressional Letter

Washington, DC – Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and Representative Scott Tipton today applauded the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) announcement to grant a six-month extension before making a final decision regarding whether to list the Gunnison sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The announcement comes on the heels of a letter sent last week asking for the extension and outlining Colorado’s collaborative work to protect the bird.

“The decision to extend the deadline for a final decision on the listing of the Gunnison sage grouse is welcome news to officials and communities in southwest Colorado who have worked hard to determine the best way to protect this species and its habitat,” Bennet said. “We look forward to working with the agencies and everyone on the ground in Colorado to achieve local consensus on the best way to manage a healthy population of the species going forward.”

“An Endangered Species Act listing for the Gunnison Sage Grouse could affect a wide swath of ranchers, businesses and residents throughout western Colorado,” Udall said. “I am proud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has heeded our calls to take a measured, careful approach on this important decision. I look forward to continuing to work with the agency and local stakeholders to ensure that any actions are taken based on science, input from the people of the Western Slope and knowledge of the conservation measures that are already underway.”

“Colorado has been a leader in Gunnison sage-grouse recovery with successful locally-tailored efforts that take into account the unique geography and environment of the region in order to best preserve the species. This announcement is good news for these local conservation efforts, and I hope that during this time, the Fish and Wildlife Service takes into account all public comments submitted, and closely considers the recommendations of those that live in the communities most affected,” Tipton said. “It would also be helpful for the Fish and Wildlife Service to provide state and local officials with measurable expectations for recovery of the grouse so we can ensure those goals are being met at the local level.”

Western communities have been working to conserve the Gunnison sage grouse for years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposal to designate the bird as an endangered species and to designate over 1.7 million acres of critical habitat in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah has spurred additional collaboration among counties and stakeholders to develop a locally-led plan to preserve the sage grouse.

In a letter to the cabinet secretaries last week, the lawmakers wrote, “In response to the proposed listing of the Gunnison sage grouse, stakeholders in Colorado worked to implement strong and binding voluntary conservation measures throughout the bird’s local habitat. Local governments and private landowners used a variety of tools to protect the species… These efforts and others have led to the expenditure of over $30 million in public and private funds, all with the goal of preserving the species. Thanks to these initiatives we’ve made great progress – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) data now show the population of Gunnison sage grouse has increased in the Gunnison Basin.”

Local officials in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah continue to work together to implement voluntary conservation measures throughout the local habitat. Leaders from 10 Colorado counties and Utah’s San Juan County signed a memorandum of understanding in April to continue their cooperative work to identify measures and strategies to help increase the viability and vitality of the sage-grouse.

Earlier this year, the Colorado lawmakers led a push with members of the Utah delegation to urge USFWS to extend the public comment period on the proposal in order to gather more public input on how the proposal will affect local communities and industries. USFWS granted a three-week extension, which expired in April.

Click here or read the full letter below:

July 12, 2013

Dear Secretary Jewell and Secretary Vilsack:

We are writing to invite you to our state to learn about Colorado’s successful efforts to preserve and protect the Gunnison sage grouse. We believe the collaborative and voluntary process our state has undertaken could be used as a model to protect other threatened species within Colorado and across the country.

In response to the proposed listing of the Gunnison sage grouse, stakeholders in Colorado worked to implement strong and binding voluntary conservation measures throughout the bird’s local habitat. Local governments and private landowners used a variety of tools to protect the species, including: the implementation of protective land use policies, conservation easements on private land, Conservation Agreements With Assurances and private property acquisitions. These efforts and others have led to the expenditure of over $30 million in public and private funds, all with the goal of preserving the species. Thanks to these initiatives we’ve made great progress – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) data now show the population of Gunnison sage grouse has increased in the Gunnison Basin.

In addition to the work outlined above, eleven counties in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) summarizing joint measures they will take to protect the Gunnison sage grouse within their borders. This MOU has led to a recently-finalized conservation agreement with the State of Colorado. We are hopeful that your agencies will join in these good faith efforts to initiate proactive conservation and habitat protection measures and perhaps endorse this landmark agreement. The coalition members believe these measures will ultimately achieve or exceed the species protection goals of a possible Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing. While great progress has been made, there is significant potential to illustrate even greater preservation and – given that USFWS has expressed support for locally-led conservation initiatives in the past – we would request that you grant a six month extension before making a final decision regarding whether to list the species under the ESA.

We know the Administration has many factors to weigh when considering listing a species under the Act. We know you are diligently moving through this process for the Gunnison sage grouse and believe your deliberations will benefit from witnessing firsthand the impressive work that has occurred in our home state of Colorado.

Thank you for your continued efforts on this matter and your consideration of these requests. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Michael F. Bennet
United States Senator

Mark Udall
United States Senator

Scott Tipton
United States Representative

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