Online Messenger #275
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Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sought another delay in its deadline for protecting Gunnison sage-grouse. This is the fourth time since 2011 that the Service has tried to put off providing an Endangered Species Act listing for the imperiled bird. The latest delay is intended to allow additional time for the Service to develop a less-protective rule.
Special interest groups, including ranchers and the oil and gas industries, have apparently strong-armed the Service into stalling out again, with the decision now being safely delayed until after the November elections. It’s sadly political for a decision supposed to be based in science.
The Gunnison and greater sage-grouse were only recognized as separate species in 2000. Gunnison sage-grouse formerly occupied large parts of Colorado and was found in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and probably in Kansas. Today, after a hundred years of livestock grazing throughout its habitat, and the expansion of agricultural and other human developments throughout its historic range, this magnificent bird is found in only seven small, fragmented populations in Colorado and Utah.
At least 87 percent of currently occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat on Federal lands is grazed by domestic livestock.
Livestock grazing degrades the sagebrush habitat that provides cover and food for the birds, reduces the residual vegetation height needed for successful nesting and reproduction, promotes invasion of cheatgrass and other exotic weed species, and degrades the riparian habitats essential for brood-rearing. Sage-grouse are stressed in the presence of livestock and nesting hens may be so disturbed that they abandon their nests. Sage-grouse collision with livestock fences is an important cause of mortality. The extensive infrastructure constructed to facilitate livestock grazing in these arid regions such as fences, pipelines, and water developments degrade and fragment habitat and become source areas for the spread of weeds.
Without the immediate protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the bird will suffer. It can’t afford to wait until the polls close in November.