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

For Immediate Release: December 7, 2020

Contact:

Ryan Shannon, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6407, rshannon@biologicaldiversity.org

Talasi Brooks, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 336-9077, tbrooks@westernwatersheds.org

 

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project today sued the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the Gunnison sage grouse from harmful livestock grazing in the Gunnison Basin, where the largest surviving population has been in steep decline.

The lawsuit challenges the agencies’ continued reliance on a 2013 conservation agreement that was supposed to protect the grouse from undue harm from grazing and other activities. But the conservation agreement has failed to protect the grouse, whose numbers in the Basin have plummeted to historic lows. Meanwhile the agencies have failed to carry out many of the agreement’s outdated and inadequate conservation measures. 

“The Gunnison sage grouse is in sharp decline and will certainly go extinct if immediate action isn’t taken to save it,” said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center. “The BLM and the Forest Service need to step up before it’s too late and protect these beautiful grouse from livestock grazing. Now is not time to twiddle thumbs.”

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. Rangewide the species has declined by nearly 50%.

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.

“Many of the federal lands leased for livestock grazing in Gunnison sage grouse habitat have been failing basic land-health standards as a direct result of heavy livestock grazing,” said Talasi Brooks, staff attorney with Western Watersheds Project. “If we’re serious about recovering this spectacular and embattled bird, we’re going to need to address the damage being done by private cows on these public lands.” 

The Gunnison sage-grouse’s survival hinges on the fate of the Gunnison Basin population, the only truly viable population where the vast majority of all remaining sage grouse are found. Unless action is taken to ensure the survival and recovery of this critical population, little stands between the species and extinction. 

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     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 12,000 members and supporters whose mission is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and litigation.

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