The economic analysis estimates the economic impacts of Gunnison sage-grouse conservation efforts associated with livestock grazing, agriculture and water management, mineral and fossil fuel extraction, residential and related development, renewable energy development, recreation, and transportation activities. Only areas that contain habitat essential to the conservation of the species and where the benefits of this habitat outweigh potential economic impacts will be included in the final designation. The Service will use the draft environmental assessment to help decide whether critical habitat will be designated as proposed, if the proposed action requires refinement, or if further analysis is needed through preparation of an environmental impact statement.
“Thanks to collaborative conservation efforts, the largest Gunnison sage-grouse population has remained relatively stable over the past 12 years,” said the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Noreen Walsh. “However, work needs to continue to stabilize the other remaining populations and to address threats throughout the bird’s range, particularly habitat fragmentation.”
Gunnison County, Colorado, is committed to conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse and its habitat. Likewise, Federal agencies have completed a candidate conservation agreement in the Gunnison Basin; a number of private landowners are currently enrolled in voluntary conservation agreements; and a portion of private lands are in conservation easements that help conserve Gunnison sage-grouse. Combined, these conservation tools protect, at some level, the majority of occupied habitat in the Gunnison Basin. Perhaps the greatest need and challenge is to expand the suite of conservation efforts completed and underway in the Gunnison Basin to other areas across the species’ range.
Only about 5,000 breeding Gunnison sage-grouse remain, occupying seven percent of their former range, which once encompassed northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico in addition to Colorado and Utah. As a result of these declines and ongoing threats to survival, the Service on January 11, 2013, proposed ESA protection for the species and proposed the designation of critical habitat essential for the species’ survival and recovery.
Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA and identifies geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, and has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits.
Comments or information previously submitted on the proposed rules should not be resubmitted. These comments have been incorporated into the public record, and the Service will fully consider them in the preparation of final determinations.
A public information session and public hearing in Gunnison, Colorado, is scheduled for October 7, 2013, at Western State Colorado University, University Center, 600 N. Adams Street, including an information session from 4-5 p.m., a break and speaker sign-in, and a public hearing from 6-9 p.m. A public information session and public hearing in Monticello, Utah, is scheduled for October 8, 2013, at Monticello High School Auditorium, 164 South 200 West, including an information session from 4-5 p.m., a break and speaker sign-in, and a public hearing from 6-9 p