Gunnison Sage-Grouse Needs You!
by Nate Swick
When the Gunnison Sage-Grouse was formally described in 2000 - by researchers associated primarily with Western State Colorado University - it was the first new species described in continental North America since the 19th Century, a remarkable occurance in a landmass so populous and well-mapped. It had been overlooked for quite some time, in part due to its similarity to the larger and more widely distributed Greater Sage-Grouse and in part due to the fact that there are just not that many individuals of this species around.
While they historically could be found in proper habitat throughout the four corners regions, the range of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse now consists solely of tiny disparate pockets of sageland in southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah. These are unfortunately the same pockets overgrazed by ranchers, sucked dry by argirculture, and marked for development of fossil fuel infrastructure by energy interests eager to take advantage of a boom in the nation's domestic capacity. In the past those species caught at the crossroads of environment and industry have not fared too well, but federal protection under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act has been a critical distinction of those which have managed to endure. Unfortunately, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, despite nearly a decade of trying and at least two near misses, has not yet been granted this distinction.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is now accepting public comments on the latest attempt to list Gunnison Sage-Grouse through this Tuesday, March 12. We urge you to do so, and information on how to make your voice heard is here.
Our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are all over this topic. Director John Fitzpatrick penned an editorial in the New York Times here, and offered more thoughts on Cornell's Round Robin blog.
Fitzpatrick writes that we are now "entering our last possible period in which emergency actions could save this species.". So please do your small part to encourage the USFWS to finally do the right thing to officer critical protections to one of North America's most fascinating bird species.
We overlooked the Gunnison Sage-Grouse for more than a century. Let's not let it quietly slip away from our own backyard.