[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 8 (Friday, January 11, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 2539-2570]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-31666]



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Vol. 78

Friday,

No. 8

January 11, 2013

Part III





Department of the Interior





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Fish and Wildlife Service





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50 CFR Part 17





Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical 
Habitat for Gunnison Sage-Grouse; Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 78 , No. 8 / Friday, January 11, 2013 / 
Proposed Rules

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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111; 4500030114]
RIN 1018-AX71


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of 
Critical Habitat for Gunnison Sage-Grouse

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, propose to designate 
critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) 
under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). If we 
finalize this rule as proposed, it would extend the Act's protections 
to this species' critical habitat. The effect of this regulation is to 
designate critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse under the Act. 
In total, approximately 689,675 hectares (ha) (1,704,227 acres (ac)) 
are being proposed for designation as critical habitat in Chaffee, 
Delta, Dolores, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray, Saguache, 
and San Miguel Counties in Colorado, and in Grand and San Juan Counties 
in Utah.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before 
March 12, 2013. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES section, below) must be received by 
11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests 
for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in the FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section by February 25, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Keyword box, enter Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-
2011-0111, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the 
Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type 
heading, check on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You 
may submit a comment by clicking on ``Comment Now!''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public 
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111; Division of Policy and 
Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax 
Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see the Information Requested section below for more information).
    The coordinates or plot points or both from which the critical 
habitat maps are generated are included in the administrative record 
for this rulemaking and are available at http://www.fws.gov/coloradoES/
, http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111, and at 
the Western Colorado Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT). Any additional tools or supporting information that we may 
develop for this rulemaking will also be available at the Fish and 
Wildlife Service Web site and Field Office set out above, and may also 
be included in the preamble and/or at http://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Patty Gelatt, Western Colorado 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Colorado Field 
Office, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction, CO 81506-3946; 
telephone 970-243-2778; facsimile 970-245-6933. If you use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. Elsewhere in today's Federal 
Register, we propose to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as an endangered 
species under the Endangered Species Act. Under the Act, critical 
habitat shall be designated, to the maximum extent prudent and 
determinable, for any species determined to be an endangered or 
threatened species under the Act. Designations and revisions of 
critical habitat can only be completed by issuing a rule.
    This rule proposes to designate critical habitat for the Gunnison 
sage-grouse.
     Based on our proposal to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as 
an endangered species, we are proposing critical habitat for the 
Gunnison sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act. In total, 
approximately 689,675 hectares (ha) (1,704,227 acres (ac)) are being 
proposed for designation as critical habitat, in Chaffee, Delta, 
Dolores, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray, Saguache, and San 
Miguel Counties in Colorado, and in Grand and San Juan Counties in 
Utah.
    The basis for our action. The Act requires that the Service 
designate critical habitat at the time of listing to the extent prudent 
and determinable. We have determined that designation is prudent and 
critical habitat is determinable (see Background section below).
    We will seek peer review. We are seeking comments from 
knowledgeable individuals with scientific expertise to review our 
analysis of the best available science and application of that science 
and to provide any additional scientific information to improve this 
proposed rule. Because we will consider all comments and information 
received during the comment period, our final determination may differ 
from this proposal.

Information Requested

    We intend to take any final action resulting from this proposed 
rule based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
after consideration of economic, national security and other relevant 
impacts and will be as accurate and as effective as possible. 
Therefore, we request comments or information from the public, other 
concerned governmental agencies, Native American tribes, the scientific 
community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this 
proposed rule. We particularly seek comments concerning:
    (1) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as 
``critical habitat'' under section 4 of the Act, including whether 
there are threats to the species from human activity, the degree of 
which can be expected to increase due to the designation, and whether 
that increase in threats outweighs the benefit of designation such that 
the designation of critical habitat is not prudent.
    (2) Specific information on:
    (a) The amount and distribution of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat;
    (b) What may constitute ``physical or biological features essential 
to the conservation of the species,'' within the geographical range 
currently occupied by the species;
    (c) Where these features are currently found;
    (d) Whether any of these features may require special management 
considerations or protection;
    (e) What areas, that were occupied at the time of listing (or are 
currently occupied) and that contain features essential to the 
conservation of the species, should be included in the designation and 
why; and

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    (f) What areas not occupied at the time of listing (or the present 
time) are essential for the conservation of the species and why.
    (3) Land use designations and current or planned activities in the 
areas occupied by the species or proposed to be designated as critical 
habitat, and possible impacts of these activities on this species and 
proposed critical habitat.
    (4) Information on the projected and reasonably likely impacts of 
climate change on the Gunnison sage-grouse and proposed critical 
habitat.
    (5) Any foreseeable economic, national security, or other relevant 
impacts that may result from designating any areas that may be included 
in the final designation. We are particularly interested in any impacts 
on small entities, and the benefits of including or excluding areas 
from the proposed designation that are subject to these impacts.
    (6) Whether any specific areas we are proposing for critical 
habitat designation should be considered for exclusion under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act, and particularly whether the benefits of 
potentially excluding any specific area outweigh the benefits of 
including that area as set out in section 4(b)(2) of the Act. For 
instance, should the proposed designation exclude properties currently 
enrolled in the Gunnison sage-grouse Candidate Conservation Agreement 
with Assurances, properties under conservation easement, or properties 
held by conservation organizations, and why?
    (7) Whether our approach to designating critical habitat could be 
improved or modified in any way to provide for greater public 
participation and understanding, or to assist us in accommodating 
public concerns and comments.
    (8) The likelihood of adverse social reactions to the designation 
of critical habitat and how the consequences of such reactions, if 
likely to occur, would relate to the conservation and regulatory 
benefits of the proposed critical habitat designation.
    Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as 
scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include.
    Please note that submissions merely stating support for or 
opposition to the action under consideration without providing 
supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in 
making a determination, as section 4(b)(2) of the Act directs that 
critical habitat designations be made based on the best scientific data 
available and after consideration of economic and other relevant 
impacts.
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We request 
that you send comments only by the methods described in the ADDRESSES 
section.
    If you submit information via http://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the 
top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov. 
Please include sufficient information with your comments to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Western Colorado Field Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT).

Previous Federal Actions

    Elsewhere in today's Federal Register, we propose to list the 
Gunnison sage-grouse as an endangered species under the Endangered 
Species Act. Please see that proposed listing rule for a complete 
history of previous Federal actions.
    On September 9, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of 
Columbia approved a settlement agreement laying out a multi-year 
listing work plan for addressing candidate species, including the 
Gunnison sage-grouse. As part of this agreement, the Service agreed to 
publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register on whether to list 
Gunnison sage-grouse and designate critical habitat by September 30, 
2012. On August 13, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the District of 
Columbia modified the settlement agreement to extend this original 
deadline by 3 months, to December 30, 2012. The deadline for the final 
rule did not change and remains September 30, 2013. The request for an 
extension was made to allow more time to complete the proposed rule and 
more opportunity to engage with State and local governments, landowner 
groups, and other entities to discuss the conservation needs of the 
species. Accordingly, elsewhere in today's Federal Register, we propose 
to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as an endangered species under the 
Endangered Species Act.

Background

    For more information on Gunnison sage-grouse taxonomy, life 
history, habitat, and population descriptions and our proposal to list 
the species as an endangered species under the Act please, refer to the 
12-month finding published September 28, 2010 (75 FR 59804) and the 
proposed rule to list the species as an endangered species that is 
published elsewhere in today's Federal Register.
    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as:
    (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the 
species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which 
are found those physical or biological features:
    (a) Essential to the conservation of the species, and
    (b) Which may require special management considerations or 
protection; and
    (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas 
are essential for the conservation of the species.
    Conservation, as defined under section 3 of the Act, means to use 
and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring 
an endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures 
provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and 
procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated 
with scientific resources management such as research, census, law 
enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live 
trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where 
population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise 
relieved, may include regulated taking.
    Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the Act 
through the requirement that Federal agencies ensure, in consultation 
with the Service, that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is 
not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat does not affect 
land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or 
other conservation area. Such designation does not allow the government 
or public to access private lands. Such

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designation does not require implementation of restoration, recovery, 
or enhancement measures by non-Federal landowners. Where a landowner 
seeks or requests Federal agency funding or authorization for an action 
that may affect a listed species or critical habitat, the consultation 
requirements of section 7(a)(2) would apply, but even in the event of a 
destruction or adverse modification finding, the obligation of the 
Federal action agency and the landowner is not to restore or recover 
the species, but to implement reasonable and prudent alternatives to 
avoid destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
    Under the first prong of the Act's definition of critical habitat, 
areas within the geographic area occupied by the species at the time it 
was listed are included in a critical habitat designation if they 
contain physical or biological features (1) which are essential to the 
conservation of the species and (2) which may require special 
management considerations or protection. For these areas, critical 
habitat designations identify, to the extent known using the best 
scientific and commercial data available, those physical or biological 
features that are essential to the conservation of the species (such as 
space, food, cover, and protected habitat). In identifying those 
physical and biological features within an area, we focus on the 
principal biological or physical constituent elements (primary 
constituent elements such as roost sites, nesting grounds, seasonal 
wetlands, water quality, tide, soil type) that are essential to the 
conservation of the species. Primary constituent elements, (such as 
roost sites, nesting grounds, seasonal wetlands, water quality, tide, 
soil type), are the elements of physical or biological features that, 
when laid out in the appropriate quantity and spatial arrangement to 
provide for a species' life-history processes, are essential to the 
conservation of the species.
    Under the second prong of the Act's definition of critical habitat, 
we can designate critical habitat in areas outside the geographic area 
occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a determination 
that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. For 
example, an area formerly occupied by the species but that was not 
occupied at the time of listing may be essential to the conservation of 
the species and may be included in the critical habitat designation. We 
designate critical habitat in areas outside the geographic area 
occupied by a species only when a designation limited to its current 
range would be inadequate to ensure the conservation of the species.
    Section 4(b) (2) of the Act requires that we designate critical 
habitat on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data 
available, as well as consideration of economic, national security and 
other relevant impacts. Further, our Policy on Information Standards 
Under the Endangered Species Act (published in the Federal Register on 
July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34271)), the Information Quality Act (section 515 
of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal 
Year 2001 (Pub. L. 106-554; H.R. 5658)), and our associated Information 
Quality Guidelines, provide criteria, establish procedures, and provide 
guidance to ensure that our decisions are based on the best scientific 
data available. They require our biologists, to the extent consistent 
with the Act and with the use of the best scientific data available, to 
use primary and original sources of information as the basis for 
recommendations to designate critical habitat.
    When we determine which areas should be designated as critical 
habitat, our primary source of information is generally the information 
developed during the listing process for the species. Additional 
information sources may include articles in peer-reviewed journals, 
conservation plans developed by States and counties, scientific status 
surveys and studies, biological assessments, or other unpublished 
materials and expert opinion or personal knowledge.
    We recognize that critical habitat designated at a particular point 
in time may not include all of the habitat areas that we may later 
determine are necessary for the recovery of the species. For these 
reasons, a critical habitat designation does not signal that habitat 
outside the designated area is unimportant or may not be needed for 
recovery of the species. Areas that are important to the conservation 
of the species, both inside and outside the critical habitat 
designation, will continue to be subject to: (1) Conservation actions 
implemented under section 7(a)(1) of the Act; (2) regulatory 
protections afforded by the requirement in section 7(a)(2) of the Act 
for Federal agencies to insure their actions are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened 
species; and (3) the prohibitions of section 9 of the Act if actions 
occurring in these areas may result in take of the species. Federally 
funded or permitted projects affecting listed species outside their 
designated critical habitat areas may still result in jeopardy findings 
in some cases. These protections and conservation tools will continue 
to contribute to recovery of this species. Similarly, critical habitat 
designations made on the basis of the best available information at the 
time of designation will not control the direction and substance of 
future recovery plans, habitat conservation plans (HCPs), or other 
species conservation planning efforts if new information available at 
the time of these planning efforts calls for a different outcome.

Prudency Determination

    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12), require that, to the maximum extent 
prudent and determinable, the Secretary designate critical habitat at 
the time the species is determined to be endangered or threatened. Our 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that the designation of 
critical habitat is not prudent when one or both of the following 
situations exist: (1) The species is threatened by taking or other 
human activity, and identification of critical habitat can be expected 
to increase the degree of threat to the species, or (2) such 
designation of critical habitat would not be beneficial to the species.
    There is currently no imminent threat of take attributed to 
collection or vandalism according to the Factor B analysis in our 
proposed rule to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered (published 
elsewhere in today's Federal Register), and identification and mapping 
of critical habitat is not expected to initiate any such threat. In the 
absence of finding that the designation of critical habitat would 
increase threats to a species, if there are any benefits to a critical 
habitat designation, then a prudent finding is warranted. Here, the 
potential benefits of designation include: (1) Triggering consultation 
under section 7 of the Act, in new areas for actions in which there may 
be a Federal nexus where it would not otherwise occur because, for 
example, it is or has become unoccupied or the occupancy is in 
question; (2) focusing conservation activities on the most essential 
features and areas; (3) providing educational benefits to State or 
county governments or private entities; and (4) preventing people from 
causing inadvertent harm to the species. Therefore, because we have 
determined that the designation of critical habitat will not likely 
increase the degree of threat to the species and may provide some 
measure of benefit, we find that designation of critical

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habitat is prudent for the Gunnison sage-grouse.

Critical Habitat Determinability

    Having determined that designation is prudent, under section 
4(a)(3) of the Act we must find whether critical habitat for the 
species is determinable. Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(2) state 
that critical habitat is not determinable when one or both of the 
following situations exist:
    (i) Information sufficient to perform required analyses of the 
impacts of the designation is lacking, or
    (ii) The biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well 
known to permit identification of an area as critical habitat. When 
critical habitat is not determinable, the Act allows the Service an 
additional year to publish a critical habitat designation (16 U.S.C. 
1533(b)(6)(C)(ii)).
    We reviewed the available information pertaining to the biological 
needs of the species and habitat characteristics where the species is 
located. This and other information represent the best scientific data 
available and led us to conclude that the designation of critical 
habitat is determinable for the Gunnison sage-grouse.
Physical and Biological Features
    In accordance with section 3(5)(A)(i) and 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act and 
regulations at 50 CFR 424.12, in determining which areas within the 
geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing to 
designate as critical habitat, we consider the physical and biological 
features essential to the conservation of the species and which may 
require special management considerations or protection. These include, 
but are not limited to:
    (1) Space for individual and population growth and for normal 
behavior;
    (2) Food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or 
physiological requirements;
    (3) Cover or shelter;
    (4) Sites for breeding, reproduction, or rearing (or development) 
of offspring; and
    (5) Habitats that are protected from disturbance or are 
representative of the historical, geographical, and ecological 
distributions of a species.
    We derive the specific physical and biological features required 
for Gunnison sage-grouse from studies of this species' habitat, 
ecology, and life history as described above in the proposed listing 
rule and in greater detail in the 12-month finding published September 
28, 2010 (75 FR 59804), and information presented below. We have 
determined that the following physical and biological features are 
essential for Gunnison sage-grouse:

Space for Individual and Population Growth and for Normal Behavior

    Gunnison sage-grouse require large, interconnected expanses of 
sagebrush plant communities that contain healthy understory composed 
primarily of native, herbaceous vegetation (Patterson 1952, p. 9; Knick 
et al. 2003, p. 623; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 4-15; Knick and Connelly 
2011, entire; Pyke 2011, p. 532; Wisdom et al. 2011, entire). Gunnison 
sage-grouse may use a variety of habitats throughout their life cycle, 
such as riparian meadows, riparian areas with a shrub component, 
agricultural lands, and steppe dominated by native grasses and forbs. 
However, Gunnison sage-grouse are considered sagebrush obligates 
(Patterson 1952, p. 42; Braun et al. 1976, p. 168; Schroeder et al. 
1999, pp. 4-5; Connelly et al. 2000a, pp. 970-972; Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 4-1), and the use of non-sagebrush habitats by sage-grouse is 
dependent on the presence of sagebrush habitats in close proximity 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-18 and references therein).
    Gunnison sage-grouse move seasonally among various habitat types 
driven by breeding activities, nest and brood-rearing site 
requirements, seasonal changes in the availability of food resources, 
and response to weather conditions. In the 2005 Gunnison sage-grouse 
Rangewide Conservation Plan (RCP), annual Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
use was categorized into three seasons: (1) Breeding, (2) summer-late 
fall, and (3) winter (Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee 
(GSRSC 2005, pp. 27-31)). Sage-grouse exhibit strong site fidelity 
(loyalty to a particular area) to seasonal habitats, including 
breeding, nesting, brood-rearing, and wintering areas, even when a 
particular area may no longer be of value (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 3-
1). Adult sage-grouse rarely switch inter-annual use among these 
seasonal habitats once they have been selected (Berry and Eng 1985, pp. 
238-240; Fischer et al. 1993, p. 1039; Young 1994, pp. 42-43; Root 
2002, p. 12; Holloran and Anderson 2005, p. 749), limiting the species' 
adaptability to habitat changes.
    The pattern and scale of Gunnison sage-grouse annual movements, and 
the degree to which a given habitat patch can fulfill the species' 
annual habitat needs, are dependent on the arrangement and quality of 
habitats across the landscape. Habitat structure and quality vary 
spatially over the landscape; therefore, some areas may provide habitat 
for a single season, while other areas may provide habitat for one or 
more seasons (GSRSC 2005, pp. 25-26). In addition, plant community 
dynamics and disturbance also result in a temporal component of habitat 
variability. Rangewide, fine-scale habitat structure data on which to 
delineate seasonal habitats currently does not exist. A spatially 
explicit nest site selection model developed for the Gunnison Basin by 
Aldridge et al. (2011, pp. entire) predicted the location of the best 
Gunnison sage-grouse nesting habitat. The total area of the predicted 
best nesting habitat (containing greater than 90 percent of an 
independent sample of nest locations) amounted to approximately half of 
the study area (Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 7). However, this model does 
not predict Gunnison sage-grouse seasonal habitat needs outside of the 
nesting season.
    Gunnison sage-grouse make relatively large movements on an annual 
basis. Maximum Gunnison sage-grouse annual movements in relation to lek 
capture have been reported as 18.5 km (11.5 mi) (GSRSC 2005, p. J-3), 
and 17.3 km (10.7 mi) (Saher 2011, pers. comm.), and individual 
Gunnison sage-grouse location points can be up to 27.9 km (17.3 mi) 
apart within a given year (Root 2002, pp. 14-15). Individual Gunnison 
sage-grouse have been documented to move more than 56.3 km (35 mi) to 
wintering areas in the Gunnison Basin in Colorado (Phillips 2011, pers. 
comm.). While it is likely that some areas encompassed within these 
movement boundaries are used only briefly as movement areas, the extent 
of these movements demonstrate the large-scale annual habitat 
requirements of the species.
    Therefore, based on the species' year-round reliance on sagebrush 
and the various seasonal habitat requirements discussed above, we 
identify sagebrush plant communities of sufficient size and 
configuration to encompass all seasonal habitats, including areas used 
to move between seasonal habitats, for a given population of Gunnison 
sage-grouse to be a physical or biological feature essential to the 
conservation of this species.

Food, Water, Air, Light, Minerals, or Other Nutritional or 
Physiological Requirements

    Food resources used by Gunnison sage-grouse vary throughout the 
year because of seasonal changes in food availability and specific 
dietary requirements of breeding hens and

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chicks. The diet of Gunnison sage-grouse is composed of nearly 100 
percent sagebrush in the winter, while forbs, insects, and sagebrush 
are important dietary components during the remainder of the year 
(Wallestad et al. 1975, p. 21; Barnett and Crawford 1994, p. 117; 
Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 5; Young et al. 2000, p. 452).
    Pre-laying hens are particularly dependent on forbs and the insects 
supported by native herbaceous understories (Drut et al. 1994, pp. 173-
175). The Gunnison sage-grouse hen pre-laying period is from 
approximately late-March to early April. Pre-laying habitats for sage-
grouse hens need to provide a diversity of vegetation including forbs 
that are rich in calcium, phosphorous, and protein to meet the 
nutritional needs of females during the egg development period (Barnett 
and Crawford 1994, p. 117; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 970). During the 
pre-laying period, female sage-grouse select forbs that generally have 
higher amounts of calcium and crude protein than sagebrush (Barnett and 
Crawford 1994, p. 117).
    Forbs and insects are essential nutritional components for sage-
grouse chicks (Klebenow and Gray 1968, pp. 81-83; Peterson 1970, pp. 
149-151; Johnson and Boyce 1991, p. 90; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 3-3). 
During the first 3 weeks after hatching, insects are the primary food 
of chicks (Patterson 1952, p. 201; Klebenow and Gray 1968, p. 81; 
Peterson 1970, pp. 150-151; Johnson and Boyce 1990, pp. 90-91; Johnson 
and Boyce 1991, p. 92; Drut et al. 1994, p. 93; Pyle and Crawford 1996, 
p. 320; Fischer et al. 1996a, p. 194). Diets of 4- to 8-week-old 
greater sage-grouse chicks were found to have more plant material as 
the chicks matured (Peterson 1970, p. 151). Succulent forbs are 
predominant in the diet until chicks exceed 3 months of age, at which 
time sagebrush becomes a major dietary component (Klebenow 1969, pp. 
665-656; Connelly and Markham 1983, pp. 171-173; Fischer et al. 1996b, 
p. 871; Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 5).
    Decreased availability of forbs corresponded to a decrease in the 
number of chicks per hen and brood size (Barnett and Crawford 1994, p. 
117). Gunnison sage-grouse population dynamics appear to be most 
sensitive to female reproductive success and chick survival (GSRSC 
2005, p. G-13). Therefore, habitats that support sagebrush vegetation 
as well as a vegetative understory composed of native grasses and forbs 
are essential to key demographic rates.
    In most areas within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, the 
herbaceous understory component of sagebrush plant communities 
typically dries out as summer progresses into fall. Habitats used by 
Gunnison sage-grouse in summer through late-fall are typically more 
mesic than surrounding habitats during this time of year (GSRSC 2005, 
p. 30). These areas are used primarily for foraging because they 
provide reliable sources of green, herbaceous vegetation when this 
resource is seasonally limited on the landscape. Specifically, these 
areas include: Riparian communities, springs, seeps, mesic meadows, or 
the margins of irrigated hay meadows and alfalfa fields (GSRSC 2005, p. 
30). However, seasonal foraging habitats typically receive use by 
Gunnison sage-grouse only if they are within 50 m (165 ft.) of 
surrounding sagebrush plant communities (CSGWG 1997, p. 13).
    In winter, greater and Gunnison sage-grouse diet is almost 
exclusively sagebrush (Rasmussen and Griner 1938, p. 855; Batterson and 
Morse 1948, p. 20; Patterson 1952, pp. 197-198; Wallestad et al. 1975, 
pp. 628-629; Young et al. 2000, p. 452). Various species of sagebrush 
can be consumed by sage-grouse (Remington and Braun 1985, pp. 1056-
1057; Welch et al. 1988, p. 276, 1991; Myers 1992, p. 55). Habitats 
used by Gunnison sage-grouse during winter typically consist of 15 to 
30 percent sagebrush cover, similar to those used by greater sage-
grouse (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 972; Young et al. 2000, p. 451). 
However, Gunnison sage-grouse may also use areas with more deciduous, 
non-sagebrush shrubs during the winter (Young et al. 2000, p. 451). In 
all suitable winter habitats, the height of sagebrush must be tall 
enough so that leaves are still exposed when wintering areas are 
largely covered with snow.
    Based on the information above, we identify sagebrush plant 
communities that contain herbaceous vegetation consisting of a 
diversity and abundance of forbs, insects, and grasses, that fulfill 
all Gunnison sage-grouse seasonal dietary requirements, to be a 
physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of this 
species. We also identify as such features non-sagebrush habitats 
located adjacent to sagebrush plant communities that are used by 
Gunnison sage-grouse for foraging during seasonally dry periods. These 
habitats are generally more mesic than surrounding habitat, and include 
wet meadows, riparian areas, and irrigated pastures.

Cover or Shelter

    Predation is the most commonly identified cause of direct mortality 
for sage-grouse during all life stages, and Gunnison sage-grouse 
require sagebrush and herbaceous vegetation yearlong for escape and 
hiding cover (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 9; Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 
228; GSGRC 2005, p. 138; Connelly et al. 2011, p. 66). Major predators 
of adult sage-grouse include many species including golden eagles 
(Aquila chrysaetos), red foxes (Vulpes fulva), and bobcats (Felis 
rufus) (Hartzler 1974, pp. 532-536; Schroeder et al. 1999, pp. 10-11; 
Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 25; Rowland and Wisdom 2002, p. 14; 
Hagen 2011, p. 97). Most raptor predation of sage-grouse is on 
juveniles and older age classes (GSRSC 2005, p. 135). Juvenile sage-
grouse also are killed by common ravens (Corvus corax), badgers 
(Taxidea taxus), red foxes, coyotes (Canis latrans) and weasels 
(Mustela spp.) (Braun 1995, entire; Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 10). Nest 
predators include badgers, weasels, coyotes, common ravens, American 
crows (Corvus brachyrhyncos) and magpies (Pica spp.), elk (Cervus 
canadensis) (Holloran and Anderson 2003, p. 309), and domestic cows 
(Bovus spp.) (Coates et al. 2008, pp. 425-426). Ground squirrels 
(Spermophilus spp.) also have been identified as nest predators 
(Patterson 1952, p. 107; Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 10; Schroder and 
Baydack 2001, p. 25), but recent data show that they are physically 
incapable of puncturing eggs (Holloran and Anderson 2003, p. 309; 
Coates et al. 2008, p. 426; Hagen 2011, p. 97). Young (1994, p. 37) 
found the most common predators of Gunnison sage-grouse eggs were 
weasels, coyotes, and corvids.
    Nest predation appears to be related to the amount of herbaceous 
cover surrounding the nest (Gregg et al. 1994, p. 164; Braun 1995, pp. 
1-2; DeLong et al. 1995, p. 90; Braun 1998; Coggins 1998, p. 30; 
Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 975; Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 25; 
Coates and Delehanty 2008, p. 636). Females actively select nest sites 
with the presence of big sagebrush and grass and forb cover (Connelly 
et al. 2000, p. 971), and nesting success of greater sage-grouse is 
positively correlated with these qualities (Schroeder and Baydack 2001, 
p. 25; Hagen et al. 2007, p. 46). Likewise, reduced herbaceous cover 
for young chicks can increase their rate of predation (Schroeder and 
Baydack 2001, p. 27), and high shrub canopy cover at nest sites was 
related to lower levels of predation by visual predators, such as the 
common raven (Coates 2007, p. 148). However, herbaceous cover may not 
be effective in deterring olfactory predators such as badgers (Coates 
2007, p. 149).
    Gunnison sage-grouse nearly exclusively use sagebrush plant 
communities during the winter season

[[Page 2545]]

for thermal cover and to meet nutritional needs. Sagebrush stand 
selection in winter is influenced by snow depth (Patterson 1952, pp. 
188-189; Connelly 1982 as cited in Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 980) and 
in some areas, topography (Beck 1977, p. 22; Crawford et al. 2004, p. 
5). Winter sagebrush use areas are associated with drainages, ridges, 
or southwest aspects with slopes less than 15 percent (Beck 1977, p. 
22). Lower flat areas and shorter sagebrush along ridge tops provide 
roosting areas. In extreme winter conditions, greater sage-grouse will 
spend nights and portions of the day burrowed into ``snow burrows'' 
(Back et al. 1987, p. 488), and we expect Gunnison sage-grouse to 
exhibit the same behavior. Hupp and Braun (1989, p. 825) found that 
most Gunnison sage-grouse feeding activity in the winter occurred in 
drainages and on slopes with south or west aspects in the Gunnison 
Basin. During a severe winter in the Gunnison Basin in 1984, less than 
10 percent of the sagebrush was exposed above the snow and available to 
sage-grouse (Hupp, 1987, pp. 45-46). In these conditions, the tall and 
vigorous sagebrush typical in drainages was an especially important 
food source.
    Therefore, based on the information above, we identify sagebrush 
plant communities consisting of adequate shrub and herbaceous structure 
to provide year-round escape and hiding cover, as well as areas that 
provide concealment of nests and broods during the breeding season, and 
winter season thermal cover to be a physical or biological feature 
essential to the conservation of this species. Quantitative information 
on cover can be found in the Primary Constituent Elements for Gunnison 
Sage-Grouse section below.

Sites for Breeding, Reproduction, or Rearing (or Development) of 
Offspring

    Lek Sites--Lek sites (communal breeding areas) can be located on 
areas of bare soil, wind-swept ridges, exposed knolls, low sagebrush, 
meadows, and other relatively open sites with good visibility and low 
vegetation structure (Connelly et al. 1981, pp. 153-154; Gates 1985, 
pp. 219-221; Klott and Lindzey 1989, pp. 276-277; Connelly et al. 2004, 
p. 3-7 and references therein). In addition, leks are usually located 
on flat to gently sloping areas of less than 15 percent grade 
(Patterson 1952, p. 83; Giezentanner and Clark 1974, p. 218; Wallestad 
1975, p. 17; Autenrieth 1981, p. 13). Leks are often surrounded by 
denser shrub-steppe cover, which is used for escape, and thermal and 
feeding cover. Leks can be formed opportunistically at any appropriate 
site within or adjacent to nesting habitat (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 
970). Lek habitat availability is not considered to be a limiting 
factor for sage-grouse (Schroeder 1997, p. 939). However, adult male 
sage-grouse demonstrate strong yearly fidelity to lek sites (Patterson 
1952, p. 91; Dalke 1963 et al., pp. 817-818), and some Gunnison sage-
grouse leks have been used since the 1950s (Rogers 1964, pp. 35-40).
    Nesting Habitat--Gunnison sage-grouse typically select nest sites 
under sagebrush cover with some forb and grass cover (Young 1994, p. 
38), and successful nests were found in higher shrub density and 
greater forb and grass cover than unsuccessful nests (Young 1994, p. 
39). The understory of productive sage-grouse nesting areas contains 
native grasses and forbs, with horizontal and vertical structural 
diversity that provides an insect prey base, herbaceous forage for pre-
laying and nesting hens, and cover for the hen while she is incubating 
(Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 11; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 971; Connelly 
et al. 2004, pp. 4-5--4-8). Shrub canopy and grass cover provide 
concealment for sage-grouse nests and young and are critical for 
reproductive success (Barnett and Crawford 1994, pp. 116-117; Gregg et 
al. 1994, pp. 164-165; DeLong et al. 1995, pp. 90-91; Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 4-4). Few herbaceous plants are growing in April when nesting 
begins, so residual herbaceous cover from the previous growing season 
is critical for nest concealment in most areas (Connelly et al. 2000a, 
p. 977).
    Nesting success for Gunnison sage-grouse is highest in areas where 
forb and grass covers are found below a sagebrush canopy cover of 15 to 
30 percent (Young et al. 2000, p. 451). These numbers are comparable to 
those reported for the greater sage-grouse (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 
971). Nest success for greater sage-grouse is greatest where grass 
cover is present (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 971). Because of the 
similarities between these two species, we believe that increased nest 
success in areas of forb and grass cover below the appropriate 
sagebrush canopy cover is likely the case for Gunnison sage-grouse as 
well.
    Female Gunnison sage-grouse exhibit strong fidelity to nesting 
locations (Young 1994, p. 42; Lyon 2000, p. 20; Connelly et al. 2004, 
p. 4-5; Holloran and Anderson 2005, p. 747). The degree of fidelity to 
a specific nesting area appears to diminish if the female's first nest 
attempt in that area was unsuccessful (Young 1994, p. 42). However, 
movement to new nesting areas does not necessarily result in increased 
nesting success (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 3-6; Holloran and Anderson 
2005, p. 748).
    Brood-rearing Habitat--Early brood-rearing habitat is found close 
to nest sites (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 971), although individual 
females with broods may move large distances (Connelly 1982, as cited 
in Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 971). Young (1994, pp. 41-42) found that 
Gunnison sage-grouse with broods used areas with lower slopes than 
nesting areas, high grass and forb cover, and relatively low sagebrush 
cover and density. Broods frequently used the edges of hay meadows, but 
were often flushed from areas found in interfaces of wet meadows and 
habitats providing more cover, such as sagebrush or willow-alder 
(Salix-Alnus). By late summer and into the early fall, the birds move 
from riparian areas to mesic sagebrush plant communities that continue 
to provide green forbs. During this period, Gunnison sage-grouse can be 
observed in atypical habitat such as agricultural fields (Commons 1997, 
pp. 79-81). However, broods in the Gunnison Basin typically do not use 
hay meadows further away than 50 m (165 ft) from the edge of adjacent 
sagebrush stands (CSGWG 1997, p. 13).
    Therefore, based on the information above, we identify sagebrush 
plant communities with the appropriate shrub and herbaceous vegetation 
structure to meet all the needs for all Gunnison sage-grouse 
reproductive activities (including lekking, nesting, and brood-rearing) 
to be a physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of 
this species.
Habitats Protected From Disturbance or Representative of the 
Historical, Geographical, and Ecological Distributions of the Species
    Gunnison sage-grouse historically occurred in southwestern 
Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and 
southeastern Utah (Schroeder et al. 2004, pp. 370-371). The maximum 
Gunnison sage-grouse historical (presettlement) range is estimated to 
have been approximately 5,534,805 ha (13,676,800 ac) (GSRSC 2005, p. 
32); however, only a portion of the historical range would have been 
occupied at any one time. The current occupied range of Gunnison sage-
grouse is approximately 379,464 ha (937,676 ac) in southwestern 
Colorado and southeastern Utah (CDOW 2009b, p. 1; GSRSC 2005, p. 81). 
The estimated 93 percent of sagebrush habitat within the presettlement 
range of the Gunnison sage-grouse had been lost prior to 1960. The 
majority of the remaining habitat is

[[Page 2546]]

highly fragmented, although to a lesser extent in the Gunnison Basin 
than in the remainder of the species' range.
    The occupied sagebrush plant communities that are proposed for 
designation contain physical and biological features that are 
representative of the historic and geographical distribution of the 
Gunnison sage-grouse. The unoccupied sagebrush plant communities that 
are proposed for designation were all likely historically occupied 
(GSRSC 2005, pp. 32-33) and can allow for the expansion of the current 
geographic distribution of the species as well as facilitate movements 
among populations. The extremely limited extent of sagebrush habitat 
throughout the current range of the species, but especially in the six 
smaller populations (see the Background section of our proposed listing 
rule to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered, which is published 
elsewhere in today's Federal Register), is a significant factor in 
causing us to propose areas beyond those that are currently occupied 
for critical habitat designation.
Primary Constituent Elements for Gunnison Sage-Grouse
    Under the Act and its implementing regulations, we are required to 
identify the physical and biological features essential to the 
conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse in areas occupied at the time of 
listing, focusing on the features' primary constituent elements (PCEs). 
We consider primary constituent elements to be the elements of physical 
and biological features that, when laid out in the appropriate quantity 
and spatial arrangement to provide for a species' life-history 
processes, are essential to the conservation of the species.
    We only consider those areas as critical habitat if they meet the 
``Landscape-scale Primary Constituent Element'' (PCE 1) because small, 
isolated patches of sagebrush do not support Gunnison sage-grouse. If 
an area meets the landscape scale requirement, then a particular site 
is considered critical habitat if it contains one or more of the 
``Site-scale Primary Constituent Elements'' (PCEs 2-5).
    For the ``Site-scale Primary Constituent Elements'' (PCEs 2-5), we 
adopt the values from the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, Appendix H and 
references therein). The 2005 RCP provides structural habitat values 
developed using only Gunnison sage-grouse habitat use data from various 
Gunnison sage-grouse populations in all seasonal habitats (GSRSC 2005, 
p. H-2). Source data includes structural vegetation data collected in 
the breeding season (Young 1994, Apa 2004), summer-fall (Young 1994, 
Woods and Braun 1995, Commons 1997, Apa 2004), and winter (Hupp 1987). 
In addition, these structural habitat values are specific to the 
Colorado Plateau floristic province and reflect the understory 
structure and composition specific to the range of Gunnison sage-grouse 
(GSRSC 2005, p. H-2). As such, these values are based on the most 
current and comprehensive, rangewide assessment of Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat structure. We consider an area critical habitat if its average 
vegetation values are within the values for the majority of structural 
categories for any given PCE (Tables 1 and 2).
    Based on our current knowledge of the physical or biological 
features and habitat characteristics required to sustain the species' 
life-history processes, we determine that the primary constituent 
elements specific to Gunnison sage-grouse are:
Landscape-Scale Primary Constituent Element
    Primary Constituent Element 1--Areas with vegetation composed 
primarily of sagebrush plant communities (at least 25 percent of 
primarily sagebrush land cover within a 1.5-km (0.9-mi) radius of any 
given location), of sufficient size and configuration to encompass all 
seasonal habitats for a given population of Gunnison sage-grouse, and 
facilitate movements within and among populations.
Site-Scale Primary Constituent Elements
    Primary Constituent Element 2--Breeding habitat composed of 
sagebrush plant communities with structural characteristics within the 
ranges described in Table 1, below. Habitat structure values are 
average values over a project area.

    Table 1--Gunnison Sage-Grouse Structural Guidelines for Breeding
                                Habitat.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Amount of occurrence in the
           Vegetation variable                        habitat
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sagebrush Canopy Cover..................  10-25 percent
Non-sagebrush Canopy Cover..............  5-15 percent
Total Shrub Canopy Cover................  15-40 percent
Sagebrush Height........................  25-50 cm.
                                          (9.8-19.7 in).
Grass Cover.............................  10-40 percent
Forb Cover..............................  5-40 percent
Grass Height............................  10-15 cm.
                                          (3.9-5.9 in).
Forb Height.............................  5-15 cm
                                          (2.0-5.9 in)
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Primary Constituent Element 3--Summer-late fall habitat composed of 
sagebrush plant communities with structural characteristics within the 
ranges described in Table 2, below. Habitat structure values are 
average values over a project area.

Table 2--Gunnison Sage-Grouse Structural Guidelines for Summer-Late Fall
                                Habitat.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Amount of  occurrence in the
          Vegetation variable                        habitat
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sagebrush Canopy Cover................  5-20 percent
Non-sagebrush Canopy Cover............  5-15 percent
Total Shrub Canopy Cover..............  10-35 percent
Sagebrush Height......................  25-50 cm
                                        (9.8-19.7 in)
Grass Cover...........................  10-35 percent
Forb Cover............................  5-35 percent
Grass Height..........................  10-15 cm
                                        (3.9-5.9 in)
Forb Height...........................  3-10 cm
                                        (1.2-3.9 in)
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Primary Constituent Element 4--Winter habitat composed of sagebrush 
plant communities with sagebrush canopy cover between 30 to 40 percent 
and sagebrush height of 40 to 55 cm (15.8 to 21.7 in). These habitat 
structure values are average values over a project area.
    Primary Constituent Element 5--Alternative, mesic habitats used 
primarily in the summer-late fall season.

Special Management Considerations or Protection

    When designating critical habitat, we assess whether the specific 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
of listing contain features which are essential to the conservation of 
the species and which may require special management considerations or 
protection. All areas proposed for designation as critical habitat as 
described below may require some level of management to address the 
current and future threats to the physical and biological features 
essential to the conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse. In all of the 
described units, special management

[[Page 2547]]

may be required to ensure that the habitat is able to provide for the 
biological needs of the species.
    A detailed discussion of the current and foreseeable threats to 
Gunnison sage-grouse can found in the proposed listing rule to list the 
species as endangered, which is published elsewhere in today's Federal 
Register, in the section entitled Summary of Factors Affecting the 
Species. In general, the features essential to the conservation of 
Gunnison sage-grouse may require special management considerations or 
protection to reduce the following individual threats and their 
interactions: Residential and commercial development including 
associated land-clearing activities for the construction of access 
roads, utilities, and fences; increased recreational use of roads and 
trails; the proliferation of predators; improper grazing management, 
the spread of invasive plant species and associated changes in 
sagebrush plant community structure and dynamics; and other activities 
that result in the loss or degradation of sagebrush plant communities. 
The largest, overarching threat to Gunnison sage-grouse is habitat 
fragmentation. The aforementioned activities will require special 
management consideration not only for the direct effects of the 
activities on the birds' habitat and behavior, but also for their 
indirect effects and how they are cumulatively and individually 
increasing habitat fragmentation.
    Special management considerations or protection may be required 
within areas we are proposing as critical habitat to address these 
threats. Based on our analysis of threats to Gunnison sage-grouse, 
management activities that could ameliorate these threats include, but 
are not limited to: Comprehensive land-use planning and implementation 
that prevents a net decrease in the extent and quality of Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat through the prioritization and protection of 
habitats and monitoring; protection of lands by fee title acquisition 
or the establishment of permanent conservation easements; management of 
recreational use to minimize direct disturbance and habitat loss; 
invasive weed and invasive native plant species control activities; 
management of domestic and wild ungulate use so that overall habitat 
meets or exceeds Gunnison sage-grouse structural habitat guidelines; 
monitoring and management of predator communities; coordinated and 
monitored habitat restoration or improvement projects; and 
implementation of wild fire suppression, particularly in Wyoming big 
sagebrush plant associations. In some cases, continuing ongoing land 
management practices may be appropriate and beneficial for Gunnison 
sage-grouse. For instance, continued irrigation and maintenance of hay 
and alfalfa fields on private lands near sagebrush habitats may help 
provide or enhance brood-rearing, mesic habitats for Gunnison sage-
grouse. The Service acknowledges the ongoing and proposed conservation 
efforts of all entities across the range of the Gunnison sage-grouse, 
such as the Sage Grouse Initiative that is led by the Natural Resources 
Conservation Service and incorporates many partners to implement 
conservation actions. The Service is conferencing with Federal agencies 
to insure a seamless continuation of conservation practices if the 
species is listed and critical habitat is designated.
    Such special management activities may be required to protect the 
physical and biological features and support the conservation of the 
species by preventing or reducing the loss, degradation, and 
fragmentation of sagebrush landscapes. Additionally, management of 
critical habitat lands can increase the amount of suitable habitat and 
enhance connectivity among Gunnison sage-grouse populations through the 
restoration of areas that were previously composed of sagebrush plant 
communities. The limited extent of sagebrush habitats throughout the 
species' current range emphasizes the need for additional habitat for 
the species to be able to expand into, as well as adjust to changes in 
habitat availability that may result from climate change, along with 
habitat needed to survive and recover.

Criteria Used To Identify Proposed Critical Habitat

    As required by section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we used the best 
scientific data available to propose critical habitat. We reviewed 
available information pertaining to the habitat requirements of the 
species. In accordance with the Act and its implementing regulation at 
50 CFR 424.12(e), we considered whether designating additional areas--
outside those currently occupied as well as those occupied at the time 
of listing--are necessary to ensure the conservation of the species. As 
a result of this analysis we are proposing to designate critical 
habitat in areas within the geographical area occupied by the species 
at the time of listing. We also are proposing to designate specific 
areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
of listing (or at the current time), and areas that were historically 
occupied but are presently unoccupied, because such areas are essential 
for the conservation of the species.
    We based our identification of lands that contain features 
essential to the conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse on polygons 
delineated and defined by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the 
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) the CPW and UDWR as part of 
the 2005 RCP Habitat Mapping project (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). Gunnison 
sage-grouse polygons mapped in the 2005 RCP were derived from a 
combination of telemetry locations, sightings of sage-grouse or sage-
grouse sign, local biological expertise, GIS analysis, or other data 
sources (GSRSC 2005, p. 54; CDOW 2009e, p. 1). We consider polygons 
designated as ``occupied habitat'' (GSRSC 2005, p. 54) to be the area 
occupied by Gunnison sage-grouse at the time of the listing (or at the 
current time). No males have been observed since 2002 on the Sims Mesa 
lek, which is located in the Sims Mesa portion of the Cimarron-Cerro 
Summit-Sims Mesa population, (see the Background section of our 
proposed listing rule to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered, 
which is published elsewhere in today's Federal Register), and it is 
likely that this subpopulation has been extirpated (CDOW 2009b, p. 43). 
However, this lek has been inactive for less than ten years and is not 
officially designated as historic according to CPW standards (CDOW 
2009d, p. 7). Therefore, we consider this area to be currently occupied 
in this proposal.
    The 2005 RCP also defined two other habitat categories, ``potential 
habitat,'' and ``vacant or unknown habitat'' (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). 
Potential habitat is defined as ``unoccupied habitats that could be 
suitable for occupation of sage-grouse if practical restoration were 
applied,'' and is most commonly former sagebrush areas overtaken by 
pi[ntilde]on-juniper woodlands. The vacant or unknown habitat category 
is defined as ``suitable habitat for sage-grouse that is separated (not 
contiguous) from occupied habitats that either (1) has not been 
adequately inventoried, or (2) has not had documentation of grouse 
presence in the past 10 years.'' These vacant or unknown areas include 
habitats that contain features essential for the conservation of the 
species and are currently considered suitable for use by Gunnison sage-
grouse or areas where ecological site potential suggest that sagebrush 
plant associations could occur if practical restoration were applied. 
The latter situation is most commonly in areas where pi[ntilde]on-
juniper

[[Page 2548]]

vegetation has expanded from presettlement distributions.
    Because we lack the detailed habitat data throughout the range of 
the species, we used the ``potential'' and ``vacant or unknown'' 
habitat polygons as the first criteria for our determination of 
unoccupied areas that contain features essential for the conservation 
of Gunnison sage-grouse. We further refined our determination of which 
unoccupied areas should be designated as critical habitat based on: (1) 
Adjacency or proximity to currently occupied habitat; (2) ability to 
provide for connectivity between and within populations; and (3) size 
of area of vegetation composed primarily of sagebrush plant 
communities. We limited our consideration of unoccupied areas to those 
within the potential presettlement habitat of Gunnison sage-grouse as 
mapped by Schroeder et al. in 2004 and modified in Colorado in the 2005 
RCP. We considered unoccupied areas as proposed critical habitat if 
they are located within approximately 18.5 km (11.5 mi) of occupied 
habitat based on typical sage-grouse movement distances (Connelly 2000, 
p. 978; GSRSC 2005, p. J-5) because these areas have the highest 
likelihood of receiving Gunnison sage-grouse use and potential for 
occupied habitat expansion. In addition, Knick and Hanser (2011, p. 
404) believe that isolated patches of suitable habitats within 18 km 
(11.2 mi) could provide connectivity among populations. We lack 
information on how sage-grouse move through landscapes (Knick and 
Hanser 2011, p. 402). Therefore, we evaluated connectivity potential by 
visual identification of areas that support a high proportion of 
sagebrush or shrub cover located along the shortest path between 
occupied population areas and areas located between occupied 
subpopulations.
    Sage-grouse population persistence or extirpation is associated 
with the amount of sagebrush habitat at large spatial scales (Knick and 
Connelly 2011, entire). Aldridge et al. (2008, pp. 989-990) reported 
that at least 25 percent sagebrush cover within a 30 km (18.6 mi) 
radius scale was needed for long-term sage-grouse persistence, whereas 
Wisdom et al. (2011, pp. 465-467) showed that areas with at least 27 
percent sagebrush cover within a 18 km (11.2 mi) radius scale had a 
higher probability of population persistence. No particular spatial 
scale has been determined to best evaluate sage-grouse suitability. 
Therefore, we evaluated the ability of unoccupied areas to potentially 
provide for the landscape-scale habitat needs of Gunnison sage-grouse 
by identifying areas of large size with a high degree of sagebrush 
cover at several spatial scales. We used moving windows (ESRI 
``Neighborhood analysis'' Tool) applied to sagebrush landcover types 
isolated from the SWReGAP land cover raster dataset (USGS 2004, 
entire). We visually assessed the amount of sagebrush at 54 km, 18 km, 
5 km, and 1.5 km radii scales (33.6 mi, 11.2 mi, 3.1 mi, and 0.9 mi, 
respectively) to locate areas where the landscape is dominated by 
sagebrush land cover.
    The application of a linear model presented in the 2005 RCP that 
analyzed the relationship between the mean high count of males on leks 
and the amount of available habitat of ``average quality'' in each 
Gunnison sage-grouse population (GSRSC 2005, p. 197) predicts a habitat 
area in excess of 100,000 acres is needed to support a population of 
500 birds. In the absence of habitat loss, inbreeding depression, and 
disease, population viability modeling for Gunnison sage-grouse 
predicted that individual populations greater than 500 birds may be 
viable (have a low probability of extinction) over a 50-year time 
period (GSRSC 2005, p. 170). These data suggest that an individual 
habitat patch, or the cumulative area of two or more smaller habitat 
patches in close proximity, may need to be in excess of 40,469 ha 
(100,000 ac) to support a viable population of Gunnison sage-grouse. 
This model does not take into account the inherent variance in habitat 
structure and quality over the landscape, and detailed habitat 
structure and quality data are lacking. As a result we consider the 
estimated minimum habitat area to be an approximate value.
    As described in more detail in the proposed listing rule for the 
Gunnison sage-grouse, which is published elsewhere in today's Federal 
Register, there are currently seven populations of this species: (1) 
Monticello-Dove Creek; (2) Pi[ntilde]on Mesa; (3) San Miguel Basin; (4) 
Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa; (5) Crawford; (6) Gunnison Basin; and 
(7) Poncha Pass. The currently occupied habitat area for four of these 
populations,the currently occupied habitat area for the Pi[ntilde]on 
Mesa, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa, Crawford, and Poncha Pass 
populations, which range in size from 8,262 (ha) (20,415 ac) to 15,744 
ha (38,904 ac), are thus smaller than the model's predicted minimum 
required area. The currently occupied habitat area in two other 
populations, the Monticello-Dove Creek and the San Miguel Basin 
populations is 45,275 ha (111,877 ac) and 41,022 ha (101,368 ac), 
respectively. These areas only slightly exceed the model predicted 
minimum required area. While correlative in nature, altogether, these 
data suggest that the currently occupied habitat area for four 
populations is insufficient for long-term population viability, and may 
be minimally adequate for two populations.
    With the exception of the Gunnison Basin population area, proposed 
critical habitat units (CHUs) for Gunnison sage-grouse collectively 
contain relatively small, and in some cases, isolated, populations of 
the species. Thus, we believe all currently occupied areas, as well as 
some currently unoccupied areas, proposed as critical habitat are 
essential for the persistence and conservation of the Gunnison sage-
grouse and help to meet the landscape-scale habitat criteria set forth 
above. The best available information indicates that, with proper 
protection and management, the proposed CHUs are sufficient to provide 
for the conservation of the species.
    When determining proposed critical habitat boundaries, we made 
every effort to avoid including developed areas such as lands covered 
by buildings, pavement, and other man-made structures because such 
lands lack physical and biological features necessary for Gunnison 
sage-grouse. The scale of the maps we prepared under the parameters for 
publication within the Code of Federal Regulations may not reflect the 
exclusion of such developed sites. Any such lands inadvertently left 
inside critical habitat boundaries shown on the maps of this proposed 
rule have been excluded by text in the proposed rule and are not 
proposed for designation as critical habitat. Therefore, if the 
critical habitat is finalized as proposed, a Federal action involving 
these lands would not trigger section 7 consultation with respect to 
critical habitat and the requirement of no adverse modification unless 
the specific action would affect the physical and biological features 
in the adjacent critical habitat.
    We are proposing for designation as critical habitat lands that we 
have determined are occupied at the time of listing and contain 
sufficient elements of physical and biological features to support 
life-history processes essential to the conservation of the species. We 
are also proposing lands outside of the geographical area occupied at 
the time of listing that we have determined are essential for the 
conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Units were proposed for designation based on sufficient elements of 
physical

[[Page 2549]]

and biological features being present to support Gunnison sage-grouse 
life-history processes. All units individually contain all of the 
identified elements of physical and biological features, and each unit 
as a whole supports multiple life-history processes.
    The proposed critical habitat designation is defined by the map or 
maps, as modified by any accompanying regulatory text, presented at the 
end of this document in the rule portion. We include more detailed 
information on the boundaries of the critical habitat designation in 
the preamble of this document. We will make the coordinates or plot 
points or both on which each map is based available to the public on 
http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111, on our 
Internet sites [http://www.fws.gov/coloradoes/], and at the field 
office responsible for the designation (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT above).

Proposed Critical Habitat Designation

    We are proposing seven units as critical habitat for Gunnison sage-
grouse. The critical habitat areas we describe below constitute our 
current best assessment of areas that meet the definition of critical 
habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse. The seven units we propose as 
critical habitat correspond to the seven Gunnison sage-grouse 
populations, which include: (1) Monticello-Dove Creek, (2) Pi[ntilde]on 
Mesa (3) San Miguel Basin, (4) Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa, (5) 
Crawford, (6) Gunnison Basin, and (7) Poncha Pass. For the Cerro 
Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa, Crawford, and Poncha Pass Units, our 
designation includes all available habitat to the species. We consider 
approximately 55 percent of the area within the seven units as 
currently occupied and 45 percent as currently unoccupied. Table 3 
shows the occupancy status of each individual unit. Table 4 shows the 
generalized ownership within each unit.
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    We present below a general description for all of the proposed 
units, followed by brief descriptions of each individual unit, and 
reasons why they meet the definition of critical habitat for Gunnison 
sage-grouse.

Unit Descriptions

    All units were likely historically occupied by Gunnison sage-
grouse. As discussed above, we believe that all lands proposed as 
critical habitat are essential to the conservation of the Gunnison 
sage-grouse for the following reasons:
    (1) The loss of sagebrush habitats within the potential 
presettlement range of Gunnison sage-grouse is associated with a 
substantial reduction in the species range.
    (2) Population estimates and population trends for six of seven 
Gunnison sage-grouse populations (with the exception of the Gunnison 
Basin population) are declining (CDOW 2010a, pp. 1-3). These 
populations are currently geographically isolated and may have an 
effective population size small enough to induce inbreeding depression 
(as discussed under Factor E of our proposed rule to list the Gunnison 
sage-grouse as endangered, which is published elsewhere in today's 
Federal Register) and loss of adaptive potential, with the assumption 
that these populations are exhibiting similar demography to the San 
Miguel population because we only have detailed demography information 
for this population (Stiver et al. 2008, p. 479).
    (3) Existing small populations are at higher risk of extirpation 
due to stochastic events.
    (4) Currently occupied habitat area for six of the seven 
populations (with the exception of the Gunnison Basin population) may 
be less than the minimum amount of habitat necessary for the long-term 
viability of each population.
    Designation of critical habitat limited to the Gunnison sage-
grouse's present range would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. We are proposing areas historically occupied, but not 
known to be currently occupied, for the following reasons:
    (1) Current population sizes of the six smaller Gunnison sage-
grouse populations are at such low levels, they must increase in order 
to ensure long-term survival (GSRSC 2005, p. G-22). While the occupied 
portions of the proposed units provide habitat for current populations, 
currently unoccupied areas will provide habitat for population 
expansion either through natural means, or by reintroduction, thus 
reducing threats due to naturally occurring events.
    (2) Population expansion either through natural means or by 
reintroduction into the units is necessary to increase the long-term 
viability and decrease the risk of extirpation of the populations 
through stochastic events, such as fires or drought, as the current, 
isolated populations are each at high risk of extirpation from such 
stochastic events (GSRSC 2005, p. G-22), particularly because of their 
small sizes and restricted ranges.
    (3) Unoccupied portions of units decrease the geographic isolation 
of the current geographic distribution of the Gunnison sage-grouse, or 
i.e., increase the connectivity between habitat that is known to be 
currently occupied.
    (4) Unoccupied portions of units are in areas that were occupied in 
the near past and are located within the historical range of the 
species such that they will serve as corridors, or movement areas, 
between currently occupied sites. Most proposed unoccupied subunits lie 
within 18.5 km of an occupied area.
    (5) All of the unoccupied portions of the proposed critical habitat 
units contain one or more of the primary constituent elements essential 
for the conservation of the Gunnison sage-grouse. We based this 
determination on information in the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, p. 54).

Unit 1: Monticello--Dove Creek

    Unit 1, the Monticello--Dove Creek Unit, consists of 140,973 ha 
(348,353 ac) of Federal, State, and private lands in San Juan County, 
Utah; and Montrose, San Miguel, and Dolores Counties, Colorado. 
Approximately 17,823 ha (44,043 ac) (12.6 percent) of the land area 
within the unit is managed by Federal agencies, 1,331 ha (3,290 ac) 
(0.9 percent) is owned by the State of Colorado and the State of Utah, 
and the remaining 301,019 ha (121,818 ac) (86.4 percent) is comprised 
of private lands. Within the Dove Creek, Colorado, portion of the unit, 
protected lands (via easement or landownership by a conservation 
organization) occur on 330 ha (815 ac) of private lands within the 
occupied portion of the unit (CPW 2011c, p. 11; CPW 2012b, p. 6), and 
no lands are included under the Gunnison sage-grouse CCAA. We consider 
45,303 ha (111,945 ac) within this unit to be currently occupied (32.1 
percent), based on the mapping developed for the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, 
p. 54).
    The occupied portion of the Monticello--Dove Creek Unit contains 
the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of 
the Gunnison sage-grouse, but these areas are interspersed within lands 
in agricultural production. Within the occupied portion of this Unit, 
approximately 23,220 ha (57,377 ac) or 51 percent of the area is 
currently in agricultural production (USGS 2004, entire). However, a 
significant portion of the agricultural lands within the Unit are 
enrolled in the CRP program and many CRP lands are used by Gunnison 
sage-grouse (Lupus et al. 2006, pp. 959-960; Ward 2007, p. 15).
    Threats to the physical and biological features within the 
Monticello--Dove Creek Unit include, but are not limited to: A high 
degree of habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation resulting from 
conversion to agriculture; oil and gas production and associated 
infrastructure; the proliferation of predators of Gunnison sage-grouse; 
the spread of invasive plant species and associated changes in 
sagebrush plant community structure and dynamics; and past and present 
grazing management that degrades or eliminates vegetation structure; 
all of which can result in the loss, degradation, or fragmentation of 
sagebrush plant communities. Special management actions that may be 
needed to address these threats include, but are not limited to: The 
rangewide prioritization and protection of crucial seasonal habitats 
from development; the control of invasive plant species and restoration 
of historic plant community structure and dynamics, including altered 
fire regimes and other natural disturbance factors; and the 
implementation of grazing regimes that result in proper vegetation 
structure for Gunnison sage-grouse life-history needs in areas used for 
domestic and wild ungulate grazing and browsing.
    Limiting the designation of critical habitat in this unit only to 
currently occupied areas would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. Accordingly, we propose for designation currently 
unoccupied areas that we conclude are essential for the conservation of 
the species. These unoccupied areas comprise approximately 95,671 ha 
(236,408 ac), consisting of lands defined in the 2005 RCP as potential 
habitat or vacant or unknown habitat (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). These areas 
consist of lands with varying amounts of overall sagebrush cover, or 
have habitat types suitable for movements and dispersal. These areas 
are also located adjacent to occupied habitat or are located 
immediately between surrounding populations. In addition to 
contributing to the fulfillment of the landscape-scale habitat needs of 
Gunnison sage-grouse,

[[Page 2553]]

these areas provide habitat for future population growth and 
reestablishment of portions of presettlement range, as well as to 
facilitate or allow movement between other units and within the unit.
    Some unoccupied habitat areas within this unit consist of lands 
that recently supported sagebrush-dominant plant communities but are 
currently in agricultural production or are currently subject to 
encroachment by coniferous trees or shrubs, most commonly pi[ntilde]on-
juniper or mountain shrub plant communities. These areas require 
restoration to reestablish or enhance sagebrush communities to support 
the primary constituent elements of Gunnison sage-grouse nesting or 
brood-rearing habitats. However, in their current state, these areas 
provide essential habitat for interpopulation movements and reduce 
population isolation and increase genetic exchange among populations.

Unit 2: Pi[ntilde]on Mesa

    Unit 2, the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa Unit, consists of 99,220 ha (245,179 
ac) of Federal, State, and private lands in Grand County, Utah; and 
Mesa County, Colorado. Approximately 62,139 ha (153,548 ac) (62.6 
percent) of the land area within the unit is managed by Federal 
agencies, 30 ha (73 ac) (less than one percent) is owned by the State 
of Utah, and the remaining 37,052 ha (91,558 ac) (37.3 percent) is 
comprised of private lands. We consider 15,744 ha (38,905 ac) within 
this unit to be currently occupied (15.9 percent), based on the mapping 
developed for the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, p. 54).
    The occupied portion of the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa Unit contains the 
physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the 
Gunnison sage-grouse. Within the currently occupied lands in the unit, 
5,405 ha (13,355 ac) of private lands are largely protected from 
development through permanent conservation easements or fee title 
ownership held by various land trust and ranchland conservation 
organizations, and CPW (CPW 2011c, p. 11; CPW 2012b, p. 6). In 
addition, approximately 6,828 ha (16,873 ac) are included under the 
Gunnison sage-grouse CCAA (CPW 2012b, p. 11). Habitat conversion to 
agriculture is limited to less than 3 percent of the occupied portion 
of the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa unit (USGS 2004, entire).
    Threats to the physical and biological features within the 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa Unit include, but are not limited to: Residential and 
commercial development including associated land-clearing activities 
for the construction of access roads, utilities, and fences; increased 
recreational use of roads and trails; the proliferation of predators of 
Gunnison sage-grouse; the spread of invasive plant species and 
associated changes in sagebrush plant community structure and dynamics; 
and past and present grazing management that degrades or eliminates 
vegetation structure; all of which can result in the loss, degradation, 
or fragmentation of sagebrush plant communities. Special management 
actions that may be needed to address these threats include, but are 
not limited to: The rangewide prioritization and protection of crucial 
seasonal habitats subject to future residential and commercial 
development and increasing recreational use of roads and trails; the 
control of invasive plant species and restoration of historic plant 
community structure and dynamics, including altered fire regimes and 
other natural disturbance factors; and the implementation of grazing 
regimes that result in proper vegetation structure for Gunnison sage-
grouse life-history needs in areas used for domestic and wild ungulate 
grazing and browsing.
    Limiting the designation of critical habitat in this unit only to 
currently occupied areas would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. Accordingly, we propose for designation currently 
unoccupied areas that we conclude are essential for the conservation of 
the species. These unoccupied areas comprise approximately 83,476 ha 
(206,274 ac), consisting of lands defined in the 2005 RCP as potential 
habitat or vacant or unknown habitat (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). These areas 
consist of lands with varying amounts of overall sagebrush cover, or 
have habitat types suitable for movements and dispersal. These areas 
are also located adjacent to occupied habitat or are located 
immediately between surrounding populations. In addition to 
contributing to the fulfillment of the landscape-scale habitat needs of 
Gunnison sage-grouse, these areas provide habitat for future population 
growth and reestablishment of portions of presettlement range, as well 
as to facilitate or allow movement between other units and within the 
unit. Some unoccupied habitat areas within this unit consist of lands 
that recently supported sagebrush-dominant plant communities but are 
currently in agricultural production or are currently subject to 
encroachment by coniferous trees or shrubs, most commonly pi[ntilde]on-
juniper or mountain shrub plant communities. These areas require 
restoration to reestablish or enhance sagebrush communities to support 
the primary constituent elements of Gunnison sage-grouse nesting or 
brood-rearing habitat. However, in their current state, these areas 
provide essential habitat for interpopulation movements and reduce 
population isolation and increase genetic exchange among populations.

Unit 3: San Miguel Basin

    Unit 3, the San Miguel Basin Unit, consists of 67,084 ha (165,769 
ac) of Federal, State, and local government-owned lands, and private 
lands in Montrose, San Miguel, and Ouray counties, Colorado. 
Approximately 22,597 ha (55,837 ac) (33.7 percent) of the land area 
within the unit is managed by Federal agencies, 5,908 ha (14,598 ac) 
(8.8 percent) is owned by the State of Colorado, and the remaining 
38,580 ha (95,334 ac) (57.5 percent) is comprised of private lands. We 
consider 41,023 ha (101,371 ac) within this unit to be currently 
occupied (61.2 percent), based on the mapping developed for the 2005 
RCP (GSRSC 2005, p. 54).
    The occupied portion of the San Miguel Basin Unit contains the 
physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the 
Gunnison sage-grouse. Within the currently occupied lands in the unit, 
2,698 ha (6,666 ac) of private lands are largely protected from 
development through permanent conservation easements or fee title 
ownership held by various land trust and ranchland conservation 
organizations, and CPW (CPW 2011c, p. 11; CPW 2012b, p. 6). In 
addition, approximately 292 ha (722 ac) are included under the Gunnison 
sage-grouse CCAA. Approximately 15 percent of the occupied range in the 
San Miguel Basin is currently in agricultural production.
    Threats to the physical and biological features within the San 
Miguel Basin Unit include, but are not limited to: Residential and 
commercial development including associated land-clearing activities 
for the construction of access roads, utilities, and fences; increased 
recreational use of roads and trails; the proliferation of predators of 
Gunnison sage-grouse; the spread of invasive plant species and 
associated changes in sagebrush plant community structure and dynamics; 
past and present grazing management that degrades or eliminates 
vegetation structure; and oil and gas development and associated 
infrastructure, all of which can result in the loss, degradation, or 
fragmentation of sagebrush plant communities. Special management 
actions that may be needed to address these threats include, but are 
not limited to: The rangewide

[[Page 2554]]

prioritization and protection of crucial seasonal habitats subject to 
future residential and commercial development and increasing 
recreational use of roads and trails; the control of invasive plant 
species and restoration of historic plant community structure and 
dynamics, including altered fire regimes and other natural disturbance 
factors; and the implementation of grazing regimes that result in 
proper vegetation structure for Gunnison sage-grouse life-history needs 
in areas used for domestic and wild ungulate grazing and browsing.
    Limiting the designation of critical habitat in this unit only to 
currently occupied areas would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. Accordingly, we propose for designation currently 
unoccupied areas that we conclude are essential for the conservation of 
the species. These unoccupied areas comprise approximately 26,061 ha 
(64,398 ac), consisting of lands defined in the 2005 RCP as potential 
habitat or vacant or unknown habitat (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). These areas 
consist of lands with varying amounts of overall sagebrush cover, or 
have habitat types suitable for movements and dispersal. These areas 
are also located adjacent to occupied habitat or are located 
immediately between surrounding populations. In addition to 
contributing to the fulfillment of the landscape-scale habitat needs of 
Gunnison sage-grouse, these areas provide habitat for future population 
growth and reestablishment of portions of presettlement range, as well 
as to facilitate or allow movement between other units and within the 
unit.
    Some unoccupied habitat areas within this unit consist of lands 
that recently supported sagebrush-dominant plant communities but are 
currently in agricultural production or are currently subject to 
encroachment by coniferous trees or shrubs, most commonly pi[ntilde]on-
juniper or mountain shrub plant communities. These areas require 
restoration to reestablish or enhance sagebrush communities to support 
the primary constituent elements of Gunnison sage-grouse nesting or 
brood-rearing habitat. However, in their current state, these areas 
provide essential habitat for interpopulation movements and reduce 
population isolation and increase genetic exchange among populations.

Unit 4: Cerro Summit--Cimarron--Sims Mesa

    Unit 4, the Cerro Summit--Cimarron--Sims Mesa Unit, consists of 
25,377 ha (62,708 ac) of Federal, State, and local government-owned 
lands, and private lands in Montrose, Ouray, and Gunnison Counties, 
Colorado. Approximately 4,171 ha (10,307 ac) (16.4 percent) of the land 
area within the unit is managed by Federal agencies, 1,645 ha (4,066 
ac) (6.5 percent) is owned by the State of Colorado, and the remaining 
19,561 ha (48,335 ac) (77.1 percent) is comprised of private lands. We 
consider 15,038 ha (37,161 ac) within this unit to be currently 
occupied (59.3 percent), based on the mapping developed for the 2005 
RCP (GSRSC 2005, p. 54).
    The occupied portion of the Cerro Summit--Cimarron--Sims Mesa Unit 
contains the physical and biological features essential to the 
conservation of the Gunnison sage-grouse. Within the currently occupied 
lands within the unit, 1,395 ha (3,447 ac) of private lands are largely 
protected from development through permanent conservation easements or 
fee title ownership held by various land trust and ranchland 
conservation organizations and CPW (CPW 2011c, p. 11; CPW 2012b, p. 6), 
and no lands are included under the Gunnison sage-grouse CCAA. In the 
Cerro Summit--Cimarron--Sims Mesa population, approximately 14 percent 
(5,133 ha (2,077 ac)) of the occupied range is currently in 
agricultural production (USGS 2004, entire).
    Threats to the physical and biological features within the Cerro 
Summit--Cimarron--Sims Mesa Unit include, but are not limited to: 
Residential and commercial development including associated land-
clearing activities for the construction of access roads, utilities, 
and fences; increased recreational use of roads and trails; the 
proliferation of predators of Gunnison sage-grouse; the spread of 
invasive plant species and associated changes in sagebrush plant 
community structure and dynamics; past and present grazing management 
that degrades or eliminates vegetation structure; all of which can 
result in the loss, degradation, or fragmentation of sagebrush plant 
communities. Special management actions that may be needed to address 
these threats include, but are not limited to: The rangewide 
prioritization and protection of crucial seasonal habitats subject to 
future residential and commercial development and increasing 
recreational use of roads and trails; the control of invasive plant 
species and restoration of historic plant community structure and 
dynamics, including altered fire regimes and other natural disturbance 
factors; and the implementation of grazing regimes that result in 
proper vegetation structure for Gunnison sage-grouse life-history needs 
in areas used for domestic and wild ungulate grazing and browsing.
    Limiting the designation of critical habitat in this unit only to 
currently occupied areas would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. Accordingly, we propose for designation currently 
unoccupied areas that we conclude are essential for the conservation of 
the species. These unoccupied areas comprise approximately 10,339 ha 
(25,547 ac), consisting of lands defined in the 2005 RCP as potential 
habitat or vacant or unknown habitat (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). These areas 
consist of lands with varying amounts of overall sagebrush cover, or 
have habitat types suitable for movements and dispersal. These areas 
are also located adjacent to occupied habitat or are located 
immediately between surrounding populations. In addition to 
contributing to the fulfillment of the landscape-scale habitat needs of 
Gunnison sage-grouse, these areas provide habitat for future population 
growth and reestablishment of portions of presettlement range, as well 
as to facilitate or allow movement between other units and within the 
unit.
    Some unoccupied habitat areas within this unit consist of lands 
that recently supported sagebrush-dominant plant communities but are 
currently in agricultural production or are currently subject to 
encroachment by coniferous trees or shrubs, most commonly pi[ntilde]on-
juniper or mountain shrub plant communities. These areas require 
restoration to reestablish or enhance sagebrush communities to support 
the primary constituent elements of Gunnison sage-grouse nesting or 
brood-rearing habitat. However, in their current state, these areas 
provide essential habitat for interpopulation movements and reduce 
population isolation and increase genetic exchange among populations.
    We recognize that this proposed critical habitat unit is 
considerably smaller than the RCP modeled minimum habitat patch size 
required to support a viable Gunnison sage-grouse population. 
Nevertheless, this proposed critical habitat unit encompasses all 
existing and potential Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the vicinity. As 
such, in the absence of natural immigration of Gunnison sage-grouse, 
the population within this critical habitat unit may need to be 
augmented through the translocation of birds from larger populations or 
the release of captive-produced birds.

Unit 5: Crawford

    Unit 5, the Crawford Unit, consists of 39,304 ha (97,123 ac) of 
Federal, State,

[[Page 2555]]

and local government-owned lands, and private lands in Delta, Montrose, 
and Gunnison Counties, Colorado. Approximately 17,731 ha (43,814 ac) 
(45.1 percent) of the land area within the unit is managed by Federal 
agencies, 112 ha (277 ac) (0.3 percent) is jointly owned by the State 
of Colorado and the Federal Government, and the remaining 21,461 ha 
(53,032 ac) (54.6 percent) is comprised of private lands. We consider 
14,170 ha (35,015 ac) within this unit to be currently occupied (36.1 
percent), based on the mapping developed for the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, 
p. 54).
    The occupied portion of the Crawford Unit contains the physical and 
biological features essential to the conservation of the Gunnison sage-
grouse. Within the currently occupied lands in the unit, 414 ha (1,022 
ac) of private lands are largely protected from development through 
permanent conservation easements or fee title ownership held by various 
land trust and ranchland conservation organizations and CPW (CPW 2011c, 
p. 11; CPW 2012b, p. 6. In addition, approximately 1,068 ha (2,639 ac) 
are included under the Gunnison sage-grouse CCAA. Habitat conversion to 
agriculture is limited to less than 3 percent of the occupied portion 
of the Crawford Unit (USGS 2004, entire).
    Threats to the physical and biological features within the Crawford 
Mesa Unit include, but are not limited to: Residential and commercial 
development including associated land-clearing activities for the 
construction of access roads, utilities, and fences; increased 
recreational use of roads and trails; the proliferation of predators of 
Gunnison sage-grouse; the spread of invasive plant species and 
associated changes in sagebrush plant community structure and dynamics; 
and past and present grazing management that degrades or eliminates 
vegetation structure; all of which can result in the loss, degradation, 
or fragmentation of sagebrush plant communities. Special management 
actions that may be needed to address these threats include, but are 
not limited to: The rangewide prioritization and protection of crucial 
seasonal habitats subject to future residential and commercial 
development and increasing recreational use of roads and trails; the 
control of invasive plant species and restoration of historic plant 
community structure and dynamics, including altered fire regimes and 
other natural disturbance factors; and the implementation of grazing 
regimes that result in proper vegetation structure for Gunnison sage-
grouse life-history needs in areas used for domestic and wild ungulate 
grazing and browsing.
    Limiting the designation of critical habitat in this unit only to 
currently occupied areas would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. Accordingly, we propose for designation currently 
unoccupied areas that we conclude are essential for the conservation of 
the species. These unoccupied areas comprise approximately 25,134 ha 
(62,108 ac), consisting of lands defined in the 2005 RCP as potential 
habitat or vacant or unknown habitat (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). These areas 
consist of lands with varying amounts of overall sagebrush cover, or 
have habitat types suitable for movements and dispersal. These areas 
are also located adjacent to occupied habitat or are located 
immediately between surrounding populations. In addition to 
contributing to the fulfillment of the landscape-scale habitat needs of 
Gunnison sage-grouse, these areas provide habitat for future population 
growth and reestablishment of portions of presettlement range, as well 
as to facilitate or allow movement between other units and within the 
unit.
    Some unoccupied habitat areas within this unit consist of lands 
that recently supported sagebrush-dominant plant communities but are 
currently in agricultural production or are currently subject to 
encroachment by coniferous trees or shrubs, most commonly pi[ntilde]on-
juniper or mountain shrub plant communities. These areas require 
restoration to reestablish or enhance sagebrush communities to support 
the primary constituent elements of Gunnison sage-grouse nesting or 
brood-rearing habitat. However, in their current state, these areas 
provide essential habitat for interpopulation movements and reduce 
population isolation and increase genetic exchange among populations.

Unit 6: Gunnison Basin

    Unit 6, the Gunnison Basin Unit, consists of 298,173 ha (736,802 
ac) of Federal, State, and local government-owned lands, and private 
lands in Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, and Saguache Counties, Colorado. 
Approximately 196,625 ha (485,870 ac) (65.9 percent) of the land area 
within the unit is managed by Federal agencies, 6,052 ha (14,955 ac) 
(2.0 percent) is owned by the State of Colorado, 314 ha (777 ac) (less 
than one percent) is jointly owned by the State of Colorado and the 
Federal Government, 21 ha (52 ac) (less than one percent) is owned by 
Gunnison County and the City of Gunnison, and the remaining 95,160 ha 
(235,145 ac) (31.9 percent) is comprised of private lands. We consider 
239,959 ha (592,952 ac) within this unit to be currently occupied (80.5 
percent), based on the mapping developed for the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, 
p. 54). The Gunnison Basin contains the largest expanse of sagebrush 
plant communities within the presettlement range of Gunnison sage-
grouse.
    The occupied portion of the Gunnison Basin Unit contains the 
physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the 
Gunnison sage-grouse. Within the currently occupied lands in the unit, 
17,466 ha (43,160 ac) of private lands are largely protected from 
development through permanent conservation easements or fee title 
ownership held by various land trust and ranchland conservation 
organizations, and CPW (CPW 2011c, p. 11; CPW 2012b, p. 6). In 
addition, approximately 5,012 ha (12,385 ac) are included under the 
Gunnison sage-grouse CCAA.
    Threats to the physical and biological features within the Gunnison 
Basin Unit include, but are not limited to: Residential and commercial 
development including associated land-clearing activities for the 
construction of access roads, utilities, and fences; increased 
recreational use of roads and trails; the proliferation of predators of 
Gunnison sage-grouse; the spread of invasive plant species and 
associated changes in sagebrush plant community structure and dynamics; 
and past and present grazing management that degrades or eliminates 
vegetation structure; all of which can result in the loss, degradation, 
or fragmentation of sagebrush plant communities. Special management 
actions that may be needed to address these threats include, but are 
not limited to: the rangewide prioritization and protection of crucial 
seasonal habitats subject to future residential and commercial 
development and increasing recreational use of roads and trails; the 
control of invasive plant species and restoration of historic plant 
community structure and dynamics, including altered fire regimes and 
other natural disturbance factors; and the implementation of grazing 
regimes that result in proper vegetation structure for Gunnison sage-
grouse life-history needs in areas used for domestic and wild ungulate 
grazing and browsing.
    Limiting the designation of critical habitat in this unit only to 
currently occupied areas would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. Accordingly, we propose for designation currently 
unoccupied areas that we conclude are essential for the conservation of 
the species. These

[[Page 2556]]

unoccupied areas comprise approximately 58,214 ha (143,850 ac), 
consisting of lands defined in the 2005 RCP as potential habitat or 
vacant or unknown habitat (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). These areas consist of 
lands with varying amounts of overall sagebrush cover, or have habitat 
types suitable for movements and dispersal. These areas are also 
located adjacent to occupied habitat or are located immediately between 
surrounding populations. In addition to contributing to the fulfillment 
of the landscape-scale habitat needs of Gunnison sage-grouse, 
particularly with continued direct and functional habitat loss (see 
discussion under Factor A in the proposed listing rule for the species, 
which is published elsewhere in today's Federal Register), these areas 
provide habitat for future population growth and reestablishment of 
portions of presettlement range, as well as to facilitate or allow 
movement between other populations and within the Gunnison Basin.
    Some unoccupied habitat areas within this unit consist of lands 
that recently supported sagebrush-dominant plant communities but are 
currently in agricultural production or are currently subject to 
encroachment by coniferous trees or shrubs, most commonly pi[ntilde]on-
juniper or mountain shrub plant communities. These areas require 
restoration to reestablish or enhance sagebrush communities to support 
the primary constituent elements of Gunnison sage-grouse nesting or 
brood-rearing habitat. However, in their current state, these areas 
provide essential habitat for interpopulation movements and reduce 
population isolation and increase genetic exchange among populations. 
The maintenance and enhancement of interpopulation connectivity is 
particularly important for the Gunnison Basin because it is the largest 
population in the species range and is therefore the most likely source 
of dispersal of Gunnison sage-grouse to other populations.

Unit 7: Poncha Pass

    Unit 7, the Poncha Pass Unit, consists of 19,543 ha (48,292 ac) of 
Federal, State, and local government owned lands, and private lands in 
Saguache and Chaffee Counties, Colorado. Approximately 12,257 ha 
(30,287 ac) (62.7 percent) of the land area within the unit is managed 
by Federal agencies, 844 ha (2,084 ac) (4.3 percent) is owned by the 
State of Colorado, and the remaining 6,443 ha (15,921 ac) (33.0 
percent) is comprised of private lands. We consider 8,262 ha (20,416 
ac) within this unit to be currently occupied (42.3 percent), based on 
the mapping developed for the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, p. 54).
    The occupied portion of the Poncha Pass Unit contains the physical 
and biological features essential to the conservation of the Gunnison 
sage-grouse. No lands within the currently occupied lands in the unit 
are protected from development through permanent conservation easements 
or fee title ownership by conservation organizations, and no lands are 
included under the Gunnison sage-grouse CCAA (CPW 2011c, p. 11; CPW 
2012b, p. 6). Habitat conversion to agriculture is limited to less than 
3 percent of the occupied portion of the Poncha Pass (USGS 2004, 
entire).
    Threats to the physical and biological features within the Poncha 
Pass Unit include: Residential and commercial development including 
associated land-clearing activities for the construction of access 
roads, utilities, and fences; increased recreational use of roads and 
trails; the proliferation of predators of Gunnison sage-grouse; the 
spread of invasive plant species and associated changes in sagebrush 
plant community structure and dynamics; past and present grazing 
management that degrades or eliminates vegetation structure; all of 
which can result in the loss, degradation, or fragmentation of 
sagebrush plant communities. Special management actions that may be 
needed to address these threats include, but are not limited to: The 
rangewide prioritization and protection of crucial seasonal habitats 
subject to future residential and commercial development and increasing 
recreational use of roads and trails; the control of invasive plant 
species and restoration of historic plant community structure and 
dynamics, including altered fire regimes and other natural disturbance 
factors; and the implementation of grazing regimes that result in 
proper vegetation structure for Gunnison sage-grouse life-history needs 
in areas used for domestic and wild ungulate grazing and browsing.
    Limiting the designation of critical habitat in this unit only to 
currently occupied areas would be inadequate to ensure the conservation 
of the species. Accordingly, we propose for designation currently 
unoccupied areas that we conclude are essential for the conservation of 
the species. These unoccupied areas comprise approximately 11,281 ha 
(27,877 ac), consisting of lands defined in the 2005 RCP as potential 
habitat or vacant or unknown habitat (GSRSC 2005, p. 54). These areas 
consist of lands with varying amounts of overall sagebrush cover, or 
have habitat types suitable for movements and dispersal. These areas 
are also located adjacent to occupied habitat or are located 
immediately between surrounding populations. In addition to 
contributing to the fulfillment of the landscape-scale habitat needs of 
Gunnison sage-grouse, these areas provide habitat for future population 
growth and reestablishment of portions of presettlement range, as well 
as to facilitate or allow movement between other units and within the 
unit.
    Some unoccupied habitat areas within this unit consist of lands 
that recently supported sagebrush-dominant plant communities but are 
currently in agricultural production or are currently subject to 
encroachment by coniferous trees or shrubs, most commonly pi[ntilde]on-
juniper or mountain shrub plant communities. These areas require 
restoration to reestablish or enhance sagebrush communities to support 
the primary constituent elements of Gunnison sage-grouse nesting or 
brood-rearing habitat. However, in their current state, these areas 
provide essential habitat for interpopulation movements and reduce 
population isolation and increase genetic exchange among populations.
    We recognize that this proposed critical habitat unit is 
considerably smaller than the RCP modeled minimum habitat patch size 
required to support a viable Gunnison sage-grouse population. 
Nevertheless, this proposed critical habitat unit encompasses all 
existing and potential Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the vicinity. As 
such, in the absence of natural immigration of Gunnison sage-grouse, 
the population within this critical habitat unit may need to be 
augmented through the translocation of birds from larger populations or 
the release of captive-produced birds.

Effects of Critical Habitat Designation

Section 7 Consultation

    Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies, including the 
Service, to ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out 
is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered 
species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of designated critical habitat of such species. In 
addition, section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any agency action which is likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of any species proposed to be listed 
under the Act or result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
proposed critical habitat.

[[Page 2557]]

    Decisions by the 5th and 9th Circuit Courts of Appeals have 
invalidated our regulatory definition of ``destruction or adverse 
modification'' (50 CFR 402.02) (see Gifford Pinchot Task Force v. U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 378 F. 3d 1059 (9th Cir. 2004) and Sierra 
Club v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service et al., 245 F.3d 434, 442 (5th 
Cir. 2001)), and we do not rely on this regulatory definition when 
analyzing whether an action is likely to destroy or adversely modify 
critical habitat. Under the statutory provisions of the Act, we 
determine destruction or adverse modification on the basis of whether, 
with implementation of the proposed Federal action, the affected 
critical habitat would continue to serve its intended conservation role 
for the species.
    If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical 
habitat, the responsible Federal agency (action agency) must enter into 
consultation with us. Examples of actions that are subject to the 
section 7 consultation process are actions on State, tribal, local, or 
private lands that require a Federal permit (such as a permit from the 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water Act 
(33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) or a permit from the Service under section 10 
of the Act) or that involve some other Federal action (such as funding 
from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation 
Administration, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Federal 
actions not affecting listed species or critical habitat, and actions 
on State, tribal, local, or private lands that are not federally funded 
or authorized, do not require section 7 consultation.
    When determining proposed critical habitat boundaries, we made 
every effort to avoid including developed areas such as lands covered 
by buildings, pavement, and other manmade structures because such lands 
lack physical and biological features necessary for Gunnison sage-
grouse. The scale of the maps we prepared under the parameters for 
publication within the Code of Federal Regulations may not reflect the 
exclusion of such developed sites. Therefore, if the critical habitat 
is finalized as proposed, a Federal action involving these lands would 
not trigger section 7 consultation with respect to critical habitat and 
the requirement of no adverse modification unless the specific action 
would affect the physical and biological features in the adjacent 
critical habitat.
    Likewise, due to past land uses, vegetation changes, or a number of 
other natural or manmade factors, some areas within the mapped proposed 
critical habitat may currently lack the site-specific physical and 
biological features (primary constituent elements) necessary to support 
Gunnison sage-grouse (see section, Primary Constituent Elements for 
Gunnison Sage-grouse). If critical habitat is designated, for actions 
involving lands that lack the primary constituent elements for Gunnison 
sage-grouse, section 7 consultation as it relates to critical habitat 
would not be required.
    As a result of section 7 consultation, we document compliance with 
the requirements of section 7(a)(2) through our issuance of:
    (1) A concurrence letter for Federal actions that may affect, but 
are not likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat; 
or
    (2) A biological opinion for Federal actions that may affect, or 
are likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat.
    When we issue a biological opinion concluding that a project is 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species and/or 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, we provide reasonable and 
prudent alternatives to the project, if any are identifiable, that 
would avoid the likelihood of jeopardy and/or destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat. We define ``reasonable and prudent 
alternatives'' (at 50 CFR 402.02) as alternative actions identified 
during consultation that:
    (1) Can be implemented in a manner consistent with the intended 
purpose of the action,
    (2) Can be implemented consistent with the scope of the Federal 
agency's legal authority and jurisdiction,
    (3) Are economically and technologically feasible, and
    (4) Would, in the Director's opinion, avoid the likelihood of 
jeopardizing the continued existence of the listed species and/or avoid 
the likelihood of destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat.
    Reasonable and prudent alternatives can vary from slight project 
modifications to extensive redesign or relocation of the project. Costs 
associated with implementing a reasonable and prudent alternative are 
similarly variable.
    Regulations at 50 CFR 402.16 require Federal agencies to reinitiate 
consultation on previously reviewed actions in instances where we have 
listed a new species or subsequently designated critical habitat that 
may be affected and the Federal agency has retained discretionary 
involvement or control over the action (or the agency's discretionary 
involvement or control is authorized by law). Consequently, Federal 
agencies sometimes may need to request reinitiation of consultation 
with us on actions for which formal consultation has been completed, if 
those actions with discretionary involvement or control may affect 
subsequently listed species or designated critical habitat.

Application of the ``Adverse Modification'' Standard

    The key factor related to the adverse modification determination is 
whether, with implementation of the proposed Federal action, the 
affected critical habitat would continue to serve its intended 
conservation role for the species. Activities that may destroy or 
adversely modify critical habitat are those that alter the physical and 
biological features to an extent that appreciably reduces the 
conservation value of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse. As 
discussed above, the role of critical habitat is to support life-
history needs of the species and provide for the conservation of the 
species.
    Section 4(b)(8) of the Act requires us to briefly evaluate and 
describe, in any proposed or final regulation that designates critical 
habitat, activities involving a Federal action that may destroy or 
adversely modify such habitat, or that may be affected by such 
designation.
    Activities that may affect critical habitat, when carried out, 
funded, or authorized by a Federal agency, should result in 
consultation for the Gunnison sage-grouse. These activities include, 
but are not limited to:
    (1) Actions that would result in the loss of sagebrush overstory 
plant cover or height. Such activities could include, but are not 
limited to, the removal of native shrub vegetation by any means for any 
infrastructure construction project; direct conversion to agricultural 
land use; habitat improvement or restoration projects involving mowing, 
brush-beating, Dixie harrowing, disking, plowing, or prescribed 
burning; and fire suppression activities. These activities could 
eliminate or reduce the habitat necessary for the growth and 
reproduction of Gunnison sage-grouse.
    (2) Actions that would result in the loss or reduction in native 
herbaceous understory plant cover or height, and a reduction or loss of 
associated arthropod communities. Such activities could include, but 
are not limited to, livestock grazing, the application of herbicides or 
insecticides, prescribed burning and fire suppression activities; and 
seeding of nonnative plant species that would compete with native 
species for water, nutrients, and space. These

[[Page 2558]]

activities could eliminate or reduce the quality of the habitat 
necessary for the growth and reproduction of Gunnison sage-grouse 
through a reduction in food quality and quantity, and increased 
exposure to predation.
    (3) Actions that would result in Gunnison sage-grouse avoidance of 
an area during one or more seasonal periods. Such activities could 
include, but are not limited to, the construction of vertical 
structures such as power lines, fences, communication towers, and 
buildings; management of motorized and nonmotorized recreational use; 
and activities such as well drilling, operation, and maintenance, which 
would entail significant human presence, noise, and infrastructure. 
These activities could result in the direct and functional loss of 
habitat if Gunnison sage-grouse avoid or reduce use of otherwise 
suitable habitat in the vicinity of these structures or concentrated 
activity centers.

Exemptions

Application of Section 4(a)(3) of the Act

    The Sikes Act Improvement Act of 1997 (Sikes Act) (16 U.S.C. 670a) 
required each military installation that includes land and water 
suitable for the conservation and management of natural resources to 
complete an integrated natural resource management plan (INRMP) by 
November 17, 2001. An INRMP integrates implementation of the military 
mission of the installation with stewardship of the natural resources 
found on the base. Each INRMP includes:
    (1) An assessment of the ecological needs on the installation, 
including the need to provide for the conservation of listed species;
    (2) A statement of goals and priorities;
    (3) A detailed description of management actions to be implemented 
to provide for these ecological needs; and
    (4) A monitoring and adaptive management plan.
    Among other things, each INRMP must, to the extent appropriate and 
applicable, provide for fish and wildlife management; fish and wildlife 
habitat enhancement or modification; wetland protection, enhancement, 
and restoration where necessary to support fish and wildlife; and 
enforcement of applicable natural resource laws.
    The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 (Pub. 
L. 108-136) amended the Act to limit areas eligible for designation as 
critical habitat. Specifically, section 4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the Act (16 
U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(B)(i)) now provides: ``The Secretary shall not 
designate as critical habitat any lands or other geographical areas 
owned or controlled by the Department of Defense, or designated for its 
use, that are subject to an integrated natural resources management 
plan prepared under section 101 of the Sikes Act (16 U.S.C. 670a), if 
the Secretary determines in writing that such plan provides a benefit 
to the species for which critical habitat is proposed for 
designation.''
    There are no Department of Defense lands with a completed INRMP 
within the proposed critical habitat designation.

Exclusions

Application of Section 4(b)(2) of the Act

    Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states that the Secretary shall 
designate and make revisions to critical habitat on the basis of the 
best available scientific data after taking into consideration the 
economic impact, national security impact, and any other relevant 
impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The 
Secretary may exclude an area from critical habitat if he determines 
that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying 
such area as part of the critical habitat, unless he determines, based 
on the best scientific data available, that the failure to designate 
such area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the 
species. In making that determination, the statute on its face, as well 
as the legislative history, are clear that the Secretary has broad 
discretion regarding which factor(s) to use and how much weight to give 
to any factor.
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we may exclude an area from 
designated critical habitat based on economic impacts, impacts on 
national security, or any other relevant impacts. In considering 
whether to exclude a particular area from the designation, we identify 
the benefits of including the area in the designation, identify the 
benefits of excluding the area from the designation, and evaluate 
whether the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion. 
If the analysis indicates that the benefits of exclusion outweigh the 
benefits of inclusion, the Secretary may exercise his discretion to 
exclude the area only if such exclusion would not result in the 
extinction of the species.
Exclusions Based on Economic Impacts
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider the economic impacts 
of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. In order to 
consider economic impacts, we are preparing an analysis of the economic 
impacts of the proposed critical habitat designation and related 
factors. All of the critical habitat united (CHUs) contain private 
lands. Federal lands with oil and gas leases, grazing permits, rights-
of-way for utilities and telecommunications, and recreational uses are 
included in some units. Several State-owned parcels are included in 
some units where hunting, wildlife viewing, and other recreational 
activities occur. The economic analysis will estimate the economic 
impact of a potential designation of critical habitat on these 
activities.
    During the development of a final designation, we will consider 
economic impacts, public comments, and other new information, and areas 
may be excluded from the final critical habitat designation under 
section 4(b)(2) of the Act and our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 
424.19.
Exclusions Based on National Security Impacts
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider whether there are 
lands owned or managed by the Department of Defense where a national 
security impact might exist. In preparing this proposal, we have 
determined that no lands within the proposed designation of critical 
habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse are owned or managed by the Department 
of Defense, and, therefore, we anticipate no impact on national 
security. Consequently, the Secretary does not anticipate that he will 
exercise discretion to exclude any areas from the final designation 
based on impacts on national security.
Exclusions Based on Other Relevant Impacts
    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider any other relevant 
impacts, in addition to economic impacts and impacts on national 
security. We consider a number of factors, including whether the 
landowners have developed any management plans or conservation 
partnerships that would be encouraged by designation of, or exclusion 
from, critical habitat. In addition, we look at any tribal issues, and 
consider the government-to-government relationship of the United States 
with tribal entities. We also consider any social impacts that might 
occur because of the designation.
    We acknowledge and commend landowners who have made significant 
commitments to manage their lands in a manner that is compatible with 
the conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse. In this proposed rule, we are 
seeking input from the public, especially private landowners, as to 
whether or not the Secretary should exclude lands enrolled under the 
Gunnison sage-grouse CCAA,

[[Page 2559]]

lands under permanent conservation easements, or fee title properties 
with conservation measures applicable to Gunnison sage-grouse from the 
final critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of the Act. 
The Service also acknowledges conservation efforts such as 
participation in the Sage Grouse Initiative that is led by the Natural 
Resources Conservation Service. (Please see the Information Requested 
section of this proposed rule for instructions on how to submit 
comments).
    A decision as to whether to exclude these lands from the proposed 
designation will require consideration of several important factors. 
Enrollment in the CCAA can be withdrawn by the landowner at any time 
and most lands have been enrolled less than two years. Furthermore, 
CCAA enrollment eligibility will expire if a final listing 
determination is made for Gunnison sage-grouse. If the agreed-upon, 
voluntary land management practices within the conditions of the CCAA 
are met by the land owner, then the designation of critical habitat on 
these lands should not result in any additional regulatory 
requirements. For lands under conservation easement, we lack 
information to evaluate if conditions or practices incorporated into 
the easement conditions afford adequate protection to the physical or 
biological features of Gunnison sage-grouse. Also, because these lands 
are privately owned, absent a Federal nexus, the designation of 
critical habitat on these lands will incur no additional regulatory 
burden beyond the prohibitions of section 9(a)(2) of the Act.
    In preparing this proposal, we have determined that there are 
currently no habitat conservation plans (HCPs) for the Gunnison sage-
grouse, and the proposed designation does not include any tribal lands 
or trust resources. We anticipate no impact on tribal lands, 
partnerships, or HCPs from this proposed critical habitat designation. 
Accordingly, the Secretary does not propose to exercise his discretion 
to exclude any areas from the final designation based on other relevant 
impacts.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the 
Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we will seek the expert 
opinions of at least three appropriate and independent specialists 
regarding this proposed rule. The purpose of peer review is to ensure 
that our critical habitat designation is based on scientifically sound 
data, assumptions, and analyses. We have invited these peer reviewers 
to comment during this public comment period on our specific 
assumptions and conclusions in this proposed designation of critical 
habitat.
    We will consider all comments and information received during this 
comment period on this proposed rule during our preparation of a final 
determination. Accordingly, the final decision may differ from this 
proposal.

Public Hearings

    Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings 
on this proposal, if requested. Requests must be received within 45 
days after the date of publication of this proposed rule in the Federal 
Register. Such requests must be sent to the address shown in FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We will schedule public hearings on this 
proposal, if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, and 
places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain reasonable 
accommodations, in the Federal Register and local newspapers at least 
15 days before the hearing.

Required Determinations

    Our draft economic analysis will be completed after this proposed 
rule is published. Therefore, we will defer our Regulatory Flexibility 
Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.), Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use--
Executive Order 13211, Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et 
seq.), and Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), 
findings until after this analysis is done.

Regulatory Planning and Review (Executive Orders 12866 and 13563)

    Executive Order 12866 provides that the Office of Information and 
Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) will review all significant rules. The Office 
of Information and Regulatory Affairs has determined that this rule is 
not significant.
    Executive Order 13563 reaffirms the principles of E.O. 12866 while 
calling for improvements in the nation's regulatory system to promote 
predictability, to reduce uncertainty, and to use the best, most 
innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. 
The executive order directs agencies to consider regulatory approaches 
that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for 
the public where these approaches are relevant, feasible, and 
consistent with regulatory objectives. E.O. 13563 emphasizes further 
that regulations must be based on the best available science and that 
the rulemaking process must allow for public participation and an open 
exchange of ideas. We have developed this rule in a manner consistent 
with these requirements.

Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.)

    Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA; 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) as 
amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act 
(SBREFA) of 1996 (5 U.S.C 801 et seq.), whenever an agency must publish 
a notice of rulemaking for any proposed or final rule, it must prepare 
and make available for public comment a regulatory flexibility analysis 
that describes the effects of the rule on small entities (small 
businesses, small organizations, and small government jurisdictions). 
However, no regulatory flexibility analysis is required if the head of 
the agency certifies the rule will not have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities. The SBREFA amended 
the RFA to require Federal agencies to provide a certification 
statement of the factual basis for certifying that the rule will not 
have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities.
    According to the Small Business Administration, small entities 
include small organizations such as independent nonprofit 
organizations; small governmental jurisdictions, including school 
boards and city and town governments that serve fewer than 50,000 
residents; and small businesses (13 CFR 121.201). Small businesses 
include such businesses as manufacturing and mining concerns with fewer 
than 500 employees, wholesale trade entities with fewer than 100 
employees, retail and service businesses with less than $5 million in 
annual sales, general and heavy construction businesses with less than 
$27.5 million in annual business, special trade contractors doing less 
than $11.5 million in annual business, and forestry and logging 
operations with fewer than 500 employees and annual business less than 
$7 million. To determine whether small entities may be affected, we 
will consider the types of activities that might trigger regulatory 
impacts under this designation as well as types of project 
modifications that may result. In general, the term ``significant 
economic impact'' is meant to apply to a typical small business firm's 
business operations.
    Importantly, the incremental impacts of a rule must be both 
significant and substantial to prevent certification of the rule under 
the RFA and to require the preparation of an initial regulatory 
flexibility analysis. If a substantial number of small entities are 
affected by the proposed critical habitat

[[Page 2560]]

designation, but the per-entity economic impact is not significant, the 
Service may certify. Likewise, if the per-entity economic impact is 
likely to be significant, but the number of affected entities is not 
substantial, the Service may also certify.
    The Service's current understanding of recent case law is that 
Federal agencies are only required to evaluate the potential impacts of 
rulemaking on those entities directly regulated by the rulemaking; 
therefore, they are not required to evaluate the potential impacts to 
those entities not directly regulated. The designation of critical 
habitat for an endangered or threatened species only has a regulatory 
effect where a Federal action agency is involved in a particular action 
that may affect the designated critical habitat. Under these 
circumstances, only the Federal action agency is directly regulated by 
the designation, and, therefore, consistent with the Service's current 
interpretation of RFA and recent case law, the Service may limit its 
evaluation of the potential impacts to those identified for Federal 
action agencies. Under this interpretation, there is no requirement 
under the RFA to evaluate the potential impacts to entities not 
directly regulated, such as small businesses. However, Executive Orders 
12866 and 13563 direct Federal agencies to assess costs and benefits of 
available regulatory alternatives in quantitative (to the extent 
feasible) and qualitative terms. Consequently, it is the current 
practice of the Service to assess to the extent practicable these 
potential impacts if sufficient data are available, whether or not this 
analysis is believed by the Service to be strictly required by the RFA. 
In other words, while the effects analysis required under the RFA is 
limited to entities directly regulated by the rulemaking, the effects 
analysis under the Act, consistent with the EO regulatory analysis 
requirements, can take into consideration impacts to both directly and 
indirectly impacted entities, where practicable and reasonable.

Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use--Executive Order 13211

    Executive Order 13211 (Actions Concerning Regulations That 
Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use) requires 
agencies to prepare Statements of Energy Effects when undertaking 
certain actions. Gunnison sage-grouse occur in areas with oil and gas 
activity. These areas are primarily limited to the Monticello--Dove 
Creek and San Miguel populations. A portion of the Gunnison Basin Unit 
occurs in an area with high geothermal energy development potential. 
Well pads and their existing infrastructure are within proposed 
critical habitat units. On Federal lands, entities conducting oil and 
gas related activities as well as power companies would need to consult 
within areas designated as critical habitat. Although we do not believe 
the impacts resulting from this consultation requirement would rise to 
the level of significant, we will make our finding after the draft 
economic analysis has been completed. We will further evaluate this 
issue as we conduct our economic analysis, and review and revise this 
assessment as warranted.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.)

    In accordance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 
et seq.), we make the following findings:
    (1) This rule would not produce a Federal mandate. In general, a 
Federal mandate is a provision in legislation, statute, or regulation 
that would impose an enforceable duty upon State, local, or tribal 
governments, or the private sector, and includes both ``Federal 
intergovernmental mandates'' and ``Federal private sector mandates.'' 
These terms are defined in 2 U.S.C. 658(5)-(7). ``Federal 
intergovernmental mandate'' includes a regulation that ``would impose 
an enforceable duty upon State, local, or tribal governments'' with two 
exceptions. It excludes ``a condition of Federal assistance.'' It also 
excludes ``a duty arising from participation in a voluntary Federal 
program,'' unless the regulation ``relates to a then-existing Federal 
program under which $500,000,000 or more is provided annually to State, 
local, and tribal governments under entitlement authority,'' if the 
provision would ``increase the stringency of conditions of assistance'' 
or ``place caps upon, or otherwise decrease, the Federal Government's 
responsibility to provide funding,'' and the State, local, or tribal 
governments ``lack authority'' to adjust accordingly. At the time of 
enactment, these entitlement programs were: Medicaid; Aid to Families 
with Dependent Children work programs; Child Nutrition; Food Stamps; 
Social Services Block Grants; Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants; 
Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, and Independent Living; Family 
Support Welfare Services; and Child Support Enforcement. ``Federal 
private sector mandate'' includes a regulation that ``would impose an 
enforceable duty upon the private sector, except (i) a condition of 
Federal assistance or (ii) a duty arising from participation in a 
voluntary Federal program.''
    The designation of critical habitat does not impose a legally 
binding duty on non-Federal Government entities or private parties. 
Under the Act, the only regulatory effect is that Federal agencies must 
ensure that their actions do not destroy or adversely modify critical 
habitat under section 7. While non-Federal entities that receive 
Federal funding, assistance, or permits, or that otherwise require 
approval or authorization from a Federal agency for an action, may be 
indirectly impacted by the designation of critical habitat, the legally 
binding duty to avoid destruction or adverse modification of critical 
habitat rests squarely on the Federal agency. Furthermore, to the 
extent that non-Federal entities are indirectly impacted because they 
receive Federal assistance or participate in a voluntary Federal aid 
program, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act would not apply, nor would 
critical habitat shift the costs of the large entitlement programs 
listed above onto State governments.
    (2) We do not believe that this rule would significantly or 
uniquely affect small governments because only a small percentage of 
the total land ownership falls on small government lands such as those 
owned by the City of Gunnison and Gunnison County. Therefore, a Small 
Government Agency Plan is not required. We do not believe that this 
rule would significantly or uniquely affect small governments because 
it would not produce a Federal mandate of $100 million or greater in 
any year, that is, it is not a ``significant regulatory action'' under 
the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. However, we will further evaluate 
this issue as we conduct our economic analysis, and review and revise 
this assessment if appropriate.

Takings--Executive Order 12630

    In accordance with Executive Order 12630 (Government Actions and 
Interference with Constitutionally Protected Private Property Rights), 
we have analyzed the potential takings implications of designating 
critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse in a takings implications 
assessment. Critical habitat designation does not affect landowner 
actions that do not require Federal funding or permits, nor does it 
preclude development of habitat conservation programs or issuance of 
incidental take permits to permit actions that do require Federal 
funding or permits to go forward. The takings implications assessment 
concludes that this proposed designation of critical habitat for 
Gunnison sage-grouse would

[[Page 2561]]

not pose significant takings implications for lands within or affected 
by the designation.

Federalism--Executive Order 13132

    In accordance with Executive Order 13132 (Federalism), this 
proposed rule does not have significant Federalism effects. A 
federalism impact summary statement is not required. In keeping with 
Department of the Interior policy, we requested information from, and 
coordinated development of, this proposed critical habitat designation 
with appropriate State resource agencies in Colorado and Utah. The 
designation of critical habitat in areas currently occupied by the 
Gunnison sage-grouse may impose nominal additional regulatory 
restrictions to those currently in place and, therefore, may have 
little incremental impact on State and local governments and their 
activities. The designation may have some benefit to these governments 
because the areas that contain the physical and biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species are more clearly defined, 
and the elements of the features of the habitat necessary to the 
conservation of the species are specifically identified. This 
information does not alter where and what federally sponsored 
activities may occur. However, it may assist local governments in long-
range planning (rather than having them wait for case-by-case section 7 
consultations to occur).
    Where State and local governments require approval or authorization 
from a Federal agency for actions that may affect critical habitat, 
consultation under section 7(a)(2) would be required. While non-Federal 
entities that receive Federal funding, assistance, or permits, or that 
otherwise require approval or authorization from a Federal agency for 
an action, may be indirectly impacted by the designation of critical 
habitat, the legally binding duty to avoid destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat rests squarely on the Federal agency.

Civil Justice Reform--Executive Order 12988

    In accordance with Executive Order 12988 (Civil Justice Reform), 
the Office of the Solicitor has determined that the rule does not 
unduly burden the judicial system and that it meets the requirements of 
sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of the Order. We have proposed designating 
critical habitat in accordance with the provisions of the Act. To 
assist the public in understanding the habitat needs of the species, 
the rule identifies the elements of physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species. The designated areas of 
critical habitat are presented on maps, and the proposed rule provides 
several options for the interested public to obtain more detailed 
location information, if desired.

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.)

    This rule does not contain any new collections of information that 
require approval by OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 
U.S.C. 3501 et seq.). This rule will not impose recordkeeping or 
reporting requirements on State or local governments, individuals, 
businesses, or organizations. An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and 
a person is not required to respond to, a collection of information 
unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number.

National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)

    It is our position that, outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court 
of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, we do not need to prepare 
environmental analyses pursuant to the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) in connection with designating 
critical habitat under the Act. We published a notice outlining our 
reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 
1983 (48 FR 49244). This position was upheld by the U.S. Court of 
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495 
(9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied 516 U.S. 1042 (1996)).] However, when the 
range of the species includes States within the Tenth Circuit, such as 
that of the Gunnison sage-grouse, under the Tenth Circuit ruling in 
Catron County Board of Commissioners v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
75 F.3d 1429 (10th Cir. 1996), we will undertake a NEPA analysis for 
critical habitat designation prior to making a final determination of 
critical habitat and notify the public of the availability of the draft 
environmental assessment for this proposal when it is finished.

Clarity of the Rule

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (1) Be logically organized;
    (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (3) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. To 
better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as 
possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections 
or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences 
are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be 
useful, etc.

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994 
(Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments; 59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and 
Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments), and the Department of the 
Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our 
responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal 
Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with 
Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, 
Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), 
we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with 
tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge 
that tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal 
public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make 
information available to tribes.
    We determined that there are no tribal lands that were occupied by 
the Gunnison sage-grouse at the time of listing that contain the 
features essential for conservation of the species, and no tribal lands 
unoccupied by the Gunnison sage-grouse that are essential for the 
conservation of the species. Therefore, we are not proposing to 
designate critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse on tribal 
lands.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available 
on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the 
Western Colorado Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authors

    The primary authors of this package are the staff members of the 
Western Colorado Field Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and

[[Page 2562]]

recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:

PART 17--[AMENDED]

0
1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by adding an entry for ``Sage-grouse, 
Gunnison'' to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 
alphabetical order under ``BIRDS'' to read as follows:


Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
              BIRDS
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Sage-grouse, Gunnison............  Centrocercus minimus  U.S.A. (AZ, CO, NM,  Entire.............  E               ...........     17.95(b)           NA
                                                          UT).
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
3. In Sec.  17.95, amend paragraph (b) by adding an entry for 
``Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus minimus),'' in the same 
alphabetical order that the species appears in the table at Sec.  
17.11(h), to read as follows:


Sec.  17.95  Critical habitat--fish and wildlife.

* * * * *
    (b) Birds.
* * * * *
Gunnison Sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus)
    (1) Critical habitat units are depicted for Grand and San Juan 
Counties, Utah, and Chaffee, Delta, Dolores, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mesa, 
Montrose, Ouray, Saguache, and San Miguel Counties, Colorado, on the 
maps below.
    (2) Within these areas, the primary constituent elements of the 
physical and biological features essential to the conservation of 
Gunnison sage-grouse consist of five components:
    (i) Landscape-scale Primary Constituent Element. Primary 
Constituent Element 1--Areas with vegetation composed primarily of 
sagebrush plant communities (at least 25 percent of primarily sagebrush 
land cover within a 1.5-km (0.9-mi) radius of any given location), of 
sufficient size and configuration to encompass all seasonal habitats 
for a given population of Gunnison sage-grouse, and facilitate 
movements within and among populations.
    (ii) Site-scale Primary Constituent Elements.
    (A) Primary Constituent Element 2--Breeding habitat composed of 
sagebrush plant communities with structural characteristics within the 
ranges described in the following table. Habitat structure values are 
average values over a project area.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Vegetation variable                   Amount in habitat
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sagebrush Canopy..........................  10-25 percent
Non-sagebrush Canopy......................  5-15 percent
Total Shrub Canopy........................  15-40 percent
Sagebrush Height..........................  25-50 cm
                                            (9.8-19.7 in)
Grass Cover...............................  10-40 percent
Forb Cover................................  5-40 percent
Grass Height..............................  10-15 cm
                                            (3.9-5.9 in)
Forb Height...............................  5-15 cm
                                            (2.0-5.9 in)
------------------------------------------------------------------------

     (B) Primary Constituent Element 3--Summer-late fall habitat 
composed of sagebrush plant communities with structural characteristics 
within the ranges described in the following table. Habitat structure 
values are average values over a project area.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Vegetation variable                   Amount in habitat
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sagebrush Canopy..........................  5-20 percent
Non-sagebrush Canopy......................  5-15 percent
Total Shrub Canopy........................  10-35 percent
Sagebrush Height..........................  25-50 cm
                                            (9.8-19.7 in)
Grass Cover...............................  10-35 percent
Forb Cover................................  5-35 percent
Grass Height..............................  10-15 cm
                                            (3.9-5.9 in)
Forb Height...............................  3-10 cm
                                            (1.2-3.9 in)
------------------------------------------------------------------------

     (C) Primary Constituent Element 4--Winter habitat composed of 
sagebrush plant communities with sagebrush canopy cover between 30 to 
40 percent and sagebrush height of 40 to 55 cm (15.8 to 21.7 in). These 
habitat structure values are average values over a project area.
    (D) Primary Constituent Element 5--Alternative, mesic habitats used 
primarily in the summer-late fall season.
    (3) Critical habitat does not include manmade structures (such as 
buildings, aqueducts, runways, roads, and other paved areas) and the 
land on which they are located existing within the legal boundaries on 
the effective date of this rule.
    (4) Critical habitat map units. Data layers defining map units were 
created from a number of geospatial data, including: Polygons generated 
as part of the Gunnison sage-grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan, 
Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project (SWReGAP) land cover data, 
National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) aerial images, and USGS 7.5 
minute quadrangle maps. Critical habitat units were then mapped as 
shapefiles using Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) Zone 13N 
coordinates. The maps in this entry, as modified by any accompanying 
regulatory text, establish the boundaries of the critical habitat 
designation. The coordinates or plot points or both on which each map 
is based are available to the public at the Service's internet site, 
(http://www.fws.gov/coloradoes/), http://www.regulations.gov at Docket 
No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111, and at the field office responsible for this 
designation. You may obtain field office location information by 
contacting one of the Service regional offices, the addresses of which 
are listed at 50 CFR 2.2.
    (5) Note: Index map follows:
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[[Page 2563]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP11JA13.002

    (6) Unit 1: Monticello--Dove Creek: San Juan County, Utah, and 
Montrose, San Miguel, and Dolores Counties, Colorado.
    (i) General Description: 140,973 ha (348,353 ac); 20.4 percent of 
all critical habitat.
    (ii) Map of Unit 1, Monticello--Dove Creek: San Juan County, Utah, 
and Montrose, San Miguel, and Dolores Counties, Colorado, follows:

[[Page 2564]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP11JA13.003

    (7) Unit 2: Pi[ntilde]on Mesa: Grand County, Utah, and Mesa County, 
Colorado.
    (i) General Description: 99,220 ha (245,179 ac); 14.4 percent of 
all critical habitat.
    (ii) Map of Unit 2, Pi[ntilde]on Mesa: Grand County, Utah, and Mesa 
County, Colorado, follows:

[[Page 2565]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP11JA13.004

    (8) Unit 3: San Miguel Basin: Montrose, San Miguel, and Ouray 
Counties, Colorado.
    (i) General Description: 67,084 ha (165,769 ac); 9.7 percent of all 
critical habitat.
    (ii) Map of Unit 3, San Miguel Basin: Montrose, San Miguel, and 
Ouray Counties, Colorado, follows:

[[Page 2566]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP11JA13.005

    (9) Unit 4: Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa: Montrose, Ouray, and 
Gunnison Counties, Colorado.
    (i) General Description: 25,377 ha (62,708 ac); 3.7 percent of all 
critical habitat.
    (ii) Map of Unit 4, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa: Montrose, 
Ouray, and Gunnison Counties, Colorado, follows:

[[Page 2567]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP11JA13.006

    (10) Unit 5: Crawford: Delta, Montrose, and Gunnison Counties, 
Colorado.
    (i) General Description: 39,304 ha (97,123 ac); 5.7 percent of all 
critical habitat.
    (ii) Map of Unit 5, Crawford: Delta, Montrose, and Gunnison 
Counties, Colorado, follows:

[[Page 2568]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP11JA13.007

    (11) Unit 6: Gunnison Basin: Gunnison, Saguache, Montrose, and 
Hinsdale Counties, Colorado.
    (i) General Description: 298,173 ha (736,802 ac); 43.2 percent of 
all critical habitat.
    (ii) Map of Unit 6, Gunnison Basin: Gunnison, Saguache, Montrose, 
and Hinsdale Counties, Colorado, follows:

[[Page 2569]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP11JA13.008

    (12) Unit 7: Poncha Pass: Saguache and Chaffee Counties, Colorado.
    (i) General Description: 19,543 ha (48,292 ac); 2.8 percent of all 
critical habitat.
    (ii) Map of Unit 7, Poncha Pass: Saguache and Chaffee Counties, 
Colorado, follows:

[[Page 2570]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP11JA13.009

* * * * *

    Dated: December 13, 2012.
Michael J. Bean,
Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and 
Parks.
[FR Doc. 2012-31666 Filed 1-10-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-C