[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 8 (Friday, January 11, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 2485-2538]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-31667]



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Vol. 78

Friday,

No. 8

January 11, 2013

Part II





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; Endangered Status 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-2012-0108; 4500030113]
RIN 1018-AZ20


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Status 
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 list the 
Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as endangered under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The effect of this 
regulation would be to add the Gunnison sage-grouse to the Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife under the Act.

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-
2012-0108, 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-2012-0108; 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).

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. Under the Act, if a species is 
determined to be an endangered or threatened species throughout all or 
a significant portion of its range, we are required to promptly publish 
a proposal in the Federal Register and make a determination on our 
proposal within one year. Listing a species as an endangered or 
threatened species can only be completed by issuing a rule. In this 
case, we are required by a judicially approved settlement agreement to 
make a final determination on this proposal regarding the Gunnison 
sage-grouse by no later than September 30, 2013.
    This rule proposes the listing of the Gunnison sage-grouse as 
endangered.
     We are proposing to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as 
endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
    The basis for our action. Under the Act, we can determine that a 
species is an endangered or threatened species based on one or more any 
of five factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence.
    Based on the best available scientific and commercial data, we have 
determined that the principal threat to Gunnison sage-grouse is habitat 
loss, degradation, and fragmentation due to residential, exurban, and 
commercial development and associated infrastructure such as roads and 
power lines. The human population is increasing throughout much of the 
range of Gunnison sage-grouse, and data indicate this trend will 
continue. With this growth, we expect an increase in human development, 
further contributing to loss and fragmentation of Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitats. Other threats to the species include improper grazing 
management; predation (often facilitated by human development or 
disturbance); genetic risks in the declining, smaller populations; and 
inadequate local, State, and Federal regulatory mechanisms (e.g., laws, 
regulations, zoning) to conserve the species. Other factors that may 
not individually threaten the continued existence of Gunnison sage-
grouse but, collectively, have the potential to threaten the species, 
include invasive plants, fire, and climate change, and the interaction 
of these three factors; fences; renewable and non-renewable energy 
development; pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment; water development; 
disease;, drought; and recreation.
    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 that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
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 species' biology, range, and population trends, including:
    (a) Habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering;
    (b) Genetics and taxonomy;
    (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns;
    (d) Historical and current population levels, and current and 
projected trends; and
    (e) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the species, its 
habitat, or both.
    (2) The factors that are the basis for making a listing 
determination for a species under section 4(a) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.), which are:
    (a) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range;
    (b) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes;
    (c) Disease or predation;
    (d) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or

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    (e) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued 
existence.
    (3) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threats (or lack thereof) to this species and existing regulations 
that may be addressing those threats.
    (4) Additional information concerning the historical and current 
status, range, distribution, and population size of this species, 
including the locations of any additional populations of this species.
    (5) Any information on the biological or ecological requirements of 
the species and ongoing conservation measures for the species and its 
habitat.
    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)(1)(A) of the Act directs that 
determinations as to whether any species is a threatened or endangered 
species must be made ``solely on the basis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available,''.
    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

    On January 18, 2000, we designated the Gunnison sage-grouse as a 
candidate species under the Act, with a listing priority number of 5. 
However, a Federal Register notice regarding this decision was not 
published until December 28, 2000 (65 FR 82310). Candidate species are 
plants and animals for which the Service has sufficient information on 
their biological status and threats to propose them as endangered or 
threatened under the Act, but for which the development of a proposed 
listing regulation is precluded by other higher priority listing 
activities. A listing priority of 5 is assigned to species with high-
magnitude threats that are nonimminent.
    On January 26, 2000, American Lands Alliance, Biodiversity Legal 
Foundation, and others petitioned the Service to list the Gunnison 
sage-grouse (Webb 2000, pp. 94-95). In 2003, the U.S. District Court 
for the District of Columbia ruled that the species was designated as a 
candidate by the Service prior to receipt of the petition, and that the 
determination that a species should be on the candidate list is 
equivalent to a 12-month finding (American Lands Alliance v. Gale A. 
Norton, C.A. No. 00-2339, D. DC). Therefore, we did not need to respond 
to the petition.
    In annual documents that we call Candidate Notices of Review 
(CNOR), we summarize the status and threats that we evaluated in order 
to determine that species qualify as candidates and to assign a listing 
priority number (LPN) to each species or to determine that species 
should be removed from candidate status. In the 2003 Candidate Notice 
of Review (CNOR), we elevated the listing priority number for Gunnison 
sage-grouse from 5 to 2 (69 FR 24876; May 4, 2004), as the imminence of 
the threats had increased. In the subsequent CNOR (70 FR 24870; May 11, 
2005), we maintained the LPN for Gunnison sage-grouse as a 2. A LPN of 
2 is assigned to species with high-magnitude threats that are imminent.
    Plaintiffs amended their complaint in the DC district court in May 
2004, to allege that the Service's warranted-but-precluded finding and 
decision not to emergency list the Gunnison sage-grouse were in 
violation of the Act. The parties filed a stipulated settlement 
agreement with the court on November 14, 2005, which included a 
provision that the Service would make a proposed listing determination 
by March 31, 2006. On March 28, 2006, the plaintiffs agreed to a one-
week extension (April 7, 2006) for this determination.
    In April 2005, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) (hereafter, 
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), pursuant to the agency's 
reorganization on July 1, 2011) applied to the Service for an 
Enhancement of Survival Permit for the Gunnison sage-grouse pursuant to 
section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act. The permit application included a 
proposed Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) 
between CPW and the Service. The standard that a CCAA must meet is that 
the ``benefits of the conservation measures implemented by a property 
owner under a CCAA, when combined with those benefits that would be 
achieved if it is assumed that conservation measures were also to be 
implemented on other necessary properties, would preclude or remove any 
need to list the species'' (64 FR 32726, June 17, 1999). The CCAA, the 
permit application, and the environmental assessment were made 
available for public comment on July 6, 2005 (70 FR 38977). The CCAA 
and environmental assessment were finalized in October 2006, and the 
associated permit was issued on October 23, 2006. Landowners with 
eligible property in southwestern Colorado who wish to participate can 
voluntarily sign up under the CCAA and associated permit through a 
Certificate of Inclusion by providing habitat protection or enhancement 
measures on their lands. If the Gunnison sage-grouse is listed under 
the Act, the CCAA remains in place and the permit authorizes incidental 
take of Gunnison sage-grouse due to otherwise lawful activities 
specified in the CCAA, when performed in accordance with the terms of 
the CCAA (e.g., crop cultivation, crop harvesting, livestock grazing, 
farm equipment operation, commercial/residential development, etc.), as 
long as the participating landowner is performing conservation measures 
voluntarily agreed to in the Certificate of Inclusion. Fourteen 
Certificates of Inclusion have been issued by the CPW and Service to 
private landowners to date (CPW 2012b, p. 11).
    On April 11, 2006, the Service determined that listing the Gunnison 
sage-grouse as an endangered or threatened species was not warranted 
and published the final listing determination in the Federal Register 
on April 18, 2006 (71 FR 19954). As a result of this determination, we 
also removed Gunnison sage-grouse from the candidate species list.
    On November 14, 2006, the County of San Miguel, Colorado; Center 
for Biological Diversity; WildEarth Guardians; Public Employees for 
Environmental Responsibility; National Audubon Society; The Larch 
Company; Center for Native Ecosystems; Sinapu; Sagebrush Sea Campaign; 
Black Canyon Audubon Society; and Sheep Mountain

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Alliance filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, 
pursuant to the Act, and on October 24, 2007, filed an amended 
complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that our 
determination on the Gunnison sage-grouse violated the Act. On August 
18, 2009, a stipulated settlement agreement and Order was filed with 
the court, with a June 30, 2010, date by which the Service was to 
submit to the Federal Register a 12-month finding, pursuant to 16 
U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(B), that listing the Gunnison sage-grouse under the 
Act is (a) Warranted; (b) not warranted; or (c) warranted but precluded 
by higher priority listing actions. We then published a notice of 
intent to conduct a status review of Gunnison sage-grouse on November 
23, 2009 (74 FR 61100). Later, the Court approved an extension of the 
June 30, 2010, deadline for the 12-month finding to September 15, 2010.
    On September 15, 2010, we determined that listing the Gunnison 
sage-grouse as an endangered or threatened species was warranted but 
precluded by higher priority actions to amend the Lists of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. This finding was published in the 
Federal Register on September 28, 2010 (75 FR 59804). The finding also 
reported that the species was added to the candidate species list and 
assigned a listing priority of 2 based on the Service's determination 
that threats to the species were of high magnitude and immediacy, as 
well as the taxonomic classification of Gunnison sage-grouse as a full 
species.
    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, in response to a motion from the Service, 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.

Background

    Gunnison sage-grouse and greater sage-grouse (a similar, closely 
related species) have similar life histories and habitat requirements 
(Young 1994, p. 44). In this proposed rule, we use information specific 
to the Gunnison sage-grouse where available but still apply scientific 
management principles for greater sage-grouse (C. urophasianus) that 
are relevant to Gunnison sage-grouse management needs and strategies, a 
practice followed by the wildlife and land management agencies that 
have responsibility for management of both species and their habitat.

Species Information

    A detailed discussion of Gunnison sage-grouse taxonomy, the species 
description, historical distribution, habitat, and life-history 
characteristics can be found in the 12-month finding published 
September 28, 2010 (75 FR 59804).

Current Distribution and Population Estimates

    Gunnison sage-grouse currently occur in seven widely scattered and 
isolated populations in Colorado and Utah, occupying 3,795 square 
kilometers (km\2\) (1,511 square miles [mi\2\]) (Gunnison Sage-grouse 
Rangewide Steering Committee) [GSRSC] 2005, pp. 36-37; CDOW 2009a, p. 
1). The seven populations are Gunnison Basin, San Miguel Basin, 
Monticello-Dove Creek, Pi[ntilde]on Mesa, Crawford, Cerro Summit-
Cimarron-Sims Mesa, and Poncha Pass (Figure 1). A comparative summary 
of the land ownership and recent population estimates among these seven 
populations is presented in Table 1, and Figures 2 and 3, respectively. 
Population trends over the last 12 years indicate that six of the 
populations are in decline. The largest population, the Gunnison Basin 
population, while showing variation over the years, has been relatively 
stable through the period (CDOW 2010a, p. 2; CPW 2012a, pp.1-4). Six of 
the populations are very small and fragmented (all with less than 
40,500 hectares (ha) (100,000 acres [ac]) of habitat likely used by 
grouse and, with the exception of the San Miguel population, less than 
50 males counted on leks (communal breeding areas)) (CDOW 2009b, p. 5; 
CPW 2012a, p. 3). The San Miguel population, the second largest, 
comprises six fragmented subpopulations.
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                                      Table 1--Percent Surface Ownership of Gunnison Sage-Grouse Occupied a Habitat
                                                   [GSRSC \b\ 2005, pp. D-3-D-6; CDOW \c\ 2009a, p. 1]
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                                                                                    Gunnison sage-grouse occupied habitat management and ownership
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                      Population                        Hectares    Acres                                                 CO state
                                                                              BLM \d\    NPS \e\    USFS \f\     CPW        land     State of   Private
                                                                                                                           board        UT
                                                       .........  .........          %          %          %          %          %          %          %
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Gunnison Basin.......................................    239,953    592,936         51          2         14          3         <1          0         29
San Miguel Basin.....................................     41,022    101,368       g 36          0          1         11        g 3          0       g 49
Monticello-Dove Creek (Combined).....................     45,275    111,877          7          0          0          3          0         <1         90
    Dove Creek.......................................     16,706     41,282         11          0          0          8          0          0         81
    Monticello.......................................     28,569     70,595          4          0          0          0          0          1         95
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa....................................     15,744     38,904         28          0          2         19          0          0         51
Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa......................     15,039     37,161         13         <1          0         11          0          0         76
Crawford.............................................     14,170     35,015         63         12          0          2          0          0         23
Poncha Pass..........................................      8,262     20,415         48          0         26          0          2          0         23
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Rangewide............................................    379,464    937,676         42          2         10          5         <1         <1         41
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\a\ Occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat is defined as areas of suitable habitat known to be used by Gunnison sage-grouse within the last 10 years from
  the date of mapping, and areas of suitable habitat contiguous with areas of known use, which have no barriers to grouse movement from known use areas
  (GSRSC 2005, p. 54).
\b\ Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Steering Committee.
\c\ Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
\d\ Bureau of Land Management.
\e\ National Park Service.
\f\ United States Forest Service.
\g\ Estimates reported in San Miguel Basin Gunnison Sage-grouse Conservation Plan (San Miguel Basin Gunnison Sage-grouse Working Group (SMBGSWG) 2009,
  p. 28) vary by 2 percent in these categories from those reported here. We consider these differences insignificant.


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    Gunnison Basin Population--The Gunnison Basin is an intermontane 
(located between mountain ranges) basin that includes parts of Gunnison 
and Saguache Counties, Colorado. The current Gunnison Basin population 
is distributed across approximately 240,000 ha (593,000 ac), roughly 
centered on the town of Gunnison. Elevations in the area occupied by 
Gunnison sage-grouse range from 2,300 to 2,900 meters (m) (7,500 to 
9,500 feet [ft]). Approximately 70 percent of the land area occupied by 
Gunnison sage-grouse in this population is managed by Federal agencies 
(67 percent) and CPW (3 percent), and the remaining 30 percent is 
primarily private lands. Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata 
ssp. wyomingensis) and mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana) 
dominate the upland vegetation and have highly variable growth form 
depending on local site conditions.
    In 1961, Gunnison County was one of five counties containing the 
majority of all sage-grouse in Colorado (Rogers 1964, p. 20). The vast 
majority (87 percent) of Gunnison sage-grouse are now found only in the 
Gunnison Basin population. The 2012 population estimate for the 
Gunnison Basin was 4,082 (CPW 2012a, pp. 1-2). In 2011, 42 of 83 leks 
surveyed in the area were active (at least two males in attendance 
during at least two of four 10-day count periods), 6 were inactive 
(inactive for at least 5 consecutive years), 11 were deemed historic 
(inactive for at least 10 consecutive years), and 24 were of unknown 
status (variability in counts resulted in lek not meeting requirements 
for active, inactive, or historic) (CPW 2011b, pp. 27-29). 
Approximately 45 percent of leks in the Gunnison Basin occur on private 
land and 55 percent on public land, primarily land administered by the 
BLM (GSRSC 2005, p. 75).
    San Miguel Basin Population--The San Miguel Basin population is in 
Montrose and San Miguel Counties in Colorado, and is composed of six 
small subpopulations (Dry Creek Basin, Hamilton Mesa, Miramonte 
Reservoir, Gurley Reservoir, Beaver Mesa, and Iron Springs) occupying 
approximately 41,000 ha (101,000 ac). Gunnison sage-grouse use some of 
these areas year-round, while others are used seasonally. Gunnison 
sage-grouse in the San Miguel Basin move widely between the six 
subpopulation areas (Apa 2004, p. 29; Stiver and Gibson 2005, p. 12). 
The area encompassed by this population is believed to have once served 
as critical migration corridors between populations to the north (Cerro 
Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa) and to the south (Monticello-Dove Creek) 
(Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, p. 636; SMBGSWG 2009, p. 9), but gene flow 
among these populations is currently very low (Oyler-McCance et al. 
2005, p. 635). Historically, Gunnison sage-grouse used all available 
big sagebrush plant communities in San Miguel and Montrose Counties 
(Rogers 1964, p. 9).
    Habitat conditions vary among the six subpopulation areas of the 
San Miguel Basin population areas. The following discussion addresses 
conditions among the subpopulations beginning in the west and moving 
east. The majority of occupied acres in the San Miguel Basin population 
(approximately 25,130 ha (62,100 ac) or 62 percent of the total 
population area) occur in the Dry Creek Basin subpopulation (SMBGSWG) 
2009, p. 28). However, the Dry Creek Basin contains some of the poorest 
habitat and the smallest individual grouse numbers in the San Miguel 
population (SMBGSWG) 2009, pp. 28, 36). Sagebrush habitat in the Dry 
Creek Basin area is patchily distributed. Where irrigation is possible, 
private lands in the southeastern portion of Dry Creek Basin are 
cultivated. Sagebrush habitat on private land has been heavily thinned 
or removed entirely (GSRSC 2005, p. 96). Elevations in the Hamilton 
Mesa subpopulation are approximately 610 m (2,000 ft.) higher than in 
the Dry Creek Basin, resulting in more mesic conditions. Agriculture is 
very limited on Hamilton Mesa and the majority of the vegetation 
consists of oakbrush and sagebrush. Gunnison sage-grouse use the 
Hamilton Mesa area (1,940 ha (4,800 ac)) in the summer, but use of 
Hamilton Mesa during other seasons is unknown.
    Gunnison sage-grouse occupy approximately 4,700 ha (11,600 ac) 
around Miramonte Reservoir (GSRSC 2005, p. 96). Sagebrush stands there 
are generally contiguous with a mixed-grass and forb understory. 
Occupied habitat at the Gurley Reservoir area (3,305 ha (7,500 ac)) is 
heavily fragmented by human development, and the understory is a mixed-
grass and forb community. Farming attempts in the Gurley Reservoir area 
in the early 20th century led to the removal of much of the sagebrush, 
although agricultural activities are now restricted primarily to the 
seasonally irrigated crops (hay meadows), and sagebrush has 
reestablished in most of the failed pastures. However, grazing pressure 
and competition from introduced grasses have kept the overall sagebrush 
representation low (GSRSC 2005, pp. 96-97). Sagebrush stands in the 
Iron Springs and Beaver Mesa areas (2,590 ha and 3,560 ha (6,400 ac and 
8,800 ac respectively)) are contiguous with a mixed-grass understory. 
The Beaver Mesa area has numerous scattered patches of oakbrush 
(Quercus gambelii).
    In 2012, the entire San Miguel Basin population contained an 
estimated 172 individuals on nine leks (CPW 2012a, p. 3). CPW 
translocated Gunnison sage-grouse from the Gunnison Basin to Dry Creek 
Basin in 2006, 2007, and 2009. In the spring of 2006, six individuals 
were released and an additional two individuals were released in the 
fall of that year. Nine individuals were translocated in the spring of 
2007. Another 30 individuals were translocated in the fall of 2009. A 
40 to 50 percent mortality rate was observed within the first year 
after release, compared to an average annual mortality rate of 
approximately 20 percent for radiomarked adult sage-grouse (CDOW 2009b, 
p. 9; CPW 2012b, p. 4). For a more detailed discussion of translocation 
efforts, please refer to the Scientific Research section below.
    Monticello-Dove Creek Population--This population is divided into 
two disjunct subpopulations of Gunnison sage-grouse, the Monticello and 
Dove Creek subpopulations. Currently, the larger subpopulation is near 
the town of Monticello, in San Juan County, Utah. Gunnison sage-grouse 
in this subpopulation inhabit a broad plateau on the northeastern side 
of the Abajo Mountains, with fragmented patches of sagebrush 
interspersed with large grass pastures and agricultural fields. In 
1972, the population was estimated at between 583 and 1,050 
individuals; by 2002, the estimate decreased to between 178 and 308 
individuals (UDWR 2011, p. 1). The 2012 population estimate for this 
subpopulation was 103 individuals with two active leks (CPW 2012a, p. 
3). Gunnison sage-grouse currently occupy an estimated 28,570 ha 
(70,600 ac) in the Monticello area (GSRSC 2005, p. 81).
    The Dove Creek subpopulation is located primarily in western 
Dolores County, Colorado, north and west of Dove Creek, although a 
small portion of occupied habitat extends north into San Miguel County. 
All sagebrush plant communities in Dolores and Montezuma Counties 
within Gunnison sage-grouse range in Colorado were historically used by 
Gunnison sage-grouse (Rogers 1964, p. 9). Habitat north of Dove Creek 
is characterized as mountain shrub habitat, dominated by oakbrush 
interspersed with sagebrush. The area west of Dove Creek is dominated 
by sagebrush, but the habitat is highly fragmented by agricultural 
fields. Lek counts in the Dove Creek area were more than 50 males in 
1999,

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suggesting a population of about 245 birds, but declined to 2 males in 
2009 (CDOW 2009b, p. 71), suggesting a population of 10 birds. A new 
lek was found in 2010, and the 2011 population estimate was 59 
individuals on 2 leks (CPW 2011a, p. 1). The 2012 population estimate 
was 44 individuals on the same two leks (CPW 2012a, p. 1). Low 
sagebrush canopy cover, as well as low grass height, exacerbated by 
drought, may have led to nest failure and subsequent population 
declines (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974; Apa 2004, p. 30).
    In the fall of 2010, 13 Gunnison sage-grouse were transplanted from 
the Gunnison Basin to the Dove Creek population area. Another 29 
individuals were transplanted in 2011 (CPW 2012b, p. 4). For a more 
detailed discussion of translocation efforts, please refer to the 
Scientific Research section below.
    Pi[ntilde]on Mesa Population--The Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population 
occurs on the northwestern end of the Uncompahgre Plateau in Mesa 
County, about 35 km (22 mi) southwest of Grand Junction, Colorado. 
Gunnison sage-grouse likely occurred historically in all suitable 
sagebrush habitat in the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa area, including the 
Dominguez Canyon area of the Uncompaghre Plateau, southeast of 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa proper (Rogers 1964, p. 114). Their current 
distribution is approximately 15,744 ha (38,904 ac) (GSRSC 2005, p. 87) 
which, based on a comparison of potential presettlement distribution, 
is approximately 6 percent of presettlement habitat on the northern 
portion of the Uncompahgre Plateau in Mesa County, Colorado, and Grand 
County, Utah. The 2012 population estimate for Pi[ntilde]on Mesa was 54 
birds. Of the 10 known leks, only 3 were active in 2011. Two new 
possible leks were found in 2012 (CPW 2012a, pp. 2-3). The Pi[ntilde]on 
Mesa area may have additional leks, but the high percentage of private 
land, a lack of roads, and heavy snow cover during spring make locating 
additional leks difficult (CDOW 2009b, p. 109).
    Between 2010 and 2012, 44 Gunnison sage-grouse were transplanted 
from the Gunnison Basin to the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population. Over 50 
percent of birds transplanted to date have not survived (CPW 2012b, 
p.5). For a more detailed discussion of translocation efforts, please 
refer to the Scientific Research section below.
    Crawford Population--The Crawford population of Gunnison sage-
grouse is in Montrose County, Colorado, about 13 km (8 mi) southwest of 
the town of Crawford and north of the Gunnison River. Basin big 
sagebrush (A. t. ssp. tridentata) and black sagebrush (A. nova) 
dominate the mid-elevation uplands (GSRSC 2005, p. 62). The 2012 
population estimate for Crawford was 98 individuals in 14,170 ha 
(35,015 ac) of occupied habitat. Three leks are currently active in the 
Crawford population (CPW 2012a, p. 1). All active leks are on BLM lands 
in sagebrush habitat near an 11 km (7 mi) stretch of road. This area 
represents the largest contiguous sagebrush plant community within the 
occupied area of the Crawford population (GSRSC 2005, p. 64).
    In the spring of 2011, seven Gunnison sage-grouse were transplanted 
from the Gunnison Basin to the Crawford area population. Another 20 
individuals were transplanted in 2011 (CPW 2012b, p. 4). For a more 
detailed discussion of translocation efforts, please refer to the 
Scientific Research section below.
    Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa Population--This population is 
divided into two geographically separated subpopulations, both in 
Montrose County, Colorado: the Cerro Summit-Cimarron and Sims Mesa 
subpopulations. We do not know if sage-grouse currently move between 
the Cerro Summit-Cimarron and Sims Mesa subpopulations.
    The Cerro Summit-Cimarron subpopulation is centered about 24 km (15 
mi) east of Montrose. Rogers (1964, p. 115) noted a small population of 
sage-grouse in the Cimarron River drainage, but did not report 
population numbers. He noted that lek counts at Cerro Summit in 1959 
listed four individuals. The habitat consists of 15,039 ha (37,161 ac) 
of patches of sagebrush habitat fragmented by oakbrush and irrigated 
pastures. Five leks are currently known in the Cerro Summit-Cimarron 
group. Eleven individuals were observed on one lek in 2012, resulting 
in a population estimate of 54 individuals (CPW 2012a, p. 1).
    The Sims Mesa area, about 11 km (7 mi) south of Montrose, consists 
of small patches of sagebrush that are heavily fragmented by 
pi[ntilde]on-juniper, residential and recreational development, and 
agriculture (CDOW 2009b, p. 43). Rogers (1964, p. 95) recorded eight 
males in a lek count at Sims Mesa in 1960. In 2000, the CPW 
translocated six Gunnison sage-grouse from the Gunnison Basin to Sims 
Mesa (Nehring and Apa 2000, p. 12). There is only one currently known 
lek in Sims Mesa and, since 2003, it has lacked Gunnison sage-grouse 
attendance. However, lek counts did not occur in 2011. A lek is 
designated historic when it is inactive for at least 10 consecutive 
years, according to CPW standards. Therefore, the current status of the 
Sims Mesa lek is unknown (CDOW 2009b, p. 7; CPW 2012a, p. 1).
    Poncha Pass Population--The Poncha Pass Gunnison sage-grouse 
population is located in Saguache County, approximately 16 km (10 mi) 
northwest of Villa Grove, Colorado. The known population distribution 
is in 8,262 ha (20,415 ac) of sagebrush habitat from the summit of 
Poncha Pass extending south for about 13 km (8 mi) on either side of 
U.S. Highway 285. Sagebrush in this area is continuous with little 
fragmentation; sagebrush habitat quality throughout the area is 
adequate to support a population of the species (Nehring and Apa 2000, 
p. 25). San Luis Creek runs through the area, providing a year-round 
water source and wet meadow riparian habitat for brood-rearing.
    This population lies within potential presettlement habitat, but 
was extirpated prior to 1964 (Rogers 1964, p. 116). The reestablishment 
of this population is a result of 30 birds transplanted from the 
Gunnison Basin in 1971 and 1972, during efforts to reintroduce the 
species to the San Luis Valley (GSRSC 2005, p. 94). In 1992, a CPW 
effort to simplify hunting restrictions inadvertently opened the Poncha 
Pass area to sage-grouse hunting, and at least 30 grouse were harvested 
from this population. Due to declining population numbers since the 
1992 hunt, in the spring of 2000, CPW translocated 24 additional birds 
from the Gunnison Basin (Nehring and Apa 2000, p. 11). In 2001 and 
2002, an additional 20 and 7 birds, respectively, were moved to Poncha 
Pass by the CPW (GSRSC 2005, p. 94). Translocated females have bred 
successfully (Apa 2004, pers. comm.), and male display activity resumed 
on the historic lek in the spring of 2001. A high male count of 3 males 
occurred in 2012, resulting in an estimated population size of 15 for 
the Poncha Pass population. The only known lek is located on BLM-
administered land (CPW 2011a, p. 1; CPW 2012a, p. 3).

Additional Special Status Considerations

    The Gunnison sage-grouse has an International Union for 
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Category of ``endangered'' 
(Birdlife International 2009). NatureServe currently ranks the Gunnison 
sage-grouse as G1-Critically Imperiled (Nature Serve 2010, entire). The 
Gunnison sage-grouse is on the National Audubon Society's WatchList 
2007 Red Category which is ``for species that are declining rapidly or 
have very small populations or limited ranges, and face major 
conservation threats.''

[[Page 2495]]

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for adding 
species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and 
Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we may list a species based 
on any of the following five factors: (A) The present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; and (E) other natural or manmade 
factors affecting its continued existence. Listing actions may be 
warranted based on any of the above threat factors, singly or in 
combination. Each of these factors as applied to the Gunnison sage-
grouse is discussed below. We rely on the status review and analysis 
reported in the September 28, 2010, 12-month finding (75 FR 59804), but 
have updated it as appropriate to incorporate new information.

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

    The historic and current distribution of the Gunnison sage-grouse 
closely matches the distribution of sagebrush. Potential Gunnison sage-
grouse range is estimated to have been 5,536,358 ha (13,680,640 ac) 
historically (GSRSC 2005, p. 32). Gunnison sage-grouse currently occupy 
approximately 379,464 ha (937,676 ac) in southwestern Colorado and 
southeastern Utah (CDOW 2009a, p. 1; GSRSC 2005, p. 81); an area that 
represents approximately 7 percent of the species' potential historic 
range. The following describes the factors affecting Gunnison sage-
grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse habitat within the current range of the 
species.
    The onset of EuroAmerican settlement in the late 1800s resulted in 
significant alterations to sagebrush ecosystems throughout North 
America (West and Young 2000, pp. 263-265; Miller et al. 2011, p. 147) 
primarily as a result of urbanization, agricultural conversion, and 
irrigation projects. Areas that supported basin big sagebrush were 
among the first sagebrush community types converted to agriculture 
because their typical soils and topography are well suited for 
agriculture (Rogers 1964, p. 13).
    In southwestern Colorado, between 1958 and 1993, 20 percent 
(155,673 ha (384,676 ac)) of sagebrush was lost, and 37 percent of 
sagebrush plots examined were fragmented (Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, p. 
326). In another analysis, it was estimated that approximately 342,000 
ha (845,000 ac) of sagebrush, or 13 percent of the pre-EuroAmerican 
settlement sagebrush extent, were lost in Colorado, which includes both 
greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse habitat (Boyle and Reeder 
2005, p. 3-3). However, the authors noted that the estimate of historic 
sagebrush area used in their analyses was conservative, possibly 
resulting in a substantial underestimate of historic sagebrush losses 
(Boyle and Reeder 2005, p. 3-4). Within the range of Gunnison sage-
grouse, the principal areas of sagebrush loss were in the Gunnison 
Basin, San Miguel Basin, and areas near Dove Creek, Colorado. The 
authors point out that the rate of loss in the Gunnison Basin was lower 
than other areas of sagebrush distribution in Colorado. The Gunnison 
Basin currently contains approximately 250,000 ha (617,000 ac) of 
sagebrush; this area partially comprises other habitat types such as 
riparian areas and patches of non-sagebrush vegetation types such as 
aspen forest, mixed-conifer forest, and oakbrush (Boyle and Reeder 
2005, p. 3-3). Within the portion of the Gunnison Basin currently 
occupied by Gunnison sage-grouse, 170,000 ha (420,000 ac) is composed 
exclusively of sagebrush vegetation types, as derived from Southwest 
Regional Gap Analysis Project (SWReGAP) landcover data (multiseason 
satellite imagery acquired 1999-2001) (USGS 2004, entire).
    Sagebrush habitats within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse are 
becoming increasingly fragmented as a result of various changes in land 
uses and the expansion in the density and distribution of invasive 
plant species (Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, pp. 329-330; Schroeder et al. 
2004, p. 372). Habitat fragmentation is the separation or splitting 
apart of previously contiguous, functional habitat components of a 
species. Fragmentation can result from direct habitat losses that leave 
the remaining habitat in noncontiguous patches, or from alteration of 
habitat areas that render the altered patches unusable to a species 
(i.e., functional habitat loss). Functional habitat losses include 
disturbances that change a habitat's successional state or remove one 
or more habitat functions; physical barriers that preclude use of 
otherwise suitable areas; or activities that prevent animals from using 
suitable habitat patches due to behavioral avoidance.
    A variety of human developments including roads, energy 
development, residential development, and other factors that cause 
habitat fragmentation have contributed to or been associated with 
Gunnison and greater sage-grouse extirpation (Wisdom et al. 2011, pp. 
465-468). Because of the loss and fragmentation of habitat within its 
range, no expansive, contiguous areas that could be considered 
strongholds (areas of occupied range where the risk of extirpation 
appears low) are evident for Gunnison sage-grouse (Wisdom et al., 2011, 
p. 469). However, landscapes containing large and contiguous sagebrush 
patches and sagebrush patches in close proximity have an increased 
likelihood of sage-grouse persistence (Wisdom et al. 2011, p. 462).
    Habitat loss and fragmentation has adverse effects on Gunnison 
sage-grouse populations. Many of the factors that result in 
fragmentation may be exacerbated by the effects of climate change, 
which may influence long-term habitat and population trends. The 
following sections examine factors that can contribute to habitat loss 
and fragmentation to determine whether they threaten Gunnison sage-
grouse and their habitat.

Residential Development

    Human population growth in the rural Rocky Mountains is driven by 
the availability of natural amenities, recreational opportunities, 
aesthetically desirable settings, grandiose viewscapes, and perceived 
remoteness (Riebsame et al. 1996, p. 396, 402; Theobald et al. 1996, p. 
408; Gosnell and Travis 2005, pp. 192-197; Mitchell et al. 2002, p. 6; 
Hansen et al. 2005, pp. 1899-1901). Human population growth is 
occurring throughout much of the range of Gunnison sage-grouse. The 
human population in all counties within the range of Gunnison sage-
grouse averaged a 70 percent increase since 1980 (Colorado Department 
of Local Affairs (CDOLA) 2009a, pp. 2-3). The year 2050 projected human 
population for the Gunnison River basin (an area that encompasses the 
majority of the current range of Gunnison sage-grouse) is expected to 
be 2.3 times greater than the 2005 population (CWCB 2009, p. 15). The 
population of Gunnison County, an area that supports more than 80 
percent of all Gunnison sage-grouse, is predicted to more than double 
to approximately 31,100 residents by 2050 (CWCB 2009, p. 53).
    The increase in residential and commercial development associated 
with the expanding human population is different from historic land use 
patterns in these areas (Theobald 2001, p. 548). The allocation of land 
for resource-based activities such as agriculture and livestock 
production is

[[Page 2496]]

decreasing as the relative economic importance of these activities 
diminishes (Theobald et al. 1996, p. 413; Sammons 1998, p. 32; Gosnell 
and Travis 2005, pp. 191-192). Currently, agribusiness occupations 
constitute approximately 3 percent of the total job base in Gunnison 
County (CDOLAb 2009, p. 4). Recent conversion of farm and ranch lands 
to housing development has been significant in Colorado (Odell and 
Knight 2001, p. 1144). Many large private ranches in the Rocky 
Mountains, including the Gunnison Basin, are being subdivided into both 
high-density subdivisions and larger, scattered ranchettes with lots 
typically greater than 14 ha (35 ac), which encompass a large, isolated 
house (Riebsame et al. 1996, p. 399; Theobald et al. 1996, p. 408).
    The resulting pattern of residential development is less associated 
with existing town sites or existing subdivisions, and is increasingly 
exurban in nature (Theobald et al. 1996, pp. 408, 415; Theobald 2001, 
p. 546). Exurban development is described as low-density growth outside 
of urban and suburban areas (Clark et al. 2009, p. 178; Theobald 2004, 
p. 140) with less than one housing unit per 1 ha (2.5 ac) (Theobald 
2003, p. 1627; Theobald 2004, p. 139). The resulting pattern is one of 
increased residential lot size and the diffuse scattering of 
residential lots in previously rural areas with a premium placed on 
adjacency to federal lands and isolated open spaces (Riebsame et al. 
1996, p. 396, 398; Theobald et al. 1996, pp. 413, 417; Theobald 2001, 
p. 546; Brown et al. 2005, p. 1858). The residential subdivision that 
results from exurban development causes landscape fragmentation 
(Gosnell and Travis 2005, p. 196) primarily through the accumulation of 
roads, buildings, (Theobald et al. 1996, p. 410; Mitchell et al. 2002, 
p. 3) and other associated infrastructure such as power lines, and 
pipelines. In the East River Valley of Gunnison County, for example, 
residential development in the early 1990s increased road density by 17 
percent (Theobald et al. 1996, p. 410). The habitat fragmentation 
resulting from this development pattern is especially detrimental to 
Gunnison sage-grouse because of their dependence on large areas of 
contiguous sagebrush (Patterson 1952, p. 48; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
4-1; Connelly et al. 2011, p. 72; Wisdom et al. 2004, pp. 452-453).
    Residential Development in the Gunnison Basin Population Area--
Nearly three quarters (approximately 71 percent) of the Gunnison Basin 
population of Gunnison sage-grouse occurs within Gunnison County, with 
the remainder occurring in Saguache County. Within Gunnison County, 
approximately 30 percent of the occupied range of this species occurs 
on private lands. We performed a GIS analysis of parcel ownership data 
that was focused on the spatial and temporal pattern of human 
development within occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Some of our 
analyses were limited to the portion of occupied habitat in Gunnison 
County because parcel data was only available for Gunnison County and 
not for Saguache County. This analysis determined that the cumulative 
number of human developments has increased dramatically in Gunnison 
County, especially since the early 1970s (USFWS 2010a, p. 1). The 
number of new developments averaged approximately 70 per year from the 
late 1800s to 1969, increasing to approximately 450 per year from 1970 
to 2008 (USFWS 2010a, pp. 2-5). Furthermore, there has been an 
increasing trend toward development away from major roadways (primary 
and secondary paved roads) into areas of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat that had previously undergone very limited development (USFWS 
2010b, p. 7). Between 1889 and 1968, approximately 51 human 
developments were located more than 1.6 km (1 mi) from a major road in 
currently occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Between 1969 and 2008, 
this number increased to approximately 476 developments (USFWS 2010b, 
p. 7).
    A landscape-scale spatial model predicting Gunnison sage-grouse 
nesting probability was developed based on nesting data from the 
western portion of the Gunnison Basin (Aldridge et al. 2011, entire). 
The model was extrapolated to the entire Gunnison Basin to predict the 
likelihood of Gunnison sage-grouse nesting in the area (Aldridge et al. 
2011, pp. 7-9). Results of the model indicate that Gunnison sage-grouse 
tend to select nest sites in larger landscapes (1.5 km [0.9 mi] radii) 
with a low density of residential development (<1 percent) (Aldridge et 
al. 2011, p. 10). The study indicates nest site selection by Gunnison 
sage-grouse decreases near residential developments, until 
approximately 2.5 km (1.6 mi) from any given residential development 
(Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 10).
    Within occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in Gunnison County, 49 
percent of the land area within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse has 
at least one housing unit within a radius of 1.5 km (0.9 mi) (USFWS 
2010b, p. 7). This level of residential development is strongly 
decreasing the likelihood of Gunnison sage-grouse using these areas as 
nesting habitat. Furthermore, since early brood-rearing habitat is 
often in close proximity to nest sites (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 971), 
the loss of nesting habitat is closely linked with the loss of early 
brood-rearing habitat. Limitations in the quality and quantity of 
nesting and early brood-rearing habitat are particularly problematic 
because Gunnison sage-grouse population dynamics are most sensitive 
during these life history stages (GSRSC 2005, p. G-15).
    We recognize that the potential percentages of habitat loss 
mentioned above, whether direct or functional, will not necessarily 
correspond to the same percentage loss in sage-grouse numbers. The 
recent efforts to conserve Gunnison sage-grouse and their habitat 
within the Basin provide protection into the future for several areas 
of high-quality habitat (see discussion below in Factors A and D). 
Nonetheless, given the large landscape-level needs of this species, we 
expect future habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation from 
residential development, as described above, to substantially limit the 
probability of persistence of Gunnison sage-grouse in the Gunnison 
Basin.
    The GSRSC (2005, pp. 160-161) hypothesize that residential density 
in excess of one housing unit per 1.3 km\2\ (0.5 mi\2\) could cause 
declines in Gunnison sage-grouse populations. However, because the 
analyses that formed the basis of this hypothesis were preliminary and 
did not take into account potential lags in Gunnison sage-grouse 
population response to development, the threshold at which impacts are 
expected could be higher or lower (GSRSC 2005, p. F-3). The resulting 
impacts are expected to occur in nearly all seasonal habitats, 
including moderate to severe winter use areas, nesting and brood-
rearing areas, and leks (GSRSC 2005, p. 161). Within Gunnison County, 
approximately 18 percent of the land area within the range of Gunnison 
sage-grouse has a residential density greater than one housing unit per 
1.3 km\2\ (0.5 mi\2\) (USFWS 2010b, p. 8). Therefore, according to the 
GSRSC estimate of potential residential impacts, human residential 
densities in the Gunnison Basin population area are such that we expect 
they are limiting the Gunnison sage-grouse population in at least 18 
percent of the population area. However, based on results from the 
quantitative model for nesting probability described above (Aldridge et 
al. 2011), residential development currently may be impacting 49 
percent

[[Page 2497]]

of the Gunnison Basin population area (USFWS 2010b, p. 7).
    Based on population projections (CWCB 2009, p. 15) and the 
corresponding increased need for housing, we expect the density and 
distribution of human residences to expand in the future. Of the 
private land in Gunnison County not protected by conservation 
easements, approximately 20,236 ha (50,004 ac) on approximately 1,190 
parcels currently lack human development in occupied Gunnison sage-
grouse habitat (USFWS 2010b, p. 11). These lands are scattered 
throughout occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the Gunnison Basin. 
We used the 20,236 ha (50,004 ac) as an initial basis to assess the 
potential impacts of future development. A lack of parcel data 
availability from surrounding counties precluded expanding this 
analysis beyond Gunnison County; however, the analysis area constitutes 
71 percent of the Gunnison Basin population area.
    Approximately 93 percent of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
in Gunnison County consists of parcels greater than 14.2 ha (35 ac), 
which are exempt from some county land development regulations. 
Applying a 1.7 percent average annual population increase under a 
``middle'' growth scenario (CWCB 2009, p. 56) and an average 2.29 
persons per household (CDOLA 2009b, p. 6) to the 2008 Gunnison County 
human population estimate results in the potential addition of nearly 
7,000 housing units to the county by 2050. Currently, approximately 
two-thirds of the human population in Gunnison County occurs within the 
currently mapped occupied range of Gunnison sage-grouse. Assuming this 
pattern will continue, two-thirds of the population increase will occur 
within occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. The above projection 
could potentially result in the addition of approximately 4,630 housing 
units and the potential for 25,829 ha (63,824 ac) of new habitat loss, 
whether direct or functional, on parcels that currently have no 
development. This potential for additional habitat loss constitutes 15 
percent of the currently occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the 
Gunnison Basin population area (USFWS 2010b, p. 14). Combined with the 
49 percent of occupied habitat potentially impacted by current 
residential development (USFWS 2010b, p.7), approximately 64 percent of 
Gunnison sage-grouse occupied habitat may be impacted by residential 
development in the foreseeable future. We also anticipate increased 
housing density in many areas of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
because the anticipated number of new housing units will exceed the 
number of undeveloped parcels by nearly four times (USFWS 2010b, p. 
16).
    Some of this anticipated development and subsequent habitat loss 
will undoubtedly occur on parcels that currently have existing human 
development, which could lessen the effects to Gunnison sage-grouse. 
However, the above calculation of an increase in future housing units 
is likely an underestimate because it does not take into account the 
expected increase in second home development (CDOLA 2009b, p. 7), which 
would increase negative effects to Gunnison sage-grouse. The U.S. 
Census Bureau only tallies the inhabitants of primary residences in 
population totals. This methodology results in an underestimate of the 
population, particularly in amenity communities like Gunnison, because 
of the increased number of part-time residents inhabiting second homes 
and vacation homes in these areas (Riebsame et al. 1996, p. 397; 
Theobald 2001, p. 550, Theobald 2004, p. 143). In Gunnison County, 
approximately 90 percent of vacant housing units were composed of 
seasonal use units (CDOLA 2009c, p. 1), and the housing vacancy rate 
was 42.5 percent in Gunnison County over the last two decades (CDOLA 
2009d, p. 2).
    We expect some development to be moderated by the establishment of 
additional voluntary landowner conservation easements such as those 
currently facilitated by the CPW and land trust organizations. The CPW 
has spent more than $30 million to protect approximately 13,413 ha 
(33,145 ac) since 2003 (CPW 2012b, p. 6). Conservation easements, if 
properly managed, can minimize the overall impacts to Gunnison sage-
grouse. Including CPW and nongovernmental organization held properties, 
approximately 17,466 ha (43,160 ac), or 25 percent, of private lands in 
occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat have been placed in conservation 
easements or are protected because the fee title was acquired to 
protect the land (CPW 2011c, pp. 9-10; CPW 2012b, p. 6). Due to the 
cost of acquisition we do not expect the amount of land potentially 
placed in future easements will adequately offset the overall effects 
of human development and subsequent habitat fragmentation.
    Current and anticipated fragmentation is also ameliorated somewhat 
by the approximate 5,012 ha (12,385 ac), or 7 percent, of private lands 
in the Gunnison Basin currently enrolled under the Gunnison sage-grouse 
CCAA (CPW 2012b, p. 11). However, approximately one-third of this area 
is already covered under conservation easements as described above. 
Accounting for this overlap, conservation easements and fee title 
properties held by CPW and conservation organizations, and the CCAA as 
described above currently protect approximately 20,824 ha (51,458 ac), 
or 30 percent, of private lands in the Gunnison Basin population area.
    Residential Development in All Other Population Areas--In 2004, 
within the Crawford population area, approximately 951 ha (2,350 ac), 
or 7 percent of the occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat was 
subdivided into 48 parcels (CDOW 2009b, p. 59). Local landowners and 
the National Park Service (NPS) have ongoing efforts to protect 
portions of the subdivided area through conservation easements. 
Residential subdivision continues to occur in the northern part of the 
Poncha Pass population area, and the CPW considers this to be the 
highest priority threat to this population (CDOW 2009b, p. 124). The 
rate of residential development in the San Miguel Basin population area 
increased between 2005 and 2008 but slowed in 2009 (CDOW 2009b, p. 
135). However, a 429-ha (1,057-ac) parcel north of Miramonte Reservoir 
is currently being developed. The CPW reports that potential impacts to 
Gunnison sage-grouse resulting from this development may be reduced by 
possibly placing a portion of the property into a conservation easement 
and the relocation of a proposed major road to avoid occupied habitat 
(CDOW 2009b, p. 136). Scattered residential development has recently 
occurred along the periphery of occupied habitat in the Cerro Summit-
Cimarron-Sims Mesa population (CDOW 2009b, p. 45). With the exception 
of the Monticello subpopulation and the Crawford population, the 
remaining limited amounts of habitat, the fragmented nature of this 
remaining habitat, and the anticipated increases in exurban development 
pose a threat to the remaining four smaller Gunnison sage-grouse 
populations.
Summary of Residential Development
    Because Gunnison sage-grouse are dependent on expansive, contiguous 
areas of sagebrush habitat to meet their life history needs, the 
development patterns described above have resulted in the direct and 
functional loss of sagebrush habitat and have negatively affected the 
species by limiting already scarce habitat, especially within the six 
smaller populations. The collective

[[Page 2498]]

influences of fragmentation and disturbance from human activities 
around residences and associated roads reduce the effective habitat 
around these areas, making them inhospitable to Gunnison sage-grouse 
(Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 14; Knick et al. 2011, pp. 212-219 and 
references therein; Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 520). Human population 
growth that results in a dispersed exurban development pattern 
throughout sagebrush habitats will reduce the likelihood of sage-grouse 
persistence in these areas. Human populations are increasing throughout 
the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, and we expect this trend to 
continue. Given the demographic and economic trends of the past few 
decades described above, we believe residential development in Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat will continue at least through 2050, and likely 
longer. The resulting habitat loss and fragmentation from residential 
development is a principal threat to Gunnison sage-grouse persistence.

Roads

    Impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse from roads may include direct 
habitat loss, direct mortality, barriers to migration corridors or 
seasonal habitats, facilitation of predation and spread of invasive 
vegetative species, and other indirect influences such as noise (Forman 
and Alexander 1998, pp. 207-231). Greater sage-grouse mortality 
resulting from collisions with vehicles does occur, but mortalities are 
typically not monitored or recorded (Patterson 1952, p. 81). Therefore, 
we are unable to determine the importance of direct mortality from 
roads on sage-grouse populations.
    Although we have no information on the number of direct mortalities 
of Gunnison sage-grouse resulting from vehicles or roads, because of 
similarities in their habitat and habitat use, we expect other effects 
to be similar to those observed in greater sage-grouse. Roads within 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitats have been shown to impede movement of 
local populations between the resultant patches, with road avoidance 
presumably being a behavioral means to limit exposure to predation 
(Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, p. 330).
    The presence of roads increases human access and resulting 
disturbance effects in remote areas (Forman and Alexander 1998, p. 221; 
Forman 2000, p. 35; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-6 to 7-25). In 
addition, roads can provide corridors for predators to move into 
previously unoccupied areas. Some mammalian species known to prey on 
sage-grouse, such as red fox (Vulpes vulpes), raccoons (Procyon lotor), 
and striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), have greatly increased their 
distribution by dispersing along roads (Forman and Alexander 1998, p. 
212; Forman 2000, p. 33; Frey and Conover 2006, pp. 1114-1115). Corvids 
(Family Corvidae: crows, ravens, magpies, etc.) also use linear 
features such as primary and secondary roads as travel routes (Bui 
2009, p. 31), expanding their movements into previously unused regions 
(Knight and Kawashima 1993, p. 268; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 12-3). 
Corvids are significant sage-grouse nest predators and were responsible 
for more than 50 percent of nest predations in Nevada (Coates 2007, pp. 
26-30). See Factor C below for further discussion of predation.
    The expansion of road networks also contributes to exotic plant 
invasions via introduced road fill, vehicle transport, and road 
maintenance activities (Forman and Alexander 1998, p. 210; Forman 2000, 
p. 32; Gelbard and Belnap 2003, p. 426; Knick et al. 2003, p. 619; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-25). Invasive species are not limited to 
roadsides, but also encroach into surrounding habitats (Forman and 
Alexander 1998, p. 210; Forman 2000, p. 33; Gelbard and Belnap 2003, p. 
427). Upgrading unpaved four-wheel-drive roads to paved roads resulted 
in increased cover of exotic plant species within the interior of 
adjacent plant communities (Gelbard and Belnap 2003, p. 426). This 
effect was associated with road construction and maintenance activities 
and vehicle traffic, and not with differences in site characteristics. 
The incursion of exotic plants into native sagebrush systems can 
negatively affect Gunnison sage-grouse through habitat losses and 
conversions (see further discussion below in the Invasive Plants 
section).
    Gunnison sage-grouse may avoid road areas because of noise, visual 
disturbance, pollutants, and predators moving along a road, which 
further reduces the amount of habitat available to support them. The 
landscape-scale spatial model predicting Gunnison sage-grouse nest site 
selection showed strong avoidance of areas with high road densities of 
roads classed 1 through 4 (primary paved highways through primitive 
roads with 2-wheel drive sedan clearance) within 6.4 km (4 mi) of nest 
sites (Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 14). Nest sites also decreased with 
increased proximity to primary and secondary paved highways (roads 
classes 1 and 2) (Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 14). Male greater sage-
grouse lek attendance was shown to decline within 3 km (1.9 mi) of a 
methane well or haul road with traffic volume exceeding one vehicle per 
day (Holloran 2005, p. 40). Male sage-grouse depend on acoustical 
signals to attract females to leks (Gibson and Bradbury 1985, p. 82; 
Gratson 1993, p. 692). If noise from roads interferes with mating 
displays, and thereby female attendance, younger males will not be 
drawn to the lek and eventually leks will become inactive (Amstrup and 
Phillips 1977, p. 26; Braun 1986, pp. 229-230).
    In a study on the Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming, greater sage-
grouse hens that bred on leks within 3 km (1.9 mi) of roads associated 
with oil and gas development traveled twice as far to nest as did hens 
that bred on leks greater than 3 km (1.9 mi) from roads. Nest 
initiation rates for hens bred on leks close to roads also were lower 
(65 versus 89 percent), affecting population recruitment (33 versus 44 
percent) (Lyon 2000, p. 33; Lyon and Anderson 2003, pp. 489-490). Roads 
may be the primary impact of oil and gas development to sage-grouse, 
due to their persistence and continued use even after drilling and 
production have ceased (Lyon and Anderson 2003, p. 490). Lek 
abandonment patterns suggested that daily vehicular traffic along road 
networks for oil wells can impact greater sage-grouse breeding 
activities (Braun et al. 2002, p. 5). Because Gunnison sage-grouse and 
greater sage-grouse are similar, closely related species, we believe 
the effects of vehicular traffic on Gunnison sage-grouse, regardless of 
its purpose (e.g., in support of energy production or local commuting 
and recreation), are similar to those observed in greater sage-grouse.
    Road density was not an important factor affecting greater sage-
grouse persistence or rangewide patterns in sage-grouse extirpation 
(Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 992). However, the authors did not consider 
the intensity of human use of roads in their modeling efforts. They 
also indicated that their analyses may have been influenced by 
inaccuracies in spatial road data sets, particularly for secondary 
roads (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 992). Historic range where greater and 
Gunnison sage-grouse have been extirpated has a 25 percent higher 
density of roads than occupied range (Wisdom et al. 2011, p. 467). 
Wisdom et al.'s (2011) greater and Gunnison sage-grouse rangewide 
analysis supports the findings of numerous local studies showing that 
roads can have both direct and indirect impacts on sage-grouse 
distribution and individual fitness (reproduction and survival) (e.g., 
Lyon and Anderson 2003 p. 490, Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 520).
    Recreational activities including off-highway vehicles (OHV), all-
terrain vehicles, motorcycles, mountain bikes,

[[Page 2499]]

and other mechanized methods of travel have also been recognized as a 
potential direct and indirect threat to Gunnison sage-grouse and their 
habitat (BLM 2009, p. 36). In Colorado, the number of annual off-
highway vehicle (OHV) registrations has increased dramatically from 
12,000 in 1991 to 131,000 in 2007 (BLM 2009, p. 37). Four wheel drive, 
OHV, motorcycle, specialty vehicle, and mountain bike use is expected 
to increase in the future based on increased human population in 
Colorado and within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse. Numerous off-
road routes and access points to habitat used by Gunnison sage-grouse 
combined with increasing capabilities for mechanized travel and 
increased human population further contribute to habitat fragmentation.
    Roads in the Gunnison Basin Population Area--On BLM lands in the 
Gunnison Basin currently 2,050 km (1,274 mi) of roads are within 6.4 km 
(4 mi) of Gunnison sage-grouse leks. Eighty-seven percent of all 
Gunnison sage-grouse nests were located less than 6.4 km (4 mi) from 
the lek of capture (Apa 2004, p. 21). However, the BLM proposes to 
reduce the roads on its Gunnison Basin lands to 1,157 km (719 mi) (BLM 
2010, p. 147).
    Currently, 1,349 km (838 mi) of roads accessible to 2-wheel-drive 
passenger cars exist in occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the 
Gunnison Basin. Four-wheel-drive vehicle roads, as well as motorcycle, 
mountain bike, horse, and hiking trails are heavily distributed 
throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse (BLM 2009, pp. 27, 55, 
86), which further increases the overall density of roads and their 
direct and indirect effects on Gunnison sage-grouse. User-created roads 
and trails have increased since 2004 (BLM 2009, p. 33), although we do 
not know the scope of this increase.
    Using a spatial dataset of roads in the Gunnison Basin, we 
performed GIS analyses on the potential effects of roads to Gunnison 
sage-grouse and their habitat. To account for secondary effects from 
invasive weed spread from roads (see discussion below in Invasive 
Plants), we applied a 0.7-km (0.4-mi) buffer (Bradley and Mustard 2006, 
p. 1146) to all roads in the Gunnison Basin. These analyses indicate 
that approximately 85 percent of occupied habitat in the Gunnison Basin 
has an increased likelihood of current or future road-related invasive 
weed invasion. When all roads in the Gunnison basin are buffered by 6.4 
km (4 mi) or 9.6 km (6 mi) to account for decreased nesting probability 
(Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 14) and secondary effects from mammal and 
corvid foraging areas (Knick et al 2011, p. 216), respectively, all 
occupied habitat in the Gunnison Basin is indirectly affected by roads.
    Roads in All Other Population Areas--Approximately 140 km (87 mi), 
243 km (151 mi), and 217 km (135 mi) of roads (all road classes) occur 
on BLM lands within the Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa, Crawford, and 
San Miguel Basin population areas, respectively, all of which are 
managed by the BLM (BLM 2009, p. 71). We do not have information on the 
total length of roads within the Monticello-Dove Creek, Pi[ntilde]on 
Mesa, or Poncha Pass Gunnison sage-grouse populations. However, several 
maps provided by the BLM show that roads are widespread and common 
throughout these population areas (BLM 2009, pp. 27, 55, 86).
Summary of Roads
    As described above in the `Residential Development' section, the 
human population is increasing throughout the range of Gunnison sage-
grouse (CDOLA 2009a, pp. 2-3; CWCB 2009, p. 15), and data indicates 
this trend will continue. Gunnison sage-grouse are dependent on large 
contiguous and unfragmented landscapes to meet their life history needs 
(GSRSC 2005, pp. 26-30), and the existing road density throughout much 
of the range of Gunnison sage-grouse has negatively affected the 
species. The collective influences of fragmentation and disturbance 
from roads reduce the effective habitat as they are avoided by sage-
grouse (Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 14; Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 520; 
Knick et al. 2011, pp. 212-219 and references therein). Given the 
current human demographic and economic trends described above in the 
Residential Development section, we believe that increased road use and 
increased road construction associated with residential development 
will continue at least through 2050, and likely longer. The resulting 
habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation from roads are a major 
threat to Gunnison sage-grouse persistence.

Powerlines

    Powerlines can directly affect greater sage-grouse by posing a 
collision and electrocution hazard (Braun 1998, pp. 145-146; Connelly 
et al. 2000a, p. 974) and can have indirect effects by decreasing lek 
recruitment (Braun et al. 2002, p. 10), increasing predation (Connelly 
et al. 2004, p. 13-12), fragmenting habitat (Braun 1998, p. 146), and 
facilitating the invasion of exotic annual plants (Knick et al. 2003, 
p. 612; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-25). Proximity to powerlines is 
associated with Gunnison and greater sage-grouse extirpation (Wisdom et 
al. 2011, pp. 467-468). Due to the potential spread of invasive species 
and predators as a result of powerline construction and maintenance, 
the impact from a powerline is greater than its actual footprint. The 
effects of powerlines to Gunnison sage-grouse should be similar to 
those observed in greater sage-grouse.
    In areas where the vegetation is low and the terrain relatively 
flat, power poles provide an attractive hunting, roosting, and nesting 
perch for many species of raptors and corvids (Steenhof et al. 1993, p. 
27; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974; Manville 2002, p. 7; Vander Haegen 
et al. 2002, p. 503). Power poles increase a raptor's range of vision, 
allow for greater speed during attacks on prey, and serve as 
territorial markers (Steenhof et al. 1993, p. 275; Manville 2002, p. 
7). Raptors may actively seek out power poles where natural perches are 
limited. For example, within 1 year of construction of a 596-km (370-
mi) transmission line in southern Idaho and Oregon, raptors and common 
ravens began nesting on the supporting poles (Steenhof et al. 1993, p. 
275). Within 10 years of construction, 133 pairs of raptors and ravens 
were nesting along this stretch (Steenhof et al. 1993, p. 275). Raven 
counts increased by approximately 200 percent along the Falcon-Gondor 
transmission line corridor in Nevada within 5 years of construction 
(Atamian et al. 2007, p. 2). The increased abundance of corvids within 
occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitats can result in increased 
predation.
    As with corvids, eagles can also increase following power line 
installation. Golden eagle (Aquila chryrsaetos) predation on sage-
grouse on leks increased from 26 to 73 percent of the total predation 
after completion of a transmission line within 200 meters (m) (220 
yards (yd)) of an active sage-grouse lek in northeastern Utah (Ellis 
1985, p. 10). The lek was eventually abandoned, and Ellis (1985, p. 10) 
concluded that the presence of the powerline resulted in changes in 
sage-grouse dispersal patterns and caused fragmentation of the habitat. 
Golden eagles are found throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse 
(USGS 2010, p. 1), and golden eagles were found to be the dominant 
species recorded perching on power poles in Utah in Gunnison sage-
grouse habitat (Prather and Messmer 2009, p. 12). The increased 
abundance of eagles within occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitats can 
result in increased predation.

[[Page 2500]]

    Leks within 0.4 km (0.25 mi) of new powerlines constructed for 
coalbed methane development in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming had 
significantly lower growth rates, as measured by recruitment of new 
males onto the lek, compared to leks further from these lines, 
presumably resulting from increased raptor predation (Braun et al. 
2002, p. 10). Connelly et al. (2004, p. 7-26) assumed a 5- to 6.9-km 
(3.1- to 4.3-mi) radius buffer around the perches, based on the average 
foraging distance of these corvids and raptors, and estimated that the 
area potentially influenced by additional perches provided by 
powerlines was 672,644 to 837,390 km\2\ (259,641 to 323,317 mi\2\), or 
32 to 40 percent of their assessment area. The impact on an area would 
depend on corvid and raptor densities within the area (see discussion 
in Factor C, below).
    Powerlines may fragment sage-grouse habitats even if raptors are 
not present. The use of otherwise suitable habitat by sage-grouse near 
powerlines increased as distance from the powerline increased for up to 
600 m (660 yd) (Braun 1998, p. 8). Based on those unpublished data, 
Braun (1998, p. 8) reported that the presence of powerlines may limit 
Gunnison and greater sage-grouse use within 1 km (0.6 mi) in otherwise 
suitable habitat. Similar results were recorded for other grouse 
species. For example, lesser and greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus 
pallidicinctus and T. cupido, respectively) avoided otherwise suitable 
habitat near powerlines (Pruett et al. 2009, p. 6). Additionally, both 
species also crossed powerlines less often than nearby roads, which 
suggests that powerlines are a particularly strong barrier to movement 
(Pruett et al. 2009, p. 6).
    Sage-grouse also may avoid powerlines as a result of the 
electromagnetic fields present (Wisdom et al. 2011, p. 467). 
Electromagnetic fields alter the behavior, physiology, endocrine 
systems and immune function in birds, with negative consequences on 
reproduction and development (Fernie and Reynolds 2005, p. 135). Birds 
are diverse in their sensitivities to electromagnetic field exposures, 
with domestic chickens being very sensitive. Many raptor species are 
less affected (Fernie and Reynolds 2005, p. 135). No studies have been 
conducted specifically on sage-grouse. Therefore, we do not know the 
impact to the Gunnison sage-grouse from electromagnetic fields.
    Linear corridors through sagebrush habitats can facilitate the 
spread of invasive species, such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) 
(Gelbard and Belnap 2003, pp. 424-426; Knick et al. 2003, p. 620; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 1-2). However, we were unable to find any 
information regarding the amount of invasive species incursion as a 
result of powerline construction.
    Powerlines in the Gunnison Basin Population Area--On approximately 
121,000 ha (300,000 ac) of BLM land in the Gunnison Basin, 36 rights-
of-way for power facilities, power lines, and transmission lines have 
resulted in the direct loss of 350 ha (858 ac) of occupied habitat 
(Borthwick 2005a, pers. comm.). As discussed above, the impacts of 
these lines likely extend beyond their actual footprint. We performed a 
GIS analysis of transmission line location in relation to overall 
habitat area and Gunnison sage-grouse lek locations in the Gunnison 
Basin population area to obtain an estimate of the potential effects in 
the Basin. These analyses indicate that 68 percent of the Gunnison 
Basin population area is within 6.9 km (4.3 mi) of an electrical 
transmission line and is potentially influenced by avian predators 
using the additional perches provided by transmission lines. This area 
contains 65 of 109 active leks (60 percent) in the Gunnison Basin 
population. These results suggest that potential increased predation 
resulting from transmission lines has the potential to affect a 
substantial portion of the Gunnison Basin population.
    Powerlines in All Other Population Areas--A transmission line runs 
through the Dry Creek Basin group in the San Miguel Basin population, 
and the Beaver Mesa group has two transmission lines. None of the 
transmission lines in the San Miguel Basin have raptor proofing, nor do 
most distribution lines (Ferguson 2005, pers. comm.), so their use by 
raptors and corvids as perch sites for hunting and use for nest sites 
is not discouraged. One major electric transmission line runs east-west 
in the northern portion of the current range of the Monticello group 
(San Juan County Gunnison Sage-grouse Working Group 2005, p. 17). 
Powerlines do not appear to be present in sufficient density to pose a 
threat to Gunnison sage-grouse in the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population at 
this time. One transmission line parallels Highway 92 in the Crawford 
population and distribution lines run from there to homes on the 
periphery of the current range (Ferguson 2005, pers. comm.).
Summary of Powerlines
    Human populations are projected to increase in and near most 
Gunnison sage-grouse populations (see discussion under Residential 
Development). As a result, we expect an associated increase in 
distribution powerlines to meet this increased demand. Powerlines are 
likely negatively affecting Gunnison sage-grouse as they contribute to 
habitat loss and fragmentation and facilitation of predators of 
Gunnison sage-grouse. Given the current demographic and economic trends 
described above, we believe that existing powerlines and anticipated 
distribution of powerlines associated with residential development will 
continue at least through 2050, and likely longer. The resulting 
habitat loss and fragmentation from powerlines is a major threat to 
Gunnison sage-grouse persistence.

Domestic Grazing and Wild Ungulate Herbivory

    At least 87 percent of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat on 
Federal lands is currently grazed by domestic livestock (USFWS 2010c, 
entire). We lack information on the proportion of Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat on private lands that is currently grazed, but we expect the 
proportion of the area subject to grazing is similar to that on Federal 
lands. Excessive grazing by domestic livestock during the late 1800s 
and early 1900s, along with severe drought, significantly impacted 
sagebrush ecosystems (Knick et al. 2003, p. 616). Although current 
livestock stocking rates in the range of Gunnison sage-grouse are 
substantially lower than historical levels (Laycock et al. 1996, p. 3), 
long-term effects from historic overgrazing, including changes in plant 
communities and soils, persist today (Knick et al. 2003, p. 116).
    Although livestock grazing and associated land treatments have 
likely altered plant composition, increased topsoil loss, and increased 
spread of exotic plants, the impacts on Gunnison sage-grouse 
populations are not clear. Few studies have directly addressed the 
effect of livestock grazing on sage-grouse (Beck and Mitchell 2000, pp. 
998-1000; Wamboldt et al. 2002, p. 7; Crawford et al. 2004, p. 11), and 
little direct experimental evidence links grazing practices to Gunnison 
sage-grouse population levels (Braun 1987, pp. 136-137, Connelly and 
Braun 1997, p. 7-9). Rowland (2004, pp. 17-18) conducted a literature 
review and found no experimental research that demonstrates grazing 
alone is responsible for reduction in sage-grouse numbers.
    Despite the obvious impacts of grazing on plant communities within 
the range of the species, the GSRSC (2005, p. 114) could not find a 
direct correlation between historic grazing and reduced Gunnison sage-
grouse numbers.

[[Page 2501]]

While implications on population-level impacts from grazing can be made 
based on impacts of grazing on individuals and habitat conditions, no 
studies have documented the impacts (positively or negatively) of 
grazing at the population level.
    Sage-grouse need significant grass and shrub cover for protection 
from predators, particularly during nesting season, and females will 
preferentially choose nesting sites based on these qualities (Hagen et 
al. 2007, p. 46). In particular, nest success in Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat is related to greater grass and forb heights and shrub density 
(Young 1994, p. 38). The reduction of grass heights due to livestock 
grazing in sage-grouse nesting and brood-rearing areas has been shown 
to negatively affect nesting success when cover is reduced below the 18 
cm (7 in.) needed for predator avoidance (Gregg et al. 1994, p. 165). 
Based on measurements of cattle foraging rates on bunchgrasses both 
between and under sagebrush canopies, the probability of foraging on 
under-canopy bunchgrasses depends on sagebrush size and shape. 
Consequently, the effects of grazing on nesting habitats might be site 
specific (France et al. 2008, pp. 392-393).
    Grazing by livestock could reduce the suitability of breeding and 
brood-rearing habitat, negatively affecting sage-grouse populations 
(Braun 1987, p. 137; Dobkin 1995, p. 18; Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 
231; Beck and Mitchell 2000, pp. 998-1000). Domestic livestock grazing 
reduces water infiltration rates and the cover of herbaceous plants and 
litter, compacts the soil, and increases soil erosion (Braun 1998, p. 
147; Dobkin et al. 1998, p. 213). These impacts change the proportion 
of shrub, grass, and forb components in the affected area, and 
facilitate invasion of exotic plant species that do not provide 
suitable habitat for sage-grouse (Mack and Thompson 1982, p. 761; 
Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 19; Knick et al. 2011, pp. 228-232).
    Livestock may compete directly with sage-grouse for rangeland 
resources. Cattle are grazers, feeding mostly on grasses, but they will 
make seasonal use of forbs and shrub species like sagebrush (Vallentine 
1990, p. 226), a primary source of nutrition for sage-grouse. A sage-
grouse hen's nutritional condition affects nest initiation rate, clutch 
size, and subsequent reproductive success (Barnett and Crawford 1994, 
p. 117; Coggins 1998, p. 30). Other effects of direct competition 
between livestock and sage-grouse depend on condition of the habitat 
and the grazing practices. Thus, the effects vary across the range of 
Gunnison sage-grouse. For example, poor livestock management in mesic 
sites results in a reduction of forbs and grasses available to sage-
grouse chicks, thereby affecting chick survival (Aldridge and Brigham 
2003, p. 30). Chick survival is one of the most important factors in 
maintaining Gunnison sage-grouse population viability (GSRSC 2005, p. 
173).
    Livestock can trample sage-grouse nests and nesting habitat. 
Although the effect of trampling at a population level is unknown, 
outright nest destruction has been documented, and the presence of 
livestock can cause sage-grouse to abandon their nests (Rasmussen and 
Griner 1938, p. 863; Patterson 1952, p. 111; Call and Maser 1985, p. 
17; Holloran and Anderson 2003, p. 309; Coates 2007, p. 28). Sage-
grouse have been documented to abandon nests following partial nest 
depredation by cows (Coates 2007, p. 28). In general, all recorded 
encounters between livestock and grouse nests resulted in hens flushing 
from nests, which could expose the eggs to predation. Visual predators 
like ravens likely use hen movements to locate sage-grouse nests 
(Coates 2007, p. 33). Livestock also may trample sagebrush seedlings, 
thereby removing a source of future sage-grouse food and cover 
(Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-31). Trampling of soil by livestock can 
reduce or eliminate biological soil crusts making these areas 
susceptible to cheatgrass invasion (Mack 1981, pp. 148-149; Young and 
Allen 1997, p. 531).
    Livestock grazing may have positive effects on sage-grouse under 
some habitat conditions. Sage-grouse use grazed meadows significantly 
more during late summer than ungrazed meadows because grazing had 
stimulated the regrowth of forbs (Evans 1986, p. 67). Greater sage-
grouse sought out and used openings in meadows created by cattle 
grazing in northern Nevada (Klebenow 1981, p. 121). Also, both sheep 
and goats have been used to control invasive weeds (Mosley 1996 in 
Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-49; Merritt et al. 2001, p. 4; Olsen and 
Wallander 2001, p. 30) and woody plant encroachment (Riggs and Urness 
1989, p. 358) in sage-grouse habitat.
    Sagebrush plant communities are not adapted to domestic grazing 
disturbance. Grazing changed the functioning of systems into less 
resilient, and in some cases, altered communities (Knick et al. 2011, 
pp. 229-232). The ability to restore or rehabilitate areas depends on 
the condition of the area relative to the ability of a site to support 
a specific plant community (Knick et al. 2011, pp. 229-232). For 
example, if an area has a balanced mix of shrubs and native understory 
vegetation, a change in grazing management can restore the habitat to 
its potential historic species composition (Pyke 2011, pp. 536-538). 
Wambolt and Payne (1986, p. 318) found that rest from grazing had a 
better perennial grass response than other treatments. Active 
restoration is likely required where native understory vegetation is 
much reduced (Pyke 2011, pp. 536-540). But, if an area has soil loss or 
invasive species, returning the site to the native historical plant 
community may be impossible (Daubenmire 1970, p. 82; Knick et al. 2011, 
pp. 230-231; Pyke 2011, p. 539).
    Aldridge et al. (2008, p. 990) did not find any relationship 
between sage-grouse persistence and livestock densities. However, the 
authors noted that livestock numbers do not necessarily correlate with 
range condition. They concluded that the intensity, duration, and 
distribution of livestock grazing are more influential on rangeland 
condition than the livestock density values (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 
990). Currently, little direct evidence links grazing practices to 
population levels of Gunnison or greater sage-grouse. Although grazing 
has not been examined at large spatial scales, as discussed above, we 
do know that grazing can have negative impacts to individuals, nests, 
breeding productivity, and sagebrush and, consequently, to sage-grouse 
at local scales. However, how these impacts operate at large spatial 
scales and thus on population levels is currently unknown. The 
potential for population-level impacts should be further studied. 
Although baseline vegetation monitoring has been conducted in the past, 
detailed baseline vegetation monitoring efforts were conducted in the 
Gunnison Basin in 2010. In comparison to the best available information 
on habitat guidelines for the maintenance of Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat (GSRSC 2005, Appendix H-1), cover and height estimates were 
within the breeding and summer-to-fall habitat guidelines, especially 
in cover and sagebrush height for dry mountain loam and mountain loam 
ecological sites across the Basin. Comparisons of existing conditions 
to winter habitat guidelines were not made in this assessment.
    Livestock Grazing and Habitat Monitoring Methods--Our analysis of 
grazing is focused on BLM lands because nearly all of the information 
available to us regarding current grazing management within the range 
of Gunnison sage-grouse was provided by this agency. Similar 
information was

[[Page 2502]]

provided by the USFS, but was more limited since the USFS has less 
occupied habitat in grazing allotments and has a different habitat 
monitoring approach than BLM (see discussion below). A summary of 
domestic livestock grazing management on BLM and USFS lands in occupied 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat is provided in Table 2.
    Much of the available information on domestic livestock grazing and 
its relationship to habitat conditions on Federal lands is in the form 
of BLM's Land Health Assessment (LHA) data. The purpose of LHAs are to 
determine the status of resource conditions within a specified 
geographic area at a specific time, and livestock grazing practices are 
coupled to these LHA determinations. The LHA process incorporates land 
health standards that define minimum resource conditions that must be 
achieved and maintained. Further discussion on the LHA process is 
provided in the following section.
    The USFS does not apply the LHA process, but monitors allotment 
trends through a combination of procedures including seasonal 
inspections, permanent photo points, and inventory and mapping of plant 
community conditions and changes over time (USFS 2010). The majority of 
Gunnison sage-grouse occupied habitat in USFS grazing allotments is 
located in the Gunnison Basin population area (Tables 1 and 2), and 
grazing information as it relates to Gunnison sage-grouse is therefore 
limited to this area (USFWS 2010c, p2).
    Although grazing also occurs on lands owned or managed by other 
entities, we have no information on the extent of grazing in these 
areas. Livestock grazing on private lands, where present, has a greater 
potential to impact Gunnison sage-grouse because these areas are not 
required to meet agency-mandated land health standards, but we lack 
sufficient data to make an informed assessment of these areas.

 Table 2--Summary of Domestic Livestock Grazing Management on BLM \a\ and USFS \b\ Lands in Occupied Habitat for
Each of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse Populations (From BLM (2012) and USFWS (2010c), Compilation of Data Provided by
                                                  BLM and USFS)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                      Percent
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                      Active                       Assessed BLM
                                     Number of       Number of      allotments    BLM allotments    allotments
           Population               active USFS     active BLM     with GUSG \c\  with completed    meeting LHA
                                    allotments      allotments      objectives        LHA \d\       objectives
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gunnison........................              34              62             100             100              32
San Miguel Basin................         no data              13               0              77              40
Monticello--Dove Creek:
    Dove Creek..................             n/a               3               0               0               0
    Monticello..................         \e\ n/a               6             100              83              80
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa...............         no data              15              53              27             100
Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa.          \e\n/a              10              10              50              40
Crawford \f\....................         \e\ n/a               7              71             100              86
Poncha Pass.....................         no data               8              13             100             100
                                                                 -----------------------------------------------
Rangewide Averages..............  ..............  ..............              34              67              60
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ Bureau of Land Management.
\b\ United States Forest Service.
\c\ Gunnison sage-grouse.
\d\ Land Health Assessments.
\e\ No United States Forest land in occupied habitat in this population area.
\f\ Includes allotments on National Park Service lands but managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

    BLM Land Health Assessment Standards--LHA standards are based on 
the recognized characteristics of healthy ecosystems and include 
considerations of upland soils, riparian systems, plant and animal 
communities, habitat conditions and populations of special status 
species, and water quality (BLM 1997, pp. 6-7). Each LHA standard, such 
as the condition and health of soils, riparian areas, or plant 
communities, has varying degrees of applicability to basic Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat needs. The most applicable LHA standard to Gunnison 
sage-grouse is LHA standard number four, which is specific to special 
status species (BLM 1997, p. 7). Special status species include 
Federally threatened, endangered, proposed, and candidate species; 
recently delisted (5 years or less) species; and BLM sensitive species. 
BLM sensitive species are those that require special management 
consideration to promote their conservation and reduce the likelihood 
and need for future listing under the ESA; they are designated by the 
BLM State Director(s) (BLM 2008). Gunnison sage-grouse was designated a 
BLM sensitive species in 2000 when it and greater sage-grouse were 
recognized as separate species (BLM 2009, p. 7).
    In addition to requiring stable and increasing populations and 
suitable habitat for special status species, the specific indicators 
for LHA standard four include the presence of: minimal noxious weeds, 
sustainably reproducing native plant and animal communities, mixed age 
classes sufficient to sustain recruitment and mortality fluctuations, 
habitat connectivity, photosynthetic activity throughout the growing 
season, diverse and resilient plant and animal communities in balance 
with habitat potential, plant litter accumulation, and several plant 
communities in a variety of successional stages and patterns (BLM 1997, 
p. 7).
    We recognize that LHAs are largely qualitative and other factors in 
addition to recent domestic livestock grazing, including the lingering 
effects of historic overgrazing, may influence the outcome of LHA 
determinations. Furthermore, BLM's application of LHA standards, 
methodologies used, and data interpretation varies depending on the 
Field Office. Therefore, the relationship between LHA determinations 
and the effects of domestic livestock grazing on Gunnison sage-grouse 
is imprecise. We also recognize that if an allotment does not meet LHA 
standard four, it does not mean the habitat is completely unsuitable 
for Gunnison sage-grouse. However, the fact that some grazing 
allotments or areas are not meeting LHA

[[Page 2503]]

objectives indicates that habitat conditions are likely degraded for 
Gunnison sage-grouse in portions of its range, and that domestic 
livestock grazing is contributing to these conditions.
    Federal Lands Grazing in the Gunnison Basin Population Area--The 
BLM manages approximately 122,376 ha (301,267 ac), or 51 percent of the 
area currently occupied by Gunnison sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin. 
Approximately 98 percent (119,941 ha [296,381 ac]) of this area is 
actively grazed (USFWS 2010c, p. 1). The USFS manages approximately 
34,544 ha (85,361 ac), or 14 percent of the occupied portion of the 
Gunnison Basin population area. Therefore, this information is 
pertinent to approximately 65 percent of occupied habitat in the 
Gunnison Basin.
    Within the 296,381 acres of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
that are actively grazed on BLM Gunnison Field Office lands, and with 
respect to LHA standard four, approximately 24,208 acres (8 percent) 
are ``meeting'' the standard; 51,314 acres (17 percent) are ``moving 
towards'' meeting the standard; 187,387 acres (63 percent) are ``not 
meeting'' the standard; and 33,472 acres (11 percent) are of 
``unknown'' status (BLM 2012, pp. 2-3).
    This analysis indicates that, without taking into account habitat 
conditions on private lands and other Federal and State lands, at least 
32 percent (187,387 acres ``not meeting'' standard four) of occupied 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the Gunnison Basin (592,936 total ac) 
has diminished habitat conditions and likely a reduction in habitat 
quality for Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Including those areas ``moving towards'' meeting LHA standard four 
(assuming conditions are less than optimal in these areas), overall 
habitat conditions for Gunnison sage-grouse may be worse than estimated 
above. Combining areas ``not meeting'' and ``moving toward'' standard 
four, as much as 81 percent (238,701 ac) of occupied habitat on BLM 
lands in the Gunnison Basin may have reduced habitat quality for 
Gunnison sage-grouse. Under these assumptions, as much as 40 percent 
(238,701 ac) of total occupied habitat in the Gunnison Basin (592,936 
ac) may have reduced habitat quality for Gunnison sage-grouse. This 
estimate may be conservative since it assumes habitat conditions are 
being met for Gunnison sage-grouse in occupied habitat on the 
remaining, un-assessed (``unknown'') BLM lands as well as private, 
State, and other Federal lands in the Gunnison Basin.
    In 2007 and 2008, the BLM Gunnison Field Office conducted Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat assessments in two major occupied habitat locations 
in the Gunnison Basin population quantifying vegetation structural 
characteristics and plant species diversity. Data were collected and 
compared to Gunnison sage-grouse Structural Habitat Guidelines in the 
2005 Rangewide Conservation Plan (RCP) (GSRSC, 2005, Appendix H) during 
optimal growing conditions in these two major occupied areas. 
Guidelines for sage cover, grass cover, forb cover, sagebrush height, 
grass height, and forb height were met in 45, 30, 25, 75, 81, and 39 
percent, respectively, of 97 transects (BLM 2009, pp. 31-32). In 
addition, grazing has negatively impacted several Gunnison sage-grouse 
treatments (projects aimed at improving habitat condition) in the 
Gunnison Basin (BLM 2009, p. 34). Although these areas are generally 
rested from domestic livestock grazing for 2 years after treatment, 
several have been heavily used by cattle shortly after the treatment 
and the effectiveness of the treatments decreased (BLM 2009, p. 34), 
which reduced the potential benefits of the treatments.
    As noted earlier, the USFS does not use the LHA process, but 
monitors allotment trends through a combination of procedures including 
seasonal inspections, permanent photo points, and inventory and mapping 
of plant community conditions and changes over time (USFS 2010). Three 
(9 percent) of the 35 USFS allotments in Gunnison sage-grouse occupied 
habitat in the Gunnison Basin population area have incorporated habitat 
objectives in their grazing plans. However, we have no specific data 
that evaluate allotment conditions as they relate to these objectives. 
Overall, USFS grazing allotments in the Gunnison Basin population area 
appear to be improving in forb and grass cover but are declining in 
sagebrush cover (USFS 2010).
    All of this information indicates that grazing management has 
likely resulted in degraded habitat conditions for Gunnison sage-grouse 
in portions of the Gunnison Basin. Based on available LHA data for 
occupied habitat on BLM lands, 32 to 40 percent of total occupied 
habitat in the Gunnison Basin may have reduced habitat quality for 
Gunnison sage-grouse. This estimate may be conservative since it 
assumes habitat conditions are being met for Gunnison sage-grouse in 
occupied habitat on the remaining, un-assessed (``unknown'') BLM lands 
as well as private, State, and other Federal lands in the Gunnison 
Basin. Assuming conditions in occupied habitat on other lands are 
similar to those on BLM-administered lands, more than 40 percent of 
Gunnison sage-grouse occupied habitat in the Gunnison Basin may have 
reduced habitat conditions for Gunnison sage-grouse. Therefore, current 
and past livestock grazing may be negatively impacting the Gunnison 
Basin population.
    However, the BLM has recently been modifying grazing permit terms 
and conditions in areas determined to be ``not meeting'' LHA standards 
through the permit renewal process. Examples of new permit terms or 
conditions required by the BLM include implementation of rotational 
grazing systems, deferment or elimination of grazing in certain 
pastures, reduced grazing duration (season of use), reduced stocking 
rates, fencing livestock out of riparian areas, or incorporating 
specific habitat objectives for Gunnison sage-grouse or other special 
status species (BLM 2012, pp. 1-2). It is anticipated that these 
changes will minimize further impacts to habitat and, in the future, 
improve degraded habitats for Gunnison sage-grouse in the Gunnison 
Basin, but there is no data at this time to substantiate this 
expectation.
    Some data indicate habitat conditions within a portion of the 
Gunnison Basin may be favorable to Gunnison sage-grouse (Williams and 
Hild 2011, entire). Detailed vegetation monitoring was conducted on six 
study sites across the Gunnison Basin during the summer of 2010 in 
order to determine baseline habitat conditions for a potential future 
study of the effects of manipulating livestock grazing on Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat (Williams and Hild 2011, entire). Transects were 
conducted on private, BLM, USFS, and CPW land. Results of this study 
indicated that, despite lower than average precipitation in the 
preceding year (2010), most vegetation measurements were within the 
structural habitat guidelines for Gunnison sage-grouse from the 2005 
Rangewide Conservation Plan (GSRSC \b\ 2005, pp. H-6-H-8). However, the 
study did not describe the extent of past or ongoing livestock grazing 
in these areas, nor did it compare un-grazed to grazed areas. Further, 
transect locations were prioritized and selected in areas used by 
radio-collared Gunnison sage-grouse. Therefore, the relationship 
between livestock grazing and habitat conditions is unclear, and the 
ability to infer conditions in other portions of the Gunnison Basin not 
prioritized for sampling is limited.
    Federal Lands Grazing in All Other Population Areas--The BLM 
manages approximately 36 percent of the area currently occupied by 
Gunnison sage-grouse in the San Miguel Basin, and

[[Page 2504]]

approximately 79 percent of this area is actively grazed. Grazing 
certainly occurs on lands owned or managed by other entities, but we 
have no information on the extent of grazing in these areas. Within the 
occupied range in the San Miguel population, no active BLM grazing 
allotments have Gunnison sage-grouse habitat objectives incorporated 
into the allotment management plans or Records of Decision for permit 
renewals (USFWS 2010c, p. 9). In 2009, 10 of 15 (77 percent) active 
allotments had LHAs completed in the last 15 years, 4 of 10 allotments 
(40 percent) were deemed by the BLM to meet LHA objectives. Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitats within the 60 percent of allotments not meeting 
LHA objectives and the 5 allotments with no LHAs completed are likely 
impacted by grazing in the same manner and proportion. Therefore, it 
appears that grazing is reducing habitat quality for Gunnison sage-
grouse in a large portion of this population area.
    More than 81 percent of the area occupied by the Dove Creek group 
is privately owned. The BLM manages 11 percent of the occupied habitat, 
and 41 percent of this area is actively grazed. Within the occupied 
range in the Dove Creek group of the Monticello-Dove Creek population, 
no active BLM grazing allotments have Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
objectives incorporated into the allotment management plans or Records 
of Decision for permit renewals (USFWS 2010c, p. 3). In 2009, no active 
allotments in occupied habitat had completed LHAs. Gunnison sage-grouse 
are not explicitly considered in grazing management planning and the 
lack of habitat data limits our ability to determine the impact to the 
habitat on public lands.
    More than 95 percent of the area occupied by the Monticello group 
is privately owned. The BLM manages 4 percent of the occupied habitat, 
and 83 percent of this area is grazed. Within the occupied range in the 
Monticello group, all 6 active BLM grazing allotments have Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat objectives incorporated into the allotment 
management plans or Records of Decision for permit renewals (USFWS 
2010c, p. 6). In 2009, 88 percent of the area of occupied habitat in 
active allotments had a recently completed LHA. Approximately 60 
percent of the area in occupied habitat in active allotments was deemed 
by the BLM to meet LHA objectives. Given the small amount of land 
managed by the BLM in this area, this information suggests that grazing 
the majority of lands managed by the BLM is likely not contributing to 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat degradation in the Monticello population 
group.
    Grazing certainly occurs on lands owned or managed by other 
entities but we have no information on the extent of grazing in these 
areas. Livestock grazing on private lands, where present, has a greater 
potential to impact Gunnison sage-grouse; however, we lack information 
to make an assessment. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land has 
provided a considerable amount of brood-rearing habitat in the 
Monticello group because of its forb component. Grazing of CRP land in 
Utah occurred in 2002 under emergency Farm Bill provisions due to 
drought and removed at least some of the grass and forb habitat 
component, thus likely negatively affecting Gunnison sage-grouse chick 
survival. Radio-collared males and non-brood-rearing females exhibited 
temporary avoidance of grazed fields during and after grazing (Lupis et 
al. 2006, pp. 959-960), although one hen with a brood continued to use 
a grazed CRP field.
    The BLM manages 28 percent of occupied habitat in the Pi[ntilde]on 
Mesa population area, and approximately 97 percent of this area is 
grazed. Over 50 percent of occupied habitat in this population area is 
privately owned, and while grazing certainly occurs on these lands, we 
have no information on its extent. Within the occupied range in the 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population, 8 of 15 (53 percent) active BLM grazing 
allotments have Gunnison sage-grouse habitat objectives incorporated 
into the allotment management plans or Records of Decision for permit 
renewals (USFWS 2010c, p. 5). In 2009, 23 percent of the area of 
occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in active allotments in the 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population area had LHAs completed in the last 15 
years, and all of these were deemed by the BLM to meet LHA objectives. 
Therefore, for the portion of the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population area for 
which we have information, it appears that grazing is managed in a 
manner consistent with Gunnison sage-grouse habitat requirements.
    Over 76 percent of the area occupied by the Cerro Summit-Cimarron-
Sims Mesa population area is privately owned. The BLM manages only 13 
percent of the occupied habitat, and 83 percent of this area is grazed. 
Within the occupied range in the Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa 
population, 1 of 10 active BLM grazing allotments have Gunnison sage-
grouse habitat objectives incorporated into the allotment management 
plans or Records of Decision for permit renewals (USFWS 2010c, p. 7). 
In 2009, of the 10 active allotments, 5 had LHAs completed in the last 
15 years, and 3 of these were deemed by the BLM as not meeting LHA 
objectives. Therefore, for the small portion of the Cerro Summit-
Cimarron-Sims Mesa population area for which we have information, it 
appears that grazing is reducing habitat quality for Gunnison sage-
grouse in portions of this population area. Grazing certainly occurs on 
lands owned or managed by other entities but we have no information on 
the extent of grazing in these areas. Livestock grazing on private 
lands, where present, has a greater potential to impact Gunnison sage-
grouse because these areas are not required to meet agency-mandated 
land health standards. Because we lack information on how these lands 
are managed; we assume that impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse from 
grazing are similar to the BLM lands.
    Lands administered by the BLM and NPS comprise over 75 percent of 
occupied habitat in the Crawford population, and 96 percent of this 
area is actively grazed. Grazing allotments on NPS lands in this area 
are administered by the BLM. Within occupied range in the Crawford 
population, 1 of 7 active BLM grazing allotments have Gunnison sage-
grouse habitat objectives incorporated into the allotment management 
plans or Records of Decision for permit renewals (USFWS 2010c, p. 8). 
In 2009, all of the active allotments had LHAs completed in the last 15 
years, and 86 percent met LHA objectives. In addition, seasonal forage 
utilization levels were below 30 percent in most Crawford population 
allotments, although a small number of allotments had nearly 50 percent 
utilization (BLM 2009, p. 68). Based on this information, it appears 
that grazing is managed in a manner consistent with Gunnison sage-
grouse conservation in the majority of the Crawford population area.
    The BLM manages nearly half of occupied habitat in the Poncha Pass 
population area, and approximately 98 percent of this area is actively 
grazed. Within the occupied range in the Poncha Pass population, 1 of 8 
active BLM grazing allotments have Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
objectives incorporated into the allotment management plans or Records 
of Decision for permit renewals (USFWS 2010c, p. 4). In 2009, all 
active allotments in occupied habitat had completed LHAs and all were 
meeting LHA objectives. Based on this information it appears that 
grazing is managed in a manner consistent with Gunnison sage-grouse 
conservation in the majority of the Poncha Pass population area.

[[Page 2505]]

    Wild Ungulate Herbivory in All Population Areas--Overgrazing by 
deer and elk may cause local degradation of habitats by removal of 
forage and residual hiding and nesting cover. Hobbs et al. (1996, pp. 
210-213) documented a decline in available perennial grasses as elk 
densities increased. Such grazing could negatively impact nesting cover 
for sage-grouse. The winter range of deer and elk overlaps the year-
round range of the Gunnison sage-grouse. Excessive but localized deer 
and elk grazing has been documented in the Gunnison Basin (BLM 2005a, 
pp. 17-18; Jones 2005, pers. comm.).
    Grazing by deer and elk occurs in all Gunnison sage-grouse 
population areas. Although we have no information indicating that 
competition for resources is limiting Gunnison sage-grouse in the 
Gunnison Basin, BLM observed that certain mountain shrubs were being 
browsed heavily by wild ungulates (BLM 2009, p. 34). Subsequent results 
of monitoring in mountain shrub communities indicated that drought and 
big game were having large impacts on the survivability and size of 
mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus utahensis), bitterbrush (Purshia 
tridentata), and serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) in the Gunnison 
Basin (Jupuntich et al. 2010, pp. 7-9). The authors raised concerns 
that observed reductions in shrub size and vigor will reduce drifting 
snow accumulation resulting in decreased moisture availability to 
grasses and forbs during the spring melt. Reduced grass and forb growth 
could negatively impact Gunnison sage-grouse nesting and early brood-
rearing habitat.
Domestic Grazing and Wild Ungulate Herbivory Summary
    Livestock management and domestic grazing have the potential to 
degrade Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Grazing can adversely impact 
nesting and brood-rearing habitat by decreasing vegetation available 
for concealment from predators. Grazing also has been shown to compact 
soils, decrease herbaceous abundance, increase erosion, and increase 
the probability of invasion of exotic plant species (GSRSC 2005, p. 
173).
    The impacts of livestock operations on Gunnison sage-grouse depend 
upon stocking levels and season of use. We recognize that not all 
livestock grazing results in habitat degradation, and many livestock 
operations within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse are employing 
innovative grazing strategies and conservation actions (BLM 2012, pp. 
1-2; Gunnison County Stockgrowers 2009, entire) in collaboration with 
the BLM and Forest Service. As discussed above, habitat conditions are 
likely favorable to Gunnison sage-grouse in a portion of the Gunnison 
Basin (Williams and Hild 2011, entire), although the extent of 
livestock grazing in those areas is unknown.
    Available information suggests that LHA objectives important to 
Gunnison sage-grouse are not being met across portions of the species' 
range and that livestock grazing is contributing to those conditions. 
Reduced habitat quality in those areas, as reflected in unmet LHA 
objectives, is likely negatively impacting Gunnison sage-grouse in most 
of the populations, including the Gunnison Basin. However, the 
relationship between LHA determinations and the effects of domestic 
livestock grazing on Gunnison sage-grouse is imprecise.
    We know that grazing can have negative impacts to sagebrush and 
consequently to Gunnison sage-grouse at local scales. Impacts to 
sagebrush plant communities as a result of grazing are occurring on a 
large portion of the range of the species. Given the widespread nature 
of grazing within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, the potential for 
population-level impacts is likely. We expect grazing to persist 
throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse for at least several 
decades. Effects of domestic livestock grazing are likely being 
exacerbated by intense browsing of woody species by wild ungulates in 
portions of the Gunnison Basin. Habitat degradation that can result 
from improperly managed grazing, particularly with the interacting 
factors of invasive weed expansion and climate change, is a threat to 
Gunnison sage-grouse persistence.

Fences

    The effects of fencing on sage-grouse include direct mortality 
through collisions, creation of raptor and corvid perch sites, the 
potential creation of predator corridors along fences (particularly if 
a road is maintained next to the fence), incursion of exotic species 
along the fencing corridor, and habitat fragmentation (Call and Maser 
1985, p. 22; Braun 1998, p. 145; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974; Beck et 
al. 2003, p. 211; Knick et al. 2003, p. 612; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
1-2).
    Sage-grouse frequently fly low and fast across sagebrush flats, and 
fences can create a collision hazard resulting in direct mortality 
(Call and Maser 1985, p. 22; Christiansen 2009, pp. 1-2). Not all 
fences present the same mortality risk to sage-grouse. Mortality risk 
appears to be dependent on a combination of factors including design of 
fencing, landscape topography, and spatial relationship with seasonal 
habitats (Christiansen 2009, pp. 1-2). This variability in fence 
mortality rate and the lack of systematic fence monitoring make it 
difficult to determine the magnitude of direct strike mortality impacts 
to sage-grouse populations; however, in some cases the level of 
mortality is likely significant to localized areas within populations. 
Greater sage-grouse fence collisions during the breeding season in 
Idaho were found to be relatively common and widespread, with 
collisions being influenced by the technical attributes of the fences, 
fence length and density, topography, and distance to nearest active 
sage-grouse lek (Stevens 2011, pp. 102-107). We assume that Gunnison 
sage-grouse are also killed by fences but do not have species-specific 
data.
    Although the effects of direct strike mortality on populations are 
not fully analyzed, fences are generally ubiquitous across the 
landscape. At least 1,540 km (960 mi) of fence are on BLM lands within 
the Gunnison Basin (Borthwick 2005b, pers. comm.; BLM 2005a, 2005e) and 
an unquantified amount of fence is located on land owned or managed by 
other landowners. Fences are present within all other Gunnison sage-
grouse population areas, but we have no quantitative information on the 
amount or types of fencing in these areas.
    Fence posts create perching places for raptors and corvids, which 
may increase their ability to prey on sage-grouse (Braun 1998, p. 145; 
Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, p. 330; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 13-12). 
This is particularly significant for sage-grouse reproduction because 
corvids were responsible for more than 50 percent of nest predations in 
Nevada (Coates 2007, pp. 26-30). Greater sage-grouse avoidance of 
habitat adjacent to fences, presumably to minimize the risk of 
predation, effectively results in habitat fragmentation even if the 
actual habitat is not removed (Braun 1998, p. 145). We anticipate that 
the effect on sage-grouse populations through the creation of new 
raptor perches and predator corridors into sagebrush habitats is 
similar to that of powerlines discussed above (Braun 1998, p. 145; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-3). Because of similarities in behavior and 
habitat use, the response of Gunnison sage-grouse should be similar to 
that observed in greater sage-grouse.
Summary of Fences
    Fences contribute to habitat fragmentation and increase the 
potential for loss of individual grouse through collisions or enhanced 
predation. We expect that the majority of existing

[[Page 2506]]

fences will remain on the landscape indefinitely. In the smaller 
Gunnison sage-grouse populations, fencing is another source of 
mortality that cumulatively affects the ability of the species to 
persist. We also recognize that fences are located throughout all 
Gunnison sage-grouse populations and are, therefore, contributing to 
the fragmentation of remaining habitat and are a source of mortality 
within all populations. For these reasons, fences may be another factor 
contributing to the decline of Gunnison sage-grouse, both directly and 
indirectly. However, we have no specific data on the scope of this 
threat.

Invasive Plants

    For the purposes of this proposed rule, we define invasive plants 
as those that are not native to an ecosystem and that have a negative 
impact on Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Invasive plants alter native 
plant community structure and composition, productivity, nutrient 
cycling, and hydrology (Vitousek 1990, p. 7) and may cause declines in 
native plant populations through competitive exclusion and niche 
displacement, among other mechanisms (Mooney and Cleland 2001, p. 
5446). Invasive plants reduce and can eliminate vegetation that sage-
grouse use for food and cover. Invasive plants do not provide quality 
sage-grouse habitat. Sage-grouse depend on a variety of native forbs 
and the insects associated with them for chick survival, and on 
sagebrush, which is used exclusively throughout the winter for food and 
cover.
    Along with replacing or removing vegetation essential to sage-
grouse, invasive plants fragment existing sage-grouse habitat. They can 
create long-term changes in ecosystem processes, such as fire-cycles 
(see discussion under Fire below) and other disturbance regimes that 
persist even after an invasive plant is removed (Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 
33). A variety of nonnative annuals and perennials are invasive to 
sagebrush ecosystems (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-107 and 7-108; Zouhar 
et al. 2008, p 144). Cheatgrass is considered most invasive in Wyoming 
big sagebrush communities (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 5-9). Other 
invasive plants found within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse that are 
reported to take over large areas include: Spotted knapweed (Centaurea 
maculosa), Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens), oxeye daisy 
(Leucanthemum vulgare), yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), and field 
bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) (BLM 2009, p. 28, 36; Gunnison 
Watershed Weed Commission (GWWC) 2009, pp. 4-6).
    Although not yet reported to create large expanses in the range of 
Gunnison sage-grouse, the following weeds are also known from the 
species' range and have successfully invaded large expanses in other 
parts of western North America: Diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa), 
whitetop (Cardaria draba), jointed goatgrass (Aegilops cylindrica), and 
yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis). Other invasive plant 
species present within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse that are 
problematic yet less likely to overtake large areas include: Canada 
thistle (Cirsium arvense), musk thistle (Carduus nutans), bull thistle 
(Cirsium vulgare), houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), black henbane 
(Hyoscyamus niger), common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), and absinth 
wormwood (A. biennis) (BLM 2009, p. 28, 36; GWWC 2009, pp. 4-6).
    Cheatgrass impacts sagebrush ecosystems by potentially shortening 
fire intervals from several decades, depending on the type of sagebrush 
plant community and site productivity, to as low as 3 to 5 years, 
perpetuating its own persistence and intensifying the role of fire 
(Whisenant 1990, p. 4). Cheatgrass presence can shorten fire intervals 
to less than 10 years resulting in the elimination of shrub cover and 
reducing the availability and quality of forb cover (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 7-5). As discussed in the climate change section below, 
temperature increases may increase the competitive advantage of 
cheatgrass in higher elevation areas (such as the range of the Gunnison 
sage-grouse) where its current distribution is limited (Miller et al. 
2011, pp. 181-183). Decreased summer precipitation reduces the 
competitive advantage of summer perennial grasses, reduces sagebrush 
cover, and subsequently increases the likelihood of cheatgrass invasion 
(Bradley 2009, pp. 202-204; Prevey et al. 2009, p. 11). This change 
could increase the susceptibility of sagebrush areas in Utah and 
Colorado to cheatgrass invasion (Bradley 2009, p. 204).
    A variety of restoration and rehabilitation techniques are used to 
treat invasive plants, but they can be costly and are mostly unproven 
and experimental at a large scale. In the last 100 years, no broad-
scale cheatgrass eradication method has been developed. Habitat 
treatments that either disturb the soil surface or deposit a layer of 
litter increase cheatgrass establishment in the Gunnison Basin when a 
cheatgrass seed source is present (Sokolow 2005, p. 51). Therefore, 
researchers recommend using habitat treatment tools, such as brush 
mowers, with caution and suggest that treated sites should be monitored 
for increases in cheatgrass emergence (Sokolow 2005, p. 49).
    Invasive Plants in the Gunnison Basin Population Area--Quantifying 
the total amount of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat impacted by invasive 
plants is difficult due to differing sampling methodologies, incomplete 
sampling, inconsistencies in species sampled, and varying 
interpretations of what constitutes an infestation (Miller et al., 
2011, pp. 155-156). Cheatgrass has invaded areas in Gunnison sage-
grouse range, supplanting sagebrush habitat in some areas (BLM 2009, p. 
60). However, we do not have a reliable estimate of the amount of area 
occupied by cheatgrass in the range of Gunnison sage-grouse. While not 
ubiquitous, cheatgrass is found at numerous locations throughout the 
Gunnison Basin (BLM 2009, p. 60). Cheatgrass infestation within a 
particular area can range from a small number of individuals scattered 
sparsely throughout a site, to complete or near-complete understory 
domination of a site. Cheatgrass has increased throughout the Gunnison 
Basin in the last decade and is becoming increasingly detrimental to 
sagebrush community types (BLM 2009, p. 7). Currently in the Gunnison 
Basin, cheatgrass attains site dominance most often along roadways; 
however, other highly disturbed areas have similar cheatgrass 
densities. Cheatgrass is currently present in almost every grazing 
allotment in Gunnison sage-grouse occupied habitat and other invasive 
plant species, such as Canada thistle, black henbane, spotted knapweed, 
Russian knapweed, Kochia, bull thistle, musk thistle, oxeye daisy, 
yellow toadflax and field bindweed, are found in riparian areas and 
roadsides throughout the Gunnison Basin (BLM 2009, p. 7).
    Although disturbed areas most often contain the highest cheatgrass 
densities, cheatgrass can readily spread into less disturbed and even 
undisturbed habitat. A strong indicator for future cheatgrass invasion 
is the proximity to current locations (Bradley and Mustard 2006, p. 
1146) as well as summer, annual, and spring precipitation, and winter 
temperature (Bradley 2009, p. 196). Although we lack the information to 
make a detailed determination on the actual extent or rate of increase, 
given its invasive nature, it appears that cheatgrass and its negative 
influence on Gunnison sage-grouse will increase in the Gunnison Basin 
in the future because of potential exacerbation from climate change 
interactions and the

[[Page 2507]]

limited success of broad-scale control efforts. Based on experience 
from other areas in sagebrush ecosystems concerning the rapid spread of 
cheatgrass and the shortened fire return intervals that can result, the 
spread of cheatgrass within Gunnison sage-grouse habitat and the likely 
negative effects to Gunnison sage-grouse populations will increase.
    Invasive Plants in All Other Population Areas--Cheatgrass is 
present throughout much of the current range in the San Miguel Basin 
(BLM 2005c, p. 6), but is most abundant in the Dry Creek Basin group 
(CDOW 2005, p. 101), which comprises 62 percent of the San Miguel Basin 
population. It is present in the five Gunnison sage-grouse 
subpopulations east of Dry Creek Basin, although at much lower 
densities that do not currently pose a serious threat to Gunnison sage-
grouse (CDOW 2005, p. 101). Invasive species are present at low levels 
in the Monticello group (San Juan County GSGWG 2005, p. 20). However, 
there is no evidence that they are affecting the population.
    Cheatgrass dominates 10-15 percent of the sagebrush understory in 
the current range of the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population (Lambeth 2005, 
pers. comm.). It occurs in the lower elevation areas below Pi[ntilde]on 
Mesa that were formerly Gunnison sage-grouse range. Cheatgrass invaded 
two small prescribed burns in or near occupied habitat conducted in 
1989 and 1998 (BLM 2005d, p. 6), and continues to be a concern with new 
ground-disturbing projects. Invasive plants, especially cheatgrass, 
occur primarily along roads, other disturbed areas, and isolated areas 
of untreated vegetation in the Crawford population. The threat of 
cheatgrass may be greater to sage-grouse than all other nonnative 
species combined and could be a major limiting factor when and if 
disturbance is used to improve habitat conditions, unless mitigated 
(BLM 2005c, p. 6).
    Within the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa Gunnison sage-grouse population area, 
520 ha (1,284 ac) of BLM lands are currently mapped with cheatgrass as 
the dominant species (BLM 2009, p. 3). This is not a comprehensive 
inventory of cheatgrass occurrence, as it only includes areas where 
cheatgrass dominates the plant community and does not include areas 
where the species is present at lower densities. Cheatgrass 
distribution has not been comprehensively mapped for the Monticello-
Dove Creek population area; however, cheatgrass is beginning to be 
assessed on a site-specific and project-level basis. No significant 
invasive plant occurrences are currently known in the Poncha Pass 
population area.
Summary of Invasive Plants
    Invasive plants negatively impact Gunnison sage-grouse primarily by 
reducing or eliminating native vegetation that sage-grouse require for 
food and cover, resulting in habitat loss and fragmentation. Although 
invasive plants, especially cheatgrass, have affected some Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat, the impacts do not currently appear to be 
threatening individual populations or the species rangewide. However, 
invasive plants continue to expand their range, facilitated by ground 
disturbances such as fire, grazing, and human infrastructure. Climate 
change will likely alter the range of individual invasive species, 
increasing fragmentation and habitat loss of sagebrush communities. 
Even with treatments, given the history of invasive plants on the 
landscape, and our continued inability to control such species, 
invasive plants will persist and will likely continue to spread 
throughout the range of the species indefinitely. Therefore, invasive 
plants and associated increased fire risk will be on the landscape 
indefinitely. Although currently not a major threat to the persistence 
of Gunnison sage-grouse at the species level, we anticipate invasive 
species to become an increasing threat to the species in the future, 
particularly when considered in conjunction with future climate 
projections and potential changes in sagebrush plant community 
composition and dynamics.

Fire

    The nature of historical fire patterns in sagebrush communities, 
particularly in Wyoming big sagebrush, is not well understood, and a 
high degree of variability likely occurred (Miller and Eddleman 2000, 
p. 16; Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 154; Baker 2011, p. 195). In general, 
mean fire return intervals in low-lying, xeric (dry) big sagebrush 
communities range from over 100 to 350 years, and return intervals 
decrease from 50 to over 200 years in more mesic (wet) areas, at higher 
elevations, during wetter climatic periods, and in locations associated 
with grasslands (Baker 2006, p. 181; Mensing et al. 2006, p. 75; Baker 
2011, pp. 194-195; Miller et al. 2011, p. 166).
    Mountain big sagebrush, the most important and widespread sagebrush 
species for Gunnison sage-grouse, is killed by fire and can require 
decades to recover. In nesting and wintering sites, fire causes direct 
loss of habitat due to reduced cover and forage (Call and Maser 1985, 
p. 17). While there may be limited instances where burned habitat is 
beneficial, these gains are lost if alternative sagebrush habitat is 
not readily available (Woodward 2006, p. 65). As we describe above in 
the Current Distribution and Population Estimates section, little 
alternative habitat is available for Gunnison sage-grouse, so 
beneficial effects of fire are highly unlikely.
    Herbaceous understory vegetation plays a critical role throughout 
the breeding season as a source of forage and cover for Gunnison sage-
grouse females and chicks. The response of herbaceous understory 
vegetation to fire varies with differences in species composition, pre-
burn site condition, fire intensity, and pre- and post-fire patterns of 
precipitation. In general, when not considering the synergistic effects 
of invasive species, any beneficial short-term flush of understory 
grasses and forbs is lost after only a few years and little difference 
is apparent between burned and unburned sites (Cook et al. 1994, p. 
298; Fischer et al. 1996a, p. 196; Crawford 1999, p. 7; Wrobleski 1999, 
p. 31; Nelle et al. 2000, p. 588; Paysen et al. 2000, p. 154; Wambolt 
et al. 2001, p. 250). In addition to altering plant community structure 
through shrub removal and potential weed invasion, fires can influence 
invertebrate food sources (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 5). However, 
because few studies have been conducted and the results of those 
available vary, the specific magnitude and duration of the effects of 
fire on insect communities is still uncertain.
    The invasion of the exotic annual grass cheatgrass increases fire 
frequency within the sagebrush ecosystem (Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 41; 
Miller et al. 2011, p. 170). Cheatgrass readily invades sagebrush 
communities, especially disturbed sites, and changes historical fire 
patterns by providing an abundant and easily ignitable fuel source that 
facilitates fire spread. While sagebrush is killed by fire and is slow 
to reestablish, cheatgrass recovers within 1 to 2 years of a fire event 
(Young and Evans 1978, p. 285). This annual recovery leads to a readily 
burnable fuel source and ultimately a reoccurring fire cycle that 
prevents sagebrush reestablishment (Eiswerth et al. 2009, p. 1324). The 
extensive distribution and highly invasive nature of cheatgrass poses 
substantial increased risk of fire and permanent loss of sagebrush 
habitat, as areas disturbed by fire are highly susceptible to further 
invasion and ultimately habitat conversion to an altered community 
state. For example, Link et al. (2006, p. 116) show that risk of fire 
increases from approximately 46

[[Page 2508]]

to 100 percent when ground cover of cheatgrass increases from 12 to 45 
percent or more. We do not have a reliable estimate of the amount of 
area occupied by cheatgrass in the range of Gunnison sage-grouse. 
However, cheatgrass is found at numerous locations throughout the 
Gunnison Basin (BLM 2009, p. 60).
    A clear positive response of Gunnison or greater sage-grouse to 
fire has not been demonstrated (Braun 1998, p. 9). The few studies that 
have suggested fire may be beneficial for greater sage-grouse were 
primarily conducted in mesic areas used for brood-rearing (Klebenow 
1970, p. 399; Pyle and Crawford 1996, p. 323; Gates 1983, in Connelly 
et al. 2000c, p. 90; Sime 1991, in Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 972). In 
this type of habitat, small fires may maintain a suitable habitat 
mosaic by reducing shrub encroachment and encouraging understory 
growth. However, without available nearby sagebrush cover, the utility 
of these sites is questionable, especially within the six small 
Gunnison sage-grouse populations where fire could further degrade and 
fragment the remaining habitat.
    Fire in the Gunnison Basin Population Area--Six prescribed burns 
have occurred on BLM lands in the Gunnison Basin since 1984, totaling 
approximately 409 ha (1,010 ac) (BLM 2009, p. 35). The fires created 
large sagebrush-free areas that were further degraded by poor post-burn 
livestock management (BLM 2005a, p. 13). As a result, these areas are 
no longer suitable as Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Approximately 8,470 
ha (20,930 ac) of prescribed burns occurred on Forest Service lands in 
the Gunnison Basin since 1983 (USFS 2009, p. 1). A small wildfire on 
BLM lands near Hartman Rocks burned 8 ha (20 ac) in 2007 (BLM 2009, p. 
35). The total area of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat burned in 
recent decades is approximately 8,887 ha (21,960 ac), which constitutes 
1.5 percent of the occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat area. 
Cumulatively, this area equates to a relatively small amount of habitat 
burned over a period of nearly three decades. This information suggests 
that there has not been a demonstrated change in fire cycle in the 
Gunnison Basin population area to date.
    Fire in All Other Population Areas--Two prescribed burns conducted 
in 1986 (105 ha (260 ac)) and 1992 (140 ha (350 ac)) on BLM land in the 
San Miguel Basin on the north side of Dry Creek Basin had negative 
impacts on sage-grouse. The burns were conducted for big game forage 
improvement, but the sagebrush died and was largely replaced with weeds 
(BLM 2005b, pp. 7-8). The Burn Canyon fire in the Dry Creek Basin and 
Hamilton Mesa areas burned 890 ha (2,200 ac) in 2000. Three fires have 
occurred in Gunnison sage-grouse habitat since 2004 on lands managed by 
the BLM in the Crawford, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa, and San 
Miguel Basin population areas. There have been no fires since 2004 on 
lands managed by the BLM within the Monticello-Dove Creek population. 
Because these fires were mostly small in size, we do not believe they 
resulted in substantial impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Several wildfires near or within the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population 
area have occurred in the past 20 years. One fire burned a small amount 
of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in 1995, and several fires 
burned in potential Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Individual burned 
areas ranged from 3.6 ha (9 ac) to 2,160 ha (5,338 ac). A wildfire in 
2009 burned 1,053 ha (2,602 ac), predominantly within vacant or unknown 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat (suitable habitat for sage-grouse that is 
separated from occupied habitats that has not been adequately 
inventoried, or without recent documentation of grouse presence) near 
the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population. Since 2004, a single 2.8-ha (7-ac) 
wildfire occurred in the Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa population 
area, and two prescribed fires, both less than 12 ha (30 ac), were 
implemented in the San Miguel population area. There was no fire 
activity within occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the last two 
decades in the Poncha Pass population area (CDOW 2009b, pp. 125-126) or 
the Monticello-Dove Creek population area (CDOW 2009b, p. 75; UDWR 
2009, p. 5). Because fires have burned primarily outside of occupied 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population area 
and fire has been recently absent or minimal in most other population 
areas, fire has not resulted in substantial impacts to Gunnison sage-
grouse in these population areas.
Summary of Fire
    Fires can cause the proliferation of weeds and can degrade suitable 
sage-grouse habitat, which may not recover to suitable conditions for 
decades, if at all (Pyke 2011, p. 539). Recent fires in Gunnison sage-
grouse habitat were mostly small in size and did not result in 
substantial impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse, and there has been no 
obvious change in fire cycle in any Gunnison sage-grouse population 
area to date. Therefore, we do not consider fire to be a threat to the 
persistence of Gunnison sage-grouse at this time. We do not have the 
information to predict the extent or location of future fire events. 
However, the best available data indicates that fire frequency may 
increase in the future as cheatgrass continues to encroach on the 
sagebrush habitat and with the projected effects of climate change (see 
Invasive Plants and Climate Change discussions, above and below, 
respectively). Fire is, therefore, likely to become a threat to the 
persistence of Gunnison sage-grouse in the future.

Climate Change

    Our analyses under the Endangered Species Act include consideration 
of ongoing and projected changes in climate. The terms ``climate'' and 
``climate change'' are defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on 
Climate Change (IPCC). ``Climate'' refers to the mean and variability 
of different types of weather conditions over time, with 30 years being 
a typical period for such measurements, although shorter or longer 
periods also may be used (IPCC 2007, p. 78). The term ``climate 
change'' thus refers to a change in the mean or variability of one or 
more measures of climate (e.g., temperature or precipitation) that 
persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer, whether 
the change is due to natural variability, human activity, or both (IPCC 
2007, p. 78). Various types of changes in climate can have direct or 
indirect effects on species. These effects may be positive, neutral, or 
negative and they may change over time, depending on the species and 
other relevant considerations, such as the effects of interactions of 
climate with other variables (e.g., habitat fragmentation) (IPCC 2007, 
pp. 8-14, 18-19). In our analyses, we use our expert judgment to weigh 
relevant information, including uncertainty, in our consideration of 
various aspects of climate change.
    According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 
``Warming of the climate system in recent decades is unequivocal, as is 
now evident from observations of increases in global average air and 
ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising 
global sea level'' (IPCC 2007, p. 1). Average Northern Hemisphere 
temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were very 
likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 
years and likely the highest in at least the past 1,300 years (IPCC 
2007, p. 30). Over the past 50 years cold days, cold nights, and frosts 
have become less frequent over most land areas, and hot days and hot 
nights have become more

[[Page 2509]]

frequent. Heat waves have become more frequent over most land areas, 
and the frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most 
areas (IPCC 2007, p. 30).
    For the southwestern region of the United States, including western 
Colorado, warming is occurring more rapidly than elsewhere in the 
country (Karl et al. 2009, p. 129). Annual average temperature in west-
central Colorado increased 3.6 [deg]C (2[emsp14][deg]F) over the past 
30 years, but high variability in annual precipitation precludes the 
detection of long-term precipitation trends (Ray et al. 2008, p. 5). 
Under high greenhouse gas emission scenarios, future projections for 
the southwestern United States show increased probability of drought 
(Karl et al. 2009, pp. 129-134) and the number of days over 32 [deg]C 
(90[emsp14][deg]F) could double by the end of the century (Karl et al. 
2009, p. 34). Climate models predict annual temperature increase of 
approximately 2.2 [deg]C (4[emsp14][deg]F) in the Southwest by 2050, 
with summers warming more than winters (Ray et al. 2008, p. 29). 
Projections also show declines in snowpack across the West with the 
most dramatic declines at lower elevations (below 2,500 m (8,200 ft)) 
(Ray et al., p. 29).
    Colorado's complex, mountainous topography results in a high degree 
of spatial variability across the State. As a result, localized climate 
projections are problematic for mountainous areas because current 
global climate models are unable to capture this variability at local 
or regional scales (Ray et al. 2008, pp. 7, 20). To obtain climate 
projections specific to the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, we requested 
a statistically downscaled model from the National Center for 
Atmospheric Research for a region covering western Colorado. The 
resulting projections indicate the highest probability scenario is that 
average summer (June through September) temperature could increase by 
2.8 [deg]C (5.1 [deg]F), and average winter (October through March) 
temperature could increase by 2.2 [deg]C (4.0 [deg]F) by 2050 
(University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) 2009, pp. 1-
15). Annual mean precipitation projections for Colorado are unclear; 
however, multimodel averages show a shift towards increased winter 
precipitation and decreased spring and summer precipitation (Ray et al. 
2008, p. 34; Karl et al. 2009, p. 30). Similarly, the multimodel 
averages show the highest probability of a 5 percent increase in 
average winter precipitation and a 5 percent decrease in average 
spring-summer precipitation in 2050 (UCAR 2009, p. 15). It is unclear 
at this time whether or not the year 2050 predicted changes in 
precipitation and temperature will be of enough magnitude to 
significantly alter sagebrush plant community composition and dynamics.
    For sagebrush, spring and summer precipitation comprises the 
majority of the moisture available to the species; thus, the 
interaction between reduced precipitation in the spring-summer growing 
season and increased summer temperatures will likely decrease growth of 
mountain big sagebrush. This could result in a significant long-term 
reduction in the distribution of sagebrush communities (Miller et al. 
2011, pp. 171-174). In the Gunnison Basin, increased summer temperature 
was strongly correlated with reduced growth of mountain big sagebrush 
(Poore et al. 2009, p. 558). Based on these results and the likelihood 
of increased winter precipitation falling as rain rather than snow and 
the corresponding increase in evaporation and decrease in deep soil 
water recharge, Poore et al (2009, p. 559) predict decreased growth of 
mountain big sagebrush, particularly at the lower elevation limit of 
the species. Because Gunnison sage-grouse are sagebrush obligates, loss 
of sagebrush would result in a reduction of suitable habitat and 
negatively impact the species. The interaction of climate change with 
other stressors likely has impacted and will impact the sagebrush 
steppe ecosystem within which Gunnison sage-grouse occur.
    Climate change is likely to alter fire frequency, community 
assemblages, and the ability of nonnative species to proliferate. 
Increasing temperature as well as changes in the timing and amount of 
precipitation will alter the competitive advantage among plant species 
(Miller et al. 2011, pp. 175-179), and may shift individual species and 
ecosystem distributions (Bachelet et al. 2001, p. 174). Temperature 
increases may increase the competitive advantage of cheatgrass in 
higher elevation areas where its current distribution is limited 
(Miller et al. 2011, p. 182). Decreased summer precipitation reduces 
the competitive advantage of summer perennial grasses, reduces 
sagebrush cover, and subsequently increases the likelihood of 
cheatgrass invasion (Prevey et al. 2009, p. 11). This impact could 
increase the susceptibility of areas within Gunnison sage-grouse range 
to cheatgrass invasion (Bradley 2009, p. 204), which would reduce the 
overall cover of native vegetation, reduce habitat quality, and 
potentially decrease fire return intervals, all of which would 
negatively affect the species.
    Under drought conditions, plants generally are less vigorous and 
less successful in reproduction and may require several years to 
recover following drought (Weltzin et al. 2003, p. 946). Increased 
drought and shifts in the magnitude and timing of temperature and 
precipitation could reduce herbaceous and insect production within 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitats. A recent climate change vulnerability 
index applied to Gunnison sage-grouse ranked the species as ``highly 
vulnerable'' to modeled climate change by the year 2050 (The Nature 
Conservancy 2011, p. 11). The mechanism of this vulnerability was 
considered to be the degradation of high-quality brood-rearing habitat 
due to the loss of adequate moisture to maintain mesic meadows, 
springs, seeps, and riparian areas, as well as potential changes in the 
fire regime and subsequent loss of sagebrush cover. A reduction in the 
quality and amount of these resources will likely affect key 
demographic processes such as the productivity of breeding hens and 
survival of chicks and result in reduced population viability. The 
drought conditions from 1999 through 2003 were closely associated with 
reductions in the sizes of all populations, although population 
estimates did recover to pre-drought levels in some populations (CDOW 
2009, entire). The small sizes of six of seven Gunnison sage-grouse 
populations make them particularly sensitive to stochastic 
fluctuations, and these fluctuations are exacerbated by drought (GSRSC 
2005, p. G-22).
Summary of Climate Change
    Climate change predictions are based on models with assumptions, 
and there are uncertainties regarding the magnitude of associated 
climate change parameters such as the amount and timing of 
precipitation and seasonal temperature changes. There is also 
uncertainty as to the magnitude of effects of predicted climate 
parameters on sagebrush plant community dynamics. These factors make it 
difficult to predict whether or to what extent climate change will 
affect Gunnison sage-grouse. We recognize that climate change has the 
potential to alter Gunnison sage-grouse habitat by facilitating an 
increase in the distribution of cheatgrass and concurrently increasing 
the potential for wildfires, and reducing herbaceous vegetation and 
insect production in drought years, which would have negative effects 
on Gunnison sage-grouse. We do not consider climate change to be a 
threat to the persistence of Gunnison sage-grouse at this time

[[Page 2510]]

because of the uncertainties described above. However, based on the 
best available information on climate change projections into the next 
40 years, climate change has the potential to alter the distribution 
and extent of cheatgrass and sagebrush and associated fire frequencies, 
and key seasonal Gunnison sage-grouse food resources, and, therefore, 
is likely to become an increasingly important threat to the persistence 
of Gunnison sage-grouse.

Renewable Energy Development--Geothermal, Wind, Solar

    Geothermal Energy Development--Geothermal energy production is 
similar to oil and gas development in that it requires surface 
exploration, exploratory drilling, field development, and plant 
construction and operation and likely results in similar degrees of 
direct and functional habitat loss. Wells are drilled to access the 
thermal source. This can require 3 weeks to 2 months of continuous 
drilling (Suter 1978, p. 3), which may cause disturbance to sage-
grouse. The ultimate number of wells, and, therefore, potential loss of 
habitat, depends on the thermal output of the source and expected 
production of the plant (Suter 1978, p. 3). Pipelines are needed to 
carry steam or superheated liquids to the generating plant, which is 
similar in size to a coal- or gas-fired plant, resulting in further 
habitat destruction and indirect disturbance. Direct habitat loss 
occurs from well pads, structures, roads, pipelines and transmission 
lines, and impacts would be similar to those described below for oil 
and gas development. The development of geothermal energy requires 
intensive human activity during field development and operation, which 
could lead to habitat loss. Furthermore, geothermal development could 
cause toxic gas release. The type and effect of these gases depends on 
the geological formation in which drilling occurs (Suter 1978, pp. 7-
9). The amount of water necessary for drilling and condenser cooling 
may be high. Local water depletions may be a concern if such depletions 
result in the loss or degradation of brood-rearing habitat.
    Geothermal Energy in the Gunnison Basin Population Area--
Approximately 87 percent of the entire occupied range of Gunnison sage-
grouse, including the entire Gunnison Basin, is within a region of 
known geothermal potential (BLM and USFS 2010, p. 1). We have no 
information on the presence of active geothermal energy generation 
facilities; however, we are aware of three current applications for 
geothermal leases within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse. All of the 
applications are located in the Gunnison Basin in the same general 
vicinity on private, BLM, USFS, and Colorado State Land Board lands 
near Tomichi Dome and Waunita Hot Springs in southeastern Gunnison 
County. The cumulative area of the geothermal lease application parcels 
is approximately 4,061 ha (10,035 ac), of which approximately 3,802 ha 
(9,395 ac) is occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat, or approximately 2 
percent of the Gunnison Basin population area.
    One active lek and two inactive leks are located within the lease 
application parcels. In addition, six active leks and four inactive 
leks are within 6.4 km (4 mi) of the lease application parcels 
indicating that a high degree of seasonal use may occur within the area 
surrounding these leks (GSRSC 2005, p. J-4). There are 74 active leks 
in the Gunnison Basin population, so approximately 10 percent of active 
leks may be affected. A significant amount of high-quality Gunnison 
sage-grouse nesting habitat also exists on and near the lease 
application parcels (Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 9). If geothermal 
development occurs on the lease application parcels, it would likely 
negatively impact Gunnison sage-grouse through the direct loss of 
habitat and the functional loss of habitat resulting from increased 
human activity in the area. However, we cannot determine the potential 
extent of the impacts of such development at this time because the size 
and location of potential geothermal energy generation infrastructure 
and final resource protection conditions currently are unknown, nor do 
we know where potential geothermal developments might occur.
    Geothermal Energy in All Other Population Areas--We could find no 
information on the presence of existing, pending, or authorized 
geothermal energy sites, nor any other areas with high potential for 
geothermal energy development, within any other Gunnison sage-grouse 
population area.
    Wind Energy Development--Most published reports of the effects of 
wind development on birds focus on the risks of collision with towers 
or turbine blades. No published research is specific to the effects of 
wind farms on Gunnison or greater sage-grouse. However, the avoidance 
of human-made structures such as powerlines and roads by sage-grouse 
and other prairie grouse is documented (Holloran 2005, p. 1; Pruett et 
al. 2009, pp. 1255-1256). Renewable energy facilities, including wind 
power, typically require many of the same features for construction and 
operation as do nonrenewable energy resources. Therefore, we anticipate 
that potential impacts from direct habitat losses, habitat 
fragmentation through roads and powerlines, noise, and increased human 
presence (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-40 to 7-41) will generally be 
similar to those discussed below for nonrenewable energy development.
    Wind farm development begins with site monitoring and collection of 
meteorological data to accurately characterize the wind regime. 
Turbines are installed after the meteorological data indicate the 
appropriate siting and spacing. Roads are necessary to access the 
turbine sites for installation and maintenance. Each turbine unit has 
an estimated footprint of 0.4 to 1.2 ha (1 to 3 ac) (BLM 2005e, pp. 
3.1-3.4). One or more substations may be constructed depending on the 
size of the farm. Substation footprints are 2 ha (5 ac) or less in size 
(BLM 2005e, p. 3.7).
    The average footprint of a turbine unit is relatively small from a 
landscape perspective. Turbines require careful placement within a 
field to avoid loss of output from interference with neighboring 
turbines. Spacing improves efficiency but expands the overall footprint 
of the field. Sage-grouse populations are impacted by the direct loss 
of habitat, primarily from construction of access roads as well as 
indirect loss of habitat due to avoidance of the wind turbines. Sage-
grouse could be killed by flying into turbine rotors or towers 
(Erickson et al. 2001, entire), although reported collision mortalities 
have been few. One sage-grouse was found dead within 45 m (148 ft) of a 
turbine on the Foote Creek Rim wind facility in south-central Wyoming, 
presumably from flying into a turbine (Young et al. 2003, Appendix C, 
p. 61). This is the only known sage-grouse mortality at this facility 
during three years of monitoring. We have no recent reports of sage-
grouse mortality due to collision with a wind turbine; however, many 
facilities may not be monitored. No deaths of gallinaceous birds were 
reported in a comprehensive review of avian collisions and wind farms 
in the United States; the authors hypothesized that the average tower 
height and flight height of grouse, and diurnal migration habitats of 
some birds minimized the risk of collision (Johnson et al. 2000, pp. 
ii-iii; Erickson et al. 2001, pp. 8, 11, 14, 15).
    Noise is produced by wind turbine mechanical operation (gear boxes, 
cooling fans) and airfoil interaction with the atmosphere. No published 
studies have focused specifically on the effects of wind power noise 
and Gunnison or greater sage-grouse. In studies

[[Page 2511]]

conducted in oil and gas fields, noise may have played a factor in 
habitat selection and decrease in greater sage-grouse lek attendance 
(Holloran 2005, pp. 49, 56). However, comparison between wind turbine 
and oil and gas operations is difficult based on the character of 
sound. Adjusting for manufacturer type and atmospheric conditions, the 
audible operating sound of a single wind turbine has been calculated as 
the same level as conversational speech at 1 m (3 ft) at a distance of 
600 m (2,000 ft) from the turbine. This level is typical of background 
levels of a rural environment (BLM 2005e, p. 5-24). However, commercial 
wind farms do not have a single turbine, and multiple turbines over a 
large area would likely have a much larger noise print. Low-frequency 
vibrations created by rotating blades also produce annoyance responses 
in humans (van den Berg 2003, p. 1), but the specific effect on birds 
is not documented.
    Moving blades of turbines cast moving shadows that cause a 
flickering effect producing a phenomenon called ``shadow flicker'' 
(AWEA 2008, p. 5-33). Shadow flicker could mimic predator shadows and 
elicit an avoidance response in birds during daylight hours, but this 
potential effect has not been investigated. However, greater sage-
grouse hens with broods have been observed under turbines at Foote 
Creek Rim (Young 2004, pers. comm.).
    Wind Energy in the Monticello Subpopulation Area--There appears to 
be an increasing interest in wind energy development in the vicinity of 
the Monticello subpopulation as two energy development companies have 
recently leased private properties for wind turbine construction (UDWR 
2011, p. 3). We have no further information on potential plans for 
development, or the size or scope of any planned development. A 388-ha 
(960-ac) wind energy generation facility is also authorized on BLM 
lands in San Juan County, UT. However, the authorized facility is 
approximately 12.9 km (8 mi) from the nearest lek in the Monticello 
subpopulation.
    The State of Utah recently completed a statewide screening study to 
identify geographic areas with a high potential for renewable energy 
development (UDNR 2009, entire). An approximately 80,200-ha (198,300-
ac) area northwest of the city of Monticello, UT, was identified, with 
a high level of confidence, as a wind power production zone with a high 
potential for utility-scale wind development (production of greater 
than 500 megawatts) (UDNR 2009, p. 19). The mapped wind power 
production zone overlaps with nearly all Gunnison sage-grouse occupied 
habitat in the Monticello subpopulation, as well as the large area 
surrounding the perimeter of occupied habitat. The Monticello 
subpopulation is currently small (approximately 100 individuals).
    Wind Energy in All Other Population Areas--We could find no 
information on the presence of existing, pending, or authorized wind 
energy sites, or any other areas with high potential for wind energy 
development within any other Gunnison sage-grouse population area.
    Solar Energy Development--Current information does not indicate 
that solar energy development is under consideration in the Gunnison 
sage-grouse range, and, therefore, there is no information indicating 
that the species may be exposed to any threats posed by such 
development.
Summary of Renewable Energy Development
    Because of the lack of information on future development, we do not 
consider renewable energy development to be a threat to the persistence 
of Gunnison sage-grouse at this time. However, geothermal energy 
development could increase in the Gunnison Basin in the future and 
could (depending on the level of development and minimization and 
mitigation measures) influence the overall long-term viability of the 
Gunnison Basin population. Similarly, wind energy development could 
increase in the future in the Monticello subpopulation, which may lead 
to further population declines in this already small population and 
could lead to the extirpation of this subpopulation. Because we have no 
information indicating the presence of existing, pending, or authorized 
solar energy sites, nor any solar energy study areas within the range 
of Gunnison sage-grouse, we do not consider solar energy to be a threat 
to Gunnison sage-grouse.

Nonrenewable Energy Development

    Energy development on Federal (BLM and USFS) lands is regulated by 
the BLM and can contain conservation measures for wildlife species (see 
Factor D for a more thorough discussion). The BLM (1999a, p. 1) has 
classified the area encompassing all Gunnison sage-grouse habitat for 
its gas and oil potential. Two populations have areas with high oil and 
gas development potential (San Miguel Basin, Monticello-Dove Creek) or 
medium (Crawford) oil and gas potential, while the remaining 
populations are classified as low or none. San Miguel County, where 
much oil and gas activity has occurred in the last few years, ranked 9 
out of 39 in Colorado counties producing natural gas in 2009 (Colorado 
Oil and Gas Conservation Commission 2010, p. 1) and 29 of 39 in oil 
production in 2009 (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation commission 2010, 
p. 2).
    Energy development impacts sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats 
through direct habitat loss from well pad construction, seismic 
surveys, roads, powerlines and pipeline corridors, and indirectly from 
noise, gaseous emissions, changes in water availability and quality, 
and human presence. The interaction and intensity of effects could 
cumulatively or individually lead to habitat fragmentation (Suter 1978, 
pp. 6-13; Aldridge 1998, p. 12; Braun 1998, pp. 144-148; Aldridge and 
Brigham 2003, p. 31; Knick et al. 2003, pp. 612, 619; Lyon and Anderson 
2003, pp. 489-490; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-40 to 7-41; Holloran 
2005, pp. 56-57; Holloran 2007 et al.,, pp. 18-19; Aldridge and Boyce 
2007, pp. 521-522; Walker et al. 2007a, pp. 2652-2653; Zou et al. 2006, 
pp. 1039-1040; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 193; Leu and Hanser 2011, pp. 
270-271). Increased human presence resulting from oil and gas 
development can also impact sage-grouse either through avoidance of 
suitable habitat, or disruption of breeding activities (Braun et al. 
2002, pp. 4-5; Aldridge and Brigham 2003, pp. 30-31; Aldridge and Boyce 
2007, p. 518; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 194).
    The development of oil and gas resources requires surveys for 
economically recoverable reserves, construction of well pads and access 
roads, subsequent drilling and extraction, and transport of oil and 
gas, typically through pipelines. Ancillary facilities can include 
compressor stations, pumping stations, electrical generators and 
powerlines (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-39; BLM 2007, p. 2-110). Surveys 
for recoverable resources occur primarily through noisy seismic 
exploration activities. These surveys can result in the crushing of 
vegetation. Well pads vary in size from 0.10 ha (0.25 ac) for coal-bed 
natural gas wells in areas of level topography to greater than 7 ha 
(17.3 ac) for deep gas wells and multi-well pads (Connelly et al. 2004, 
p. 7-39; BLM 2007, p. 2-123). Pads for compressor stations require 5-7 
ha (12.4-17.3 ac) (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-39).
    The amount of direct habitat loss within an area of oil and gas 
development is ultimately determined by well densities and the 
associated loss from ancillary facilities. Roads associated with oil 
and gas development were suggested to be the primary impact

[[Page 2512]]

to greater sage-grouse due to their persistence and continued use even 
after drilling and production ceased (Lyon and Anderson 2003, p. 489). 
Declines in male greater sage-grouse lek attendance were reported 
within 3 km (1.9 mi) of a well or haul road with a traffic volume 
exceeding one vehicle per day (Holloran 2005, p. 40). Because of 
reasons discussed previously, we believe the effects to Gunnison sage-
grouse are similar to those observed in greater sage-grouse. Sage-
grouse also may be at increased risk for collision with vehicles simply 
due to the increased traffic associated with oil and gas activities 
(Aldridge 1998, p. 14; BLM 2003, p. 4-222).
    Habitat fragmentation resulting from oil and gas development 
infrastructure, including access roads, may have greater effects on 
sage-grouse than the associated direct habitat losses. Energy 
development and associated infrastructure works cumulatively with other 
human activity or development to decrease available habitat and 
increase fragmentation. Greater sage-grouse leks had the lowest 
probability of persisting (40-50 percent) in a landscape with less than 
30 percent sagebrush within 6.4 km (4 mi) of the lek (Walker et al. 
2007a, p. 2652). These probabilities were even less in landscapes where 
energy development also was a factor.
    Nonrenewable Energy Development in All Population Areas--
Approximately 33 percent of the Gunnison Basin population area ranked 
as low oil and gas potential with the remainder having no potential for 
oil and gas development (GSRSC 2005, p. 130). Nonrenewable energy 
production is currently taking place on 43 gas wells that occur on 
private lands within the occupied range of the Gunnison sage-grouse. Of 
these, 27 wells occur in the San Miguel population, 8 in the Gunnison 
Basin population, 6 in the Dove Creek group of the Monticello-Dove 
Creek population, and 1 in each of the Crawford and Cerro Summit-
Cimarron-Sims Mesa populations (derived from Colorado Oil and Gas 
Commission 2010, GIS dataset).
    No Federal lands leased for oil and gas development exist within 
the Gunnison Basin population area (BLM and USFS 2010). The Monticello 
group is in an area of high energy potential (GSRSC 2005, p. 130); 
however, less than two percent of the population area contains Federal 
leases that are currently in production, and no producing leases occur 
in currently occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat (BLM and USFS 2010). 
No oil and gas wells or authorized Federal leases are within the 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population area (BLM 2009, p. 1; BLM and USFS 2010), 
and no potential for oil or gas exists in this area except for a small 
area on the eastern edge of the largest habitat block (BLM 1999, p. 1; 
GSRSC 2005, p. 130). The Crawford population is in an area with medium 
potential for oil and gas development (GSRSC 2005, p. 130). A single 
authorized Federal lease (BLM and USFS 2010) constitutes less than 1 
percent of the Crawford population area.
    Energy development is occurring primarily in the San Miguel Basin 
population area in Colorado. The entire San Miguel Basin population 
area has high potential for oil and gas development (GSRSC 2005, p. 
130). Approximately 13 percent of occupied habitat area within the San 
Miguel Basin population has authorized Federal leases; of that, 
production is occurring on approximately 5 percent of the lease area 
(BLM and USFS 2010). Currently, 25 gas wells are active within occupied 
habitat of the San Miguel Basin, and an additional 18 active wells 
occur immediately adjacent to occupied habitat (San Miguel County 2009, 
p. 1). All of these wells are in or near the Dry Creek group. The exact 
locations of any future drill sites are not known, but because the area 
is small, they will likely lie within 3 km (2 mi) of one of only three 
leks in this group (CDOW 2005, p. 108).
    Since 2005, the BLM has deferred (temporarily withheld from recent 
lease sales) oil and gas parcels nominated for leasing in occupied 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in Colorado. Nonetheless, we expect energy 
development in the San Miguel Basin on public and private lands to 
continue over the next 20 years based on the length of development and 
production projects described in existing project and management plans. 
Current impacts from gas development may be negatively impacting a 
portion of the Dry Creek subpopulation because this area contains some 
of the poorest habitat and smallest grouse populations within the San 
Miguel population (SMBGSWG) 2009, pp. 28 and 36).
Summary of Nonrenewable Energy Development
    The San Miguel Basin population area is the only area within the 
Gunnison sage-grouse range that currently has a moderate amount of oil 
and gas production. However, immediate impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse 
in this area, and the species range more generally, are limited because 
only 13 percent of occupied habitat in the San Miguel population area 
is currently leased and the Uncompahgre Field Office of the BLM (San 
Miguel, Crawford, and Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa populations) is 
deferring additional leases in this area and in the species' range more 
generally, until they can be considered within Land Use Plans (BLM 
2009, p. 78). We recognize that the Dry Creek subpopulation may 
currently be impacted by nonrenewable energy development. However, 
nonrenewable energy activities are limited to a small portion of the 
range. While the San Miguel, Monticello-Dove Creek, and Crawford 
populations have high or medium potential for future development, the 
potential for future development is low throughout the remaining 
population areas, which represent the majority of the range of the 
species. Because of these localized impacts we do not consider 
nonrenewable energy development to be a threat to the long-term 
persistence of the species at this time. However, given the already 
small and fragmented nature of the populations where oil and gas leases 
are most likely to occur, additional development within occupied 
habitat would negatively impact those populations by causing additional 
actual and functional habitat loss and fragmentation.

Pi[ntilde]on-Juniper Encroachment

    Pi[ntilde]on-juniper woodlands are a native habitat type dominated 
by pi[ntilde]on pine (Pinus edulis) and various juniper species 
(Juniperus spp.) that can encroach upon, infill, and eventually replace 
sagebrush habitat. Pi[ntilde]on-juniper extent has increased ten-fold 
in the Intermountain West since Euro-American settlement, causing the 
loss of many bunchgrass and sagebrush-bunchgrass communities (Miller 
and Tausch 2001, pp. 15-16). Pi[ntilde]on-juniper woodlands have also 
been expanding throughout portions of the range of Gunnison sage-grouse 
(BLM 2009, pp. 14, 17, 25), although we do not have information that 
quantifies this expansion. Pi[ntilde]on-juniper expansion has been 
attributed to the reduced role of fire, the introduction of livestock 
grazing, increases in global carbon dioxide concentrations, climate 
change, and natural recovery from past disturbance (Miller and Rose 
1999, pp. 555-556; Miller and Tausch 2001, p. 15; Baker 2011, p. 199). 
In addition, Gambel oak invasion as a result of fire suppression also 
has been identified as a potential threat to Gunnison sage-grouse (CDOW 
2002, p.139).
    Similar to powerlines, trees provide perches for raptors, and as a 
consequence, Gunnison sage-grouse avoid areas with pi[ntilde]on-juniper 
(Commons et al. 1999, p. 239). The number of male Gunnison sage-grouse 
on leks in southwestern Colorado

[[Page 2513]]

doubled after pi[ntilde]on-juniper removal and mechanical treatment of 
mountain sagebrush and deciduous brush (Commons et al. 1999, p. 238).
    Pi[ntilde]on-Juniper Encroachment in All Population Areas--The 
Gunnison Basin population area is not currently undergoing significant 
pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment. All other populations have some 
degree of documented pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment. A considerable 
portion of the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population is undergoing pi[ntilde]on-
juniper encroachment. Approximately 9 percent (1,140 ha [3,484 ac]) of 
occupied habitat in the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population area have 
pi[ntilde]on-juniper coverage, while 7 percent (4,414 ha [10,907 ac)] 
of vacant or unknown and 13 percent (7,239 ha [17,888 ac]) of potential 
habitat (unoccupied habitats that could be suitable for occupation of 
sage-grouse if practical restoration were applied) have encroachment 
(BLM 2009, p. 17).
    Some areas on lands managed by the BLM within other population 
areas are known to be undergoing pi[ntilde]on-juniper invasion. 
However, the extent of the area affected has not been quantified (BLM 
2009, p. 74; BLM 2009, p. 9). Approximately 9 percent of the 1,300 ha 
(3,200 ac) of the current range in the Crawford population is 
classified as dominated by pi[ntilde]on-juniper (GSRSC 2005, p. 264). 
However, BLM (2005d, p. 8) estimates that as much as 20 percent of the 
population area is occupied by pi[ntilde]on-juniper. Pi[ntilde]on and 
juniper trees have been encroaching in peripheral habitat on Sims Mesa, 
and to a lesser extent on Cerro Summit, but not to the point where it 
is a serious threat to the Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa population 
area (CDOW 2009b, p. 47). Pi[ntilde]on and juniper trees are reported 
to be encroaching throughout the current range in the Monticello group, 
based on a comparison of historical versus current aerial photos, but 
no quantification or mapping of the encroachment has occurred (San Juan 
County GSWG 2005, p. 20). A relatively recent invasion of pi[ntilde]on 
and juniper trees between the Dove Creek and Monticello groups appears 
to be contributing to their isolation from each other (GSRSC 2005, p. 
276).
    Within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, approximately 5,341 ha 
(13,197 ac) of pi[ntilde]on-juniper have been treated with various 
methods designed to remove pi[ntilde]on and juniper trees since 2005, 
and nearly half of which occurred in the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population 
area (CDOW 2009b, pp. 111-113). Mechanical treatment of areas 
experiencing pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment continues to be one of 
the most successful and economical treatments for the benefit of 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. However, the effect of such treatments on 
Gunnison sage-grouse population numbers is unclear as the Gunnison 
sage-grouse population has declined over the past 11 years in the 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population area.
Summary of Pi[ntilde]on-Juniper Encroachment
    Most Gunnison sage-grouse population areas are experiencing low to 
moderate levels of pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment; however, 
considerable pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment in the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa 
has occurred. The encroachment of pi[ntilde]on-juniper into sagebrush 
habitats contributes to the fragmentation of Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat. However, pi[ntilde]on-juniper treatments, particularly when 
completed in the early stages of encroachment when the sagebrush and 
forb understory is still intact, have the potential to provide an 
immediate benefit to sage-grouse. Approximately 5,341 ha (13,197 ac) of 
pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment within the range of Gunnison sage-
grouse has been treated. Based on the rate of past treatment efforts 
(CDOW 2009c, entire), we expect pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment and 
corresponding treatment efforts to continue. Although pi[ntilde]on-
juniper encroachment is contributing to habitat fragmentation in a 
limited area, the level of encroachment is not sufficient to pose a 
threat to Gunnison sage-grouse at a population or rangewide level at 
this time. However, in combination with other factors such as those 
contributing to habitat fragmentation (roads, powerlines, invasive 
plants, etc.), pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment potentially poses a 
threat to the species.

Conversion to Agriculture

    While sage-grouse may forage on agricultural croplands, they avoid 
landscapes dominated by agriculture (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 991) and 
do not nest or winter in agricultural lands where shrub cover is 
lacking. Influences resulting from agricultural activities extend into 
adjoining sagebrush, and include increased predation and reduced nest 
success due to predators associated with agriculture (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 7-23). Agricultural conversion can provide some limited 
benefits for sage-grouse as some crops such as alfalfa (Medicago 
sativa) and young bean sprouts (Phaseolus spp.) are eaten or used for 
cover by Gunnison sage-grouse (Braun 1998, pers. comm.). However, crop 
monocultures do not provide adequate year-round food or cover (GSRSC 
2005, pp. 22-30).
    Current Agriculture in All Gunnison Sage-grouse Population Areas--
The following estimates of land area dedicated to agriculture 
(including grass/forb pasture) were derived from SWReGAP landcover data 
(USGS 2004, entire). Agricultural parcels are distributed patchily 
amongst what was recently a sagebrush landscape. These agricultural 
parcels are likely used briefly by grouse to move between higher 
quality habitat patches. Habitat conversion to agriculture is most 
prevalent in the Monticello-Dove Creek population area where 
approximately 23,220 ha (57,377 ac) or 51 percent of Gunnison sage-
grouse occupied range is currently in agricultural production. In the 
Gunnison Basin, approximately 20,754 ha (51,285 ac) or 9 percent of the 
occupied range is currently in agricultural production. Approximately 
6,287 ha (15,535 ac) or 15 percent of the occupied range in the San 
Miguel Basin is currently in agricultural production. 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. Habitat conversion due to agricultural activities is 
limited in the Crawford, Pi[ntilde]on Mesa, and Poncha Pass 
populations, with 3 percent or less of the occupied range currently in 
agricultural production in each of the population areas.
    Other than in Gunnison County, total area of harvested cropland has 
declined over the past two decades in all counties within the occupied 
range of Gunnison sage-grouse (USDA NASS 2010, entire). The majority of 
agricultural land use in Gunnison County is in hay production, which 
has declined over the past two decades (USDA NASS 2010, p. 1). We do 
not have any information that predicts changes in the amount of land 
devoted to agricultural purposes. However, because of this long-term 
trend in reduced land area devoted to agriculture, we do not expect a 
significant amount of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat to be converted to 
agricultural purposes in the future.
    Conservation Reserve Program--The loss of Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat to conversion to agriculture has been mitigated somewhat by the 
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The CRP is administered by the 
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency 
(FSA), which provides incentives to agricultural landowners to plant 
more natural vegetation in lands previously devoted to agricultural 
uses. Except in emergency situations such as drought, CRP-enrolled 
lands are not hayed or grazed.

[[Page 2514]]

    Lands within the occupied range of Gunnison sage-grouse enrolled 
into the CRP are limited to Dolores and San Miguel counties in 
Colorado, and San Juan County in Utah (USDA FSA 2010, entire). From 
2000 to 2008, CRP enrollment averaged 10,622 ha (26,247 ac) in Dolores 
County, 1,350 ha (3,337 ac) in San Miguel County, and 14,698 ha (36,320 
ac) in San Juan County (USDA FSA 2010, entire). In 2011, approximately 
9,793 ha (24,200 ac) are enrolled in the CRP program within occupied 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in the Monticello portion of the 
Monticello-Dove Creek population (UDWR 2011, p. 7). This area 
represents approximately 34 percent of the occupied habitat in the 
Monticello portion of the Monticello-Dove Creek population and 
approximately 22 percent of the entire occupied population area. Lands 
that recently dropped out of the CRP program were replaced by newly 
enrolled properties and the total acreage of lands enrolled in the CRP 
program remains at the maximum allowed by the FSA for San Juan County, 
UT (UDWR 2011, p. 7).
    In San Juan County, Gunnison sage-grouse use CRP lands in 
proportion to their availability (Lupis et al. 2006, p. 959). The CRP 
areas are used by grouse primarily as foraging and brood-rearing 
habitat, but these areas vary greatly in plant diversity and forb 
abundance, and generally lack any shrub cover (Lupis et al. 2006, pp. 
959-960; Prather 2010, p. 32) and thus are of limited value for nesting 
and wintering habitat. In response to a severe drought, four CRP 
parcels totaling 1,487 ha (3,674 ac) in San Juan County, UT, were 
emergency grazed for a duration of one to two months in the summer of 
2002 (Lupis 2006, p. 959). Male and broodless females avoided the 
grazed areas while cattle were present but returned after cattle were 
removed (Lupis et al. 2006, pp. 960-961). Thus, the direct effects of 
habitat avoidance are negative but relatively short in duration, but 
the potential long-term implications to Gunnison sage-grouse survival 
are unknown.
    Largely as a result of agricultural conversion, sagebrush patches 
in the Monticello-Dove Creek subpopulation area have progressively 
become smaller and more fragmented, which has limited the amount of 
available nesting and winter habitat (GSRSC 2005, pp. 82, 276). 
Overall, the CRP has provided important foraging habitat and has 
protected a portion of the Monticello-Dove Creek population from more 
intensive agricultural use and development. However, the overall value 
of CRP lands is limited at this time because they largely lack 
sagebrush cover required by Gunnison sage-grouse throughout most of the 
year. A new CRP signup for individual landowners is not anticipated 
until 2012, and the extent to which existing CRP lands will be 
reenrolled is unknown (UDWR 2009, p. 4).
Summary of Conversion to Agriculture
    Throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, the amount of land 
area devoted to agriculture is declining. Therefore, although we expect 
most land currently in agricultural production to remain so 
indefinitely, we do not expect significant additional, future habitat 
conversion to agriculture within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse. The 
loss of sagebrush habitat from 1958 to 1993 was estimated to be 
approximately 20 percent throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse 
(Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, p. 326). The exception is the Monticello-
Dove Creek population where more than half of the occupied range is 
currently in agriculture or other land uses incompatible with Gunnison 
sage-grouse conservation. This habitat loss is being somewhat mitigated 
by the current enrollment of lands in the CRP. Because of its limited 
extent, we do not consider future conversion of sagebrush habitats to 
agriculture to be a current or future threat to the persistence of 
Gunnison sage-grouse. However, the large scale of historic conversion 
of sagebrush to agriculture has fragmented the remaining Gunnison sage-
grouse habitat to a degree that currently occupied lands do not provide 
the species with adequate protection from extinction, especially in 
light of other threats discussed throughout this proposed rule.

Water Development

    Water Development in All Population Areas--Irrigation projects have 
resulted in loss of sage-grouse habitat (Braun 1998, p. 6). Reservoir 
development in the Gunnison Basin flooded 3,700 ha (9,200 ac), or 1.5 
percent of likely sage-grouse habitat (McCall 2005, pers. comm.). Three 
other reservoirs inundated approximately 2 percent of habitat in the 
San Miguel Basin population area (Garner 2005, pers. comm.). We are 
unaware of any plans for additional reservoir construction. Because of 
the small amount of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat lost to water 
development projects and the unlikelihood of future projects, we do not 
consider water development alone to be a current or future threat to 
the persistence of Gunnison sage-grouse. However, we expect these 
existing reservoirs to be maintained indefinitely, thus acting as 
another source of fragmentation of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat that, 
in combination with other factors, potentially poses a threat to the 
species.

Candidate Conservation Agreement With Assurances (CCAA)

    The CPW has been implementing the CCAA referenced earlier in this 
document. As of the fall of 2012, 14 landowners have completed 
Certificates of Inclusion (CI) for their properties, enrolling a total 
of 13,200 ha (32,619 ac). Because the Service issues a permit to 
applicants with an approved CCAA, we have some regulatory oversight 
over the implementation of the CCAA. However, permit holders and 
landowners can voluntarily opt out of the CCAA at any time. Other 
properties currently going through the CCAA process (a total of 11,563 
ha (28,573 ac) in Gunnison sage-grouse occupied habitat) include two 
properties under final review (406 ha (1,004 ac)); 12 properties in 
progress (10,322 ha (25,507 ac)); and five properties with completed 
baseline reports (834 ha (2,062 ac)) (CPW 2012b, pp. 11-12). Baseline 
reports describe property infrastructure and number of acres of 
Gunnison sage-grouse seasonal habitat. A CPW review of all these 
reports and the condition of the habitat is pending.
    The CCAA/CI efforts described in this section provide conservation 
benefits to Gunnison sage-grouse throughout their range where they are 
completed and in place (9 in the Gunnison Basin, one in the San Miguel, 
two in the Crawford, and two in the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population 
areas). Even assuming the acreage of all landowners who have not yet 
complete CIs but have expressed interest in pursuing CIs through the 
completion of baseline habitat reports will ultimately be covered under 
CIs, these properties constitute only 8.5 percent of the total private 
land throughout the species range. Completed and pending CI's (see 
preceding paragraph) combined would cover approximately 16 percent of 
the total private land throughout the species range. Several parcels 
covered under CIs are also under conservation easements. However, the 
Gunnison sage-grouse CCAA is voluntary, potentially temporary, and is 
limited in scale relative to the species' range Therefore, the CCAA/CI 
provides some protection for Gunnison sage-grouse, but does not cover a 
sufficient portion of the species' range to adequately protect Gunnison 
sage-grouse from the threat of habitat loss and fragmentation and 
ensure the species long-term conservation.

[[Page 2515]]

Gunnison Basin Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA)

    In January 2010, the Gunnison Basin Sage-Grouse Strategic Committee 
and the Service began developing a Candidate Conservation Agreement 
(CCA) for Gunnison sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin (GBSSC 2012). Once 
finalized, the CCA will identify and provide for implementation of 
conservation measures to address specific threats to Gunnison sage-
grouse on Federal lands in this area including existing and future 
development (roads, transmission lines, phone lines, etc.), recreation 
(roads and trails, special recreation permits, etc.), and livestock 
grazing authorizations (permit renewals). As planned, the CCA will 
cover the estimated 160,769 ha (397,267 ac) of occupied habitat on 
Federal lands in the Gunnison Basin, or about 67 percent of the total 
estimated 239,953 ha (592,936 ac) of occupied habitat in the Gunnison 
Basin. The CCA would thus cover approximately 78 percent of rangewide 
occupied habitat on Federal lands, and approximately 42 percent of 
rangewide occupied habitat. It is anticipated that signatories to the 
CCA will include CPW, Gunnison County, Saguache County, BLM, U.S. 
Forest Service, National Park Service, Natural Resources Conservation 
Service, and the Service.
    Conservation measures in the CCA to address the above threats are 
expected to include, but would not be limited to, avoidance of high 
quality habitats or sensitive areas, seasonal restrictions and 
closures, siting and construction restrictions, weed control and 
reclamation standards, realigning or decommissioning of travel routes, 
monitoring of habitat conditions and standards, and modifying grazing 
practices. In addition, the CCA is expected to incorporate an adaptive 
management approach, an off-site mitigation plan for habitat loss, a 
comprehensive monitoring plan, and annual reporting requirements.
    Candidate Conservation Agreements are formal, voluntary agreements 
between the Service and one or more parties to address the conservation 
needs of one or more candidate species or species likely to become 
candidates in the near future. Participants commit to implement 
specific actions designed to remove or reduce threats to the covered 
species, so that listing may not be necessary. Unlike CCAAs, CCAs do 
not provide assurances that additional conservation measures will not 
be required if a species is listed or critical habitat is designated.
    Although CCAs are voluntary agreements, the anticipated Federal 
signatories have expressed a desire to conference with the Service, 
pursuant to section 7 of the ESA, on the Gunnison Basin CCA. This 
process would result in a conference opinion by the Service that it 
could confirm as a biological opinion if the species is listed or 
critical habitat is designated. If the Service adopts the conference 
opinion as a biological opinion, Federal projects and activities 
covered under the biological opinion would be required to apply the 
principles, conditions, and conservation measures identified in the 
CCA. Based on this information, the CCA may result in some level of 
protection for Gunnison sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin. However, the 
effectiveness of the CCA will depend largely on the conservation 
measures proposed and their implementation.
    Even with the planned CCA in place, negative impacts are still 
likely to occur to Gunnison sage-grouse on Federal lands in the 
Gunnison Basin due to Federal and other projects and activities. In 
addition, approximately 22 percent of rangewide occupied habitat on 
Federal lands--all within the six smaller, declining population areas--
would not be covered under the CCA. Given this limited geographic 
scope, additional protections on Federal lands are essential for the 
conservation of these declining populations. Therefore, although the 
pending CCA may provide some protection to Gunnison sage-grouse, 
depending on the conservation measures implemented, it will not cover 
enough of the species' range to adequately protect Gunnison sage-grouse 
from the threat of habitat loss and fragmentation.

Summary of Factor A

    Gunnison sage-grouse require large, contiguous areas of sagebrush 
for long-term persistence, and thus are affected by factors that occur 
at the landscape scale. Broad-scale characteristics within surrounding 
landscapes influence habitat selection, and adult Gunnison sage-grouse 
exhibit a high fidelity to all seasonal habitats, resulting in low 
adaptability to habitat changes. Fragmentation of sagebrush habitats 
are a primary cause of the decline of Gunnison and greater sage-grouse 
populations (Patterson 1952, pp. 192-193; Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 
4; Braun 1998, p. 140; Johnson and Braun 1999, p. 78; Connelly et al. 
2000a, p. 975; Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 1; Schroeder and Baydack 
2001, p. 29; Johnsgard 2002, p. 108; Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 25; 
Beck et al. 2003, p. 203; Pedersen et al. 2003, pp. 23-24; Connelly et 
al. 2004, p. 4-15; Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 368; Leu et al. 2011, p. 
267). Documented negative effects of fragmentation include reduced lek 
persistence, lek attendance, population recruitment, yearling and adult 
annual survival, female nest site selection, and nest initiation rates, 
as well as the loss of leks and winter habitat (Holloran 2005, p. 49; 
Aldridge and Boyce 2007, pp. 517-523; Walker et al. 2007a, pp. 2651-
2652; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 194).
    We examined a number of factors that result in habitat loss and 
fragmentation. Historically, 93 percent of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
was lost to conversion for agricultural croplands; however, 
agricultural conversion has slowed or slightly reversed in recent 
decades. Currently, direct and functional loss of habitat due to 
residential and road development in all populations, including the 
largest population in the Gunnison Basin, is the principal threat to 
Gunnison sage-grouse. Functional habitat loss also contributes to 
habitat fragmentation as sage-grouse avoid areas due to human 
activities, including noise, even when sagebrush remains intact. The 
collective disturbance from human activities around residences and 
roads reduces the effective habitat around these areas, making them 
inhospitable to Gunnison sage-grouse. Human populations are increasing 
in Colorado and throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse. This 
trend will continue at least through 2050. The resulting habitat loss 
and fragmentation is diminishing the probability of Gunnison sage-
grouse persistence.
    Other threats from human infrastructure such as fences and 
powerlines may not individually threaten the probability of persistence 
of Gunnison sage-grouse. However, the cumulative presence of all these 
features, particularly when considered in conjunction with residential 
and road development, does constitute a major threat to Gunnison sage-
grouse as they collectively contribute to habitat loss and 
fragmentation. This impact is particularly of consequence in light of 
the decreases in Gunnison sage-grouse population sizes observed in the 
six smallest populations. These infrastructure components are 
associated with overall increases in human populations, and thus we 
expect them to continue to increase.
    Several issues discussed above, such as fire, invasive species, and 
climate change, may not individually threaten the probability of 
persistence of Gunnison sage-grouse. However, the documented synergy 
among these issues result in a high likelihood that they will

[[Page 2516]]

threaten the species in the future. Nonnative invasive plants, 
including cheatgrass and other noxious weeds, continue to expand their 
range, facilitated by ground disturbances such as fire, grazing, and 
human infrastructure. Invasive plants negatively impact Gunnison sage-
grouse primarily by reducing or eliminating native vegetation that 
sage-grouse require for food and cover, resulting in habitat loss (both 
direct and functional) and fragmentation. Cheatgrass is present at 
varying levels in nearly all Gunnison sage-grouse population areas, but 
there has not yet been a demonstrated change in fire cycle in the range 
of Gunnison sage-grouse. However, climate change may alter the range of 
invasive plants, intensifying the proliferation of invasive plants to 
the point that they become a threat to the species. Even with 
aggressive treatments, invasive plants will persist and will likely 
continue to spread throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Livestock management has the potential to degrade sage-grouse 
habitat at local scales by causing the loss of nesting cover and 
decreases in native vegetation, and by increasing the probability of 
incursion of invasive plants. Given the widespread nature of grazing 
within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, the potential for population-
level impacts is highly likely. Effects of domestic livestock grazing 
are likely being exacerbated by intense browsing of woody species by 
wild ungulates in portions of the Gunnison Basin. We conclude that 
habitat degradation that can result from improper grazing is a threat 
to Gunnison sage-grouse persistence.
    We do not consider nonrenewable energy development to be impacting 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat to the extent that it is a threat to the 
long-term persistence of the species at this time, because its current 
and anticipated extent is limited throughout the range of Gunnison 
sage-grouse. We do not consider renewable energy development to be a 
threat to the persistence of Gunnison sage-grouse at this time. 
However, geothermal and wind energy development could increase in the 
Gunnison Basin and Monticello areas, respectively, in the future. 
Pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment does not pose a threat to Gunnison 
sage-grouse at a population or rangewide level because of its limited 
distribution throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse. Current 
energy development alone may not threaten Gunnison sage-grouse. 
However, the cumulative presence of energy development and other 
threats within Gunnison sage-grouse habitat has the potential to 
threaten the species both now and in the future.
    A review of a database compiled by the CPW that included local, 
State, and Federal ongoing and proposed Gunnison sage-grouse 
conservation actions (CDOW 2009c, entire) revealed a total of 224 
individual conservation efforts. Of these 224 efforts, a total of 165 
efforts have been completed and were focused on habitat improvement or 
protection. These efforts resulted in the treatment of 9,324 ha (23,041 
ac), or approximately 2.5 percent of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat. A monitoring component was included in 75 (45 percent) of 
these 165 efforts, although we do not have information on the overall 
effectiveness of these efforts. At least five habitat improvement or 
protection projects occurred between January 2011 and September 2012, 
treating an additional 300 acres (CPW 2012b, p. 7). We recognize 
ongoing and proposed conservation efforts by all entities across the 
range of the Gunnison sage-grouse, and all parties should be commended 
for their conservation efforts.
    Our review of conservation efforts indicates that the measures 
identified are not adequate to address the primary threat of habitat 
fragmentation at this time in a manner that effectively reduces or 
eliminates the factors contributing to this threat. All of the 
conservation efforts are limited in size and the measures provided to 
us were simply not implemented at the scale (even when considered 
cumulatively) that would be required to effectively reduce the threats 
to the species and its habitat across its range. Depending on 
conservation measures implemented under the planned Gunnison Basin CCA 
and their effectiveness, some protection may be provided for Gunnison 
sage-grouse on federal lands in the Gunnison Basin, but would not cover 
enough of the species' range to ensure the species' long-term 
conservation. Similarly, the existing CCAA provides limited protection 
for Gunnison sage-grouse, but does not provide sufficient coverage of 
the species' range to ensure the species' long-term conservation. Thus, 
although the ongoing conservation efforts are a positive step toward 
the conservation of the Gunnison sage-grouse, and some have likely 
reduced the severity of some threats to the species (e.g., 
pi[ntilde]on-juniper invasion), on the whole we find that the 
conservation efforts in place at this time are not sufficient to offset 
the degree of threat posed to the species by the present and threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat.
    Threats identified above, particularly exurban and residential 
development and associated infrastructure such as roads and powerlines, 
are cumulatively causing significant habitat fragmentation, which is 
negatively affecting Gunnison sage-grouse. We have evaluated the best 
scientific information available on the present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of the Gunnison sage-grouse's 
habitat or range. Based on the current and anticipated habitat threats 
identified above and their cumulative effects as they contribute to the 
overall fragmentation of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat, we have 
determined that the present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat poses a threat to the 
species throughout its range. This threat is current (as evidenced by 
population declines) and is projected to continue and increase into the 
future with additional anthropogenic pressures.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

Hunting
    Hunting for Gunnison sage-grouse does not currently occur. Hunting 
was eliminated in the Gunnison Basin in 2000 due to concerns with 
meeting Gunnison sage-grouse population objectives (Colorado Sage 
Grouse Working Group (CSGWG) 1997, p. 66). Hunting has not occurred in 
the other Colorado populations of Gunnison sage-grouse since 1995 when 
the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa area was closed (GSRSC 2005, p. 122). Utah has 
not allowed hunting of Gunnison sage-grouse since 1989 (GSRSC 2005, p. 
82).
    Both Colorado and Utah will consider hunting of Gunnison sage-
grouse only if populations can be sustained (GSRSC 2005, pp. 5, 8, 
229). The local Gunnison Basin working group plan calls for a minimum 
population of 500 males counted on leks before hunting would occur 
again (CSGWG 1997, p. 66). The minimum population level in the Gunnison 
Basin population has been exceeded in all years since 1996, except 2003 
and 2004 (CDOW 2009d, pp. 18-19). However, the sensitive State 
regulatory status and potential political ramifications of hunting the 
species has precluded the States from opening a hunting season. If 
hunting does ever occur again, harvest will likely be restricted to 
only 5 to 10 percent of the fall population, and will be structured to 
limit harvest of females to the extent possible (GSRSC 2005, p. 229). 
However, the ability of these measures

[[Page 2517]]

to be implemented is in question, as adequate means to estimate fall 
population size have not been developed (Reese and Connelly 2011, pp. 
110-111) and limiting female harvest may not be possible (WGFD 2004, p. 
4; WGFD 2006, pp. 5, 7).
    One sage-grouse was known to be illegally harvested in 2001 in the 
Poncha Pass population (Nehring 2010, pers. comm.), but based on the 
best available information illegal harvest has not contributed to 
Gunnison sage-grouse population declines in either Colorado or Utah. We 
do not anticipate hunting to be opened in the Gunnison Basin or smaller 
populations for many years, if ever. Consequently, we do not consider 
hunting to be a threat to the species.
Lek Viewing
    The Gunnison sage-grouse was designated as a new species in 2000 
(American Ornithologists' Union 2000, pp. 847-858), which has prompted 
a much increased interest by bird watchers to view the species on their 
leks (Pfister 2010, pers. comm.). Daily human disturbances on sage-
grouse leks could cause a reduction in mating, and some reduction in 
total production (Call and Maser 1985, p. 19). Human disturbance, 
particularly if additive to disturbance by predators, could reduce the 
time a lek is active, as well as reduce its size by lowering male 
attendance (Boyko et al. 2004, in GSRSC 2005, p. 125). Smaller lek 
sizes have been hypothesized to be less attractive to females, thereby 
conceivably reducing the numbers of females mating. Disturbance during 
the peak of mating also could result in some females not breeding 
(GSRSC 2005, p. 125). Furthermore, disturbance from lek viewing might 
affect nesting habitat selection by females (GSRSC 2005, p. 126), as 
leks are typically close to areas in which females nest. If females 
move to poorer quality habitat farther away from disturbed leks, nest 
success could decline. If chronic disturbance causes sage-grouse to 
move to a new lek site away from preferred and presumably higher 
quality areas, both survival and nest success could decline. Whether 
any or all of these have significant population effects would depend on 
timing and degree of disturbance (GSRSC 2005, p. 126).
    Throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse, public viewing of 
leks is limited by a general lack of knowledge of lek locations, 
seasonal road closures in some areas, and difficulty in accessing many 
leks. Furthermore, 52 of 109 active Gunnison sage-grouse leks occur on 
private lands, which further limits access by the public. The BLM 
closed a lek in the Gunnison Basin to viewing in the late 1990s due to 
declining population counts perceived as resulting from recreational 
viewing, although no scientific studies were conducted (BLM 2005a, p. 
13; GSRSC 2005, pp. 124, 126). The Waunita lek east of Gunnison is the 
only lek in Colorado designated by the CPW for public viewing (CDOW 
2009b, p. 86). Since 1998, a comparison of male counts on the Waunita 
lek versus male counts on other leks in the Doyleville zone show that 
the Waunita lek's male counts generally follow the same trend as the 
others (CDOW 2009d, pp. 31-32). In fact, in 2008 and 2009, the Waunita 
lek increased in the number of males counted along with three other 
leks, while seven leks decreased in the Doyleville zone (CDOW 2009d, 
pp. 31-32). These data suggest that lek viewing on the Waunita lek has 
not impacted the Gunnison sage-grouse. Two lek viewing tours per year 
are organized and led by UDWR on a privately owned lek in the 
Monticello population. The lek declined in males counted in 2009, but 
2007 and 2008 had the highest counts for several years, suggesting that 
lek viewing is also not impacting that lek. Data collected by CPW on 
greater sage-grouse viewing leks also indicates that controlled lek 
visitation has not impacted greater sage-grouse at the viewed leks 
(GSRSC 2005, p. 124).
    A lek viewing protocol has been developed and has largely been 
followed on the Waunita lek, likely reducing impacts to sage-grouse 
(GSRSC 2005, p. 125). During 2004-2009, the percentage of individuals 
or groups of people in vehicles following the Waunita lek viewing 
protocol in the Gunnison Basin ranged from 71 to 92 percent (CDOW 
2009b, pp. 86, 87; Magee et al. 2009, pp. 7, 10). Violations of the 
protocol, such as showing up after the sage-grouse started to display 
and creating noise, caused one or more sage-grouse to flush from the 
lek (CDOW 2009b, pp. 86, 87). Despite the protocol violations, the 
percentage of days from 2004 to 2009 that grouse were flushed by humans 
was relatively low, ranging from 2.5 percent to 5.4 percent (Magee et 
al. 2009, p. 10). Nonetheless, the lek viewing protocol is currently 
being revised to make it more stringent and to include considerations 
for photography, research, and education-related viewing (CDOW 2009b, 
p. 86). Implementation of this protocol should preclude lek viewing 
from becoming a threat to this lek.
    The CPW and UDWR will continue to coordinate and implement lek 
counts to determine population levels. We expect annual lek viewing and 
lek counts to continue indefinitely. However, all leks counted will 
receive lower disturbance from counters than the Waunita lek receives 
from public viewing, so we do not consider lek counts a threat to the 
Gunnison sage-grouse.
Scientific Research
    Gunnison sage-grouse have been the subject of scientific studies, 
some of which included the capture and handling of the species. Most of 
the research has been conducted in the Gunnison Basin population, San 
Miguel Basin population, and Monticello portion of the Monticello-Dove 
Creek population. Between zero and seven percent mortality of handled 
adults or juveniles and chicks has occurred during recent Gunnison 
sage-grouse studies where trapping and radio-tagging was done (Apa 
2004, p. 19; Childers 2009, p. 14; Lupis 2005, p. 26; San Miguel Basin 
Gunnison Sage-grouse Working Group (SMBGSWG) 2009, p. A-10). 
Additionally, one radio-tagged hen was flushed off a nest during 
subsequent monitoring and did not return after the second day, 
resulting in loss of 10 eggs (Ward 2007, p. 52). The CPW does not 
believe that these losses or disturbance have any significant impacts 
on the sage-grouse (CDOW 2009b, p. 29).
    Some radio-tagged sage-grouse have been translocated from the 
Gunnison Basin to other populations. Over a 5-year period (2000-2002 
and 2006-2007), 68 sage-grouse were translocated from the Gunnison 
Basin to the Poncha Pass and San Miguel Basin populations (CDOW 2009b, 
p. 9). These experimental translocations were conducted to determine 
translocation techniques and survivorship in order to increase both 
size of the receiving populations and to increase genetic diversity in 
populations outside of the Gunnison Basin. However, the translocated 
grouse experienced 40-50 percent mortality within the first year after 
release, which is double the average annual mortality of 
nontranslocated sage-grouse (CDOW 2009b, p. 9). Greater sage-grouse 
translocations have not appeared to fare any better. Over 7,200 greater 
sage-grouse were translocated between 1933 and 1990, but only five 
percent of the translocation efforts were considered to be successful 
in producing sustained, resident populations at the translocation sites 
(Reese and Connelly 1997, pp. 235-238, 240). More recent translocations 
from 2003 to 2005 into Strawberry Valley, Utah, resulted in a 40 
percent annual mortality rate (Baxter et al. 2008, p. 182). We believe 
the lack of success of translocations found in

[[Page 2518]]

greater sage-grouse is applicable to Gunnison sage-grouse because the 
two species exhibit similar behavior and life-history traits, and are 
managed accordingly.
    Because the survival rate for translocated sage-grouse has not been 
as high as desired, the CPW started a captive-rearing program in 2009 
to study whether techniques can be developed to captively rear and 
release Gunnison sage-grouse and enhance their survival (CDOW 2009b, 
pp. 9-12). The GSRSC conducted a review of captive-rearing attempts for 
both greater sage-grouse and other gallinaceous birds and concluded 
that survival will be very low, unless innovative strategies are 
developed and tested (GSRSC 2005, pp. 181-183). However, greater sage-
grouse have been captively reared, and survival of released chicks was 
similar to that of wild chicks (CDOW 2009b, p. 10). Consequently, the 
CPW decided to try captive rearing of Gunnison sage-grouse. Of 40 
Gunnison sage-grouse eggs taken from the wild, only 11 chicks (about 25 
percent) survived through October 2009. In 2010, 27 captive-reared 
chicks were introduced to wild Gunnison sage-grouse broods. Apparent 
survival of all introduced chicks was 29%, which is comparable to wild 
chicks of the same age. In 2011, the same study introduced 51 captive-
reared chicks to wild Gunnison sage-grouse broods. In that case, none 
of the released chicks survived. Although introduced chick survival has 
been low, chick survival during captivity increased with improved 
protocols, and valuable knowledge on Gunnison sage-grouse rearing 
techniques has been gained (CPW 2011d). As techniques improve, the CPW 
intends to develop a captive-breeding manual (CDOW 2009b, p. 11). 
Although adults or juveniles have been captured and moved out of the 
Gunnison Basin, as well as eggs, the removal of the grouse only 
accounts for a very small percentage of the total population of the 
Gunnison Basin sage-grouse population (about 1 percent).
    The CPW has a policy regarding trapping, handling, and marking 
techniques approved by their Animal Use and Care Committee (SMBGSWG 
2009, p. A-10, Childers 2009, p. 13). Evaluation of research projects 
by the Animal Use and Care Committee and improvement of trapping, 
handling, and marking techniques over the last several years has 
resulted in fewer mortalities and injuries. In fact, in the San Miguel 
Basin, researchers have handled more than 200 sage-grouse with no 
trapping mortalities (SMBGSWG 2009, p. A-10). The CPW has also drafted 
a sage-grouse trapping and handling protocol, which is required 
training for people handling Gunnison sage-grouse, to minimize 
mortality and injury of the birds (CDOW 2002, pp. 1-4 in SMBWG 2009, 
pp. A-22-A-25). Injury and mortality does occasionally occur from 
trapping, handling, marking, and flushing off nests. However, research-
related mortality is typically below three percent of handled birds and 
equates to one half of one percent or less of annual population 
estimates (Apa 2004, p. 19; Childers 2009, p. 14; Lupis 2005, p. 26; 
SMBGSWG 2009, p. A-10).
    Scientific research needs may gradually dwindle over the years but 
annual or occasional research is expected to continue. Short-term 
disturbance effects to individuals occur as does injury and mortality, 
but we do not believe these effects cause a threat to the Gunnison 
sage-grouse population as a whole. Based on the best available 
information, scientific research on Gunnison sage-grouse has a 
relatively minor impact that does not rise to the level of a threat to 
the species.
Summary of Factor B
    We have no evidence suggesting that hunting, when it was legal, 
resulted in overutilization of Gunnison sage-grouse. However, a high 
degree of Gunnison sage-grouse harvest from an inadvertently opened 
hunting season resulted in a significant population decrease in the 
already small Poncha Pass population. If hunting is allowed again, 
future hunting may result in additive mortality due to habitat 
degradation and fragmentation, despite harvest level restrictions and 
management intended to limit impacts to hens. Nonetheless, we do not 
expect hunting to be reinstated in the future. Illegal hunting has only 
been documented once in Colorado and is not a threat. Lek viewing has 
not affected the Gunnison sage-grouse, and lek viewing protocols 
designed to reduce disturbance have generally been followed. CPW is 
currently revising their lek viewing protocol to make it more stringent 
and to include considerations for photography, research, and education-
related viewing. Mortality from scientific research is low (2 percent) 
and is not a threat. We know of no overutilization for commercial or 
educational purposes. Thus, based on the best scientific and commercial 
data available, we have concluded that overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes is not a threat to 
Gunnison sage-grouse at this time.

C. Disease or Predation

Disease
    No research has been published about the types or pathology of 
diseases in Gunnison sage-grouse. However, multiple bacterial and 
parasitic diseases have been documented in greater sage-grouse 
(Patterson 1952, pp. 71-72; Schroeder et al. 1999, pp. 14, 27). Some 
early studies have suggested that greater sage-grouse populations are 
adversely affected by parasitic infections (Batterson and Morse 1948, 
p. 22). However, the role of parasites or infectious diseases in 
population declines of greater sage-grouse is unknown based on the few 
systematic surveys conducted (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 10-3). No 
parasites have been documented to cause mortality in Gunnison sage-
grouse, but the protozoan, Eimeria spp., which causes coccidiosis, has 
been reported to cause death in greater sage-grouse (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 10-4). Infections tend to be localized to specific geographic 
areas, and no cases of greater sage-grouse mortality resulting from 
coccidiosis have been documented since the early 1960s (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 10-4).
    Parasites have been implicated in greater sage-grouse mate 
selection, with potentially subsequent effects on the genetic diversity 
of this species (Boyce 1990, p. 263; Deibert 1995, p. 38). These 
relationships may be important to the long-term ecology of greater 
sage-grouse, but they have not been shown to be significant to the 
immediate status of populations (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 10-6). 
Although diseases and parasites have been suggested to affect isolated 
sage-grouse populations (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 10-3), we have no 
evidence indicating that parasitic diseases are a threat to Gunnison 
sage-grouse populations.
    Greater sage-grouse are subject to a variety of bacterial, fungal, 
and viral pathogens. The bacterium Salmonella sp. has caused a single 
documented mortality in the greater sage-grouse and studies have shown 
that infection rates in wild birds are low (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
10-7). The bacteria are apparently contracted through exposure to 
contaminated water supplies around livestock stock tanks (Connelly et 
al. 2004, p. 10-7). Other bacteria found in greater sage-grouse include 
Escherichia coli, botulism (Clostridium spp.), avian tuberculosis 
(Mycobacterium avium), and avian cholera (Pasteurella multocida). These 
bacteria have never been identified as a cause of mortality in greater 
sage-grouse and the risk of exposure and hence, population effects, is 
low (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 10-7 to

[[Page 2519]]

10-8). In Gunnison sage-grouse, captive reared chicks have died due to 
bacterial infections by Klebsiella spp., E. coli, and Salmonella spp. 
In one case (CDOW 2009b, p. 11), bacterial growth was encouraged by a 
wood-based brooder substrate used to raise chicks. However, in a 
subsequent study (CPW 2011d, pp. 14-15) where the wood-based substrate 
was not used, similar bacterial infections and chick mortality still 
occurred. The sources of infection could not be determined. This 
suggests that Gunnison sage-grouse may be less resistant to bacterial 
infections than greater sage-grouse. However, we have no information 
that shows the risk of exposure in the wild is different for Gunnison 
sage-grouse; therefore, these bacteria do not appear to be a threat to 
the species.
    West Nile virus was introduced into the northeastern United States 
in 1999 and has subsequently spread across North America (Marra et al. 
2004, p. 394). In sagebrush habitats, West Nile virus transmission is 
primarily regulated by environmental factors, including temperature, 
precipitation, and anthropogenic water sources, such as stock ponds and 
coal-bed methane ponds that support the mosquito vectors (Reisen et al. 
2006, p. 309; Walker and Naugle 2011, pp. 131-132). The virus persists 
largely within a mosquito-bird-mosquito infection cycle (McLean 2006, 
p. 45). However, direct bird-to-bird transmission of the virus has been 
documented in several species (McLean 2006, pp. 54, 59), including the 
greater sage-grouse (Walker and Naugle 2011, p. 132; Cornish 2009, 
pers. comm.). The frequency of direct transmission has not been 
determined (McLean 2006, p. 54). Cold ambient temperatures preclude 
mosquito activity and virus amplification, so transmission to and in 
sage-grouse is limited to the summer (mid-May to mid-September) (Naugle 
et al. 2005, p. 620; Zou et al. 2007, p. 4), with a peak in July and 
August (Walker and Naugle 2011, p. 131). Reduced and delayed West Nile 
virus transmission in sage-grouse has occurred in years with lower 
summer temperatures (Naugle et al. 2005, p. 621; Walker et al. 2007b, 
p. 694). In non-sagebrush ecosystems, high temperatures associated with 
drought conditions increase West Nile virus transmission by allowing 
for more rapid larval mosquito development and shorter virus incubation 
periods (Shaman et al. 2005, p. 134; Walker and Naugle 2011, p. 131).
    Greater sage-grouse congregate in mesic habitats in the mid-late 
summer (Connelly et al. 2000, p. 971), thereby increasing their risk of 
exposure to mosquitoes. If West Nile virus outbreaks coincide with 
drought conditions that aggregate birds in habitat near water sources, 
the risk of exposure to West Nile virus will be elevated (Walker and 
Naugle 2011, p. 131). Greater sage-grouse inhabiting higher elevation 
sites in summer (similar to the northern portion of the Gunnison Basin) 
are likely less vulnerable to contracting West Nile virus than birds at 
lower elevation (similar to Dry Creek Basin of the San Miguel 
population) as ambient temperatures are typically cooler (Walker and 
Naugle 2011, p. 131).
    West Nile virus has caused population declines in wild bird 
populations on the local and regional scale (Walker and Naugle 2011, 
pp. 128-129) and has been shown to affect survival rates of greater 
sage-grouse (Naugle et al. 2004, p. 710; Naugle et al. 2005, p. 616). 
Experimental results, combined with field data, suggest that a 
widespread West Nile virus infection has negatively affected greater 
sage-grouse (Naugle et al. 2004, p. 711; Naugle et al. 2005, p. 616). 
The selective use of mesic habitats by sage-grouse in the summer 
potentially increases their exposure to West Nile virus. Greater sage-
grouse are considered to have a high susceptibility to West Nile virus, 
with resultant high levels of mortality (Clark et al. 2006, p. 19; 
McLean 2006, p. 54). Greater sage-grouse do not develop a resistance to 
the disease, and death is certain once an individual is exposed (Clark 
et al. 2006, p. 18).
    To date, West Nile virus has not been documented in Gunnison sage-
grouse despite the presence of West Nile virus-positive mosquitoes in 
nearly all counties throughout their range (Colorado Department of 
Public Health 2009, pp. 1-4; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention 2004, entire). We do not know whether this is a result of 
the small number of birds that are marked, the relatively few birds 
that exist in the wild, or unsuitable conditions in Gunnison sage-
grouse habitat for the virus to become virulent. West Nile virus 
activity within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse has been low compared 
to other parts of Colorado and the western United States. A total of 77 
wild bird (other than Gunnison sage-grouse) deaths resulting from West 
Nile virus has been confirmed from counties within the occupied range 
of Gunnison sage-grouse since 2002 when reporting began in Colorado 
(USGS 2009, entire). Fifty-two (68 percent) of these West Nile virus-
caused bird deaths were reported from Mesa County (where the 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population is found). Only San Miguel, Dolores, and 
Hinsdale Counties had no confirmed avian mortalities resulting from 
West Nile virus.
    Walker and Naugle (2011, p. 140) predict that West Nile virus 
outbreaks in small, isolated, and genetically depauperate populations 
could reduce sage-grouse numbers below a threshold from which recovery 
is unlikely because of limited or nonexistent demographic and genetic 
exchange from adjacent populations. Thus, a West Nile virus outbreak in 
any Gunnison sage-grouse population, except perhaps the Gunnison Basin 
population, could limit the persistence of these populations.
    Although West Nile virus is a potential threat in the future, the 
best available information suggests that it is not currently a threat 
to Gunnison sage-grouse, since West Nile virus has not been documented 
in Gunnison sage-grouse despite the presence of West Nile virus-
positive mosquitoes in nearly all counties throughout their range. No 
other diseases or parasitic infections are considered to be threatening 
the Gunnison sage-grouse at this time.
Predation
    Predation is the most commonly identified cause of direct mortality 
for sage-grouse during all life stages (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 9; 
Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 228; Connelly et al. 2011, p. 66). However, 
sage-grouse have co-evolved with a variety of predators, and their 
cryptic plumage and behavioral adaptations have allowed them to persist 
despite this mortality factor (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 10; Coates 
2008, p. 69; Coates and Delehanty 2008, p. 635; Hagen 2011, p. 96). 
Until recently, little published information has been available that 
indicates predation is a limiting factor for the greater sage-grouse 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 10-1), particularly where habitat quality has 
not been compromised (Hagen 2011, p. 96). Although many predators will 
consume sage-grouse, none specialize on the species (Hagen 2011, p. 
97). Generalist predators have the greatest effect on ground-nesting 
birds because predator numbers are independent of the density of a 
single prey source since they can switch to other prey sources when a 
given prey source (e.g., Gunnison sage-grouse) is not abundant (Coates 
2007, p. 4). We believe that the effects of predation observed in 
greater sage-grouse are applicable to the effects anticipated in 
Gunnison sage-grouse since overall behavior and life-history traits are 
similar for the two species.
    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

[[Page 2520]]

Baydack 2001, p. 25; Rowland and Wisdom 2002, p. 14; Hagen 2011, p. 
97). Juvenile sage-grouse also are killed by many raptors as well as 
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). 
Several other small mammals visited sage-grouse nests in Nevada, but 
none resulted in predation events (Coates et al. 2008, p. 425).
    The most common predators of Gunnison sage-grouse eggs are weasels, 
coyotes, and corvids (Young 1994, p. 37). Most raptor predation of 
sage-grouse is on juveniles and older age classes (GSRSC 2005, p. 135). 
Golden eagles were found to be the dominant raptor species recorded 
perching on power poles in Utah in Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
(Prather and Messmer 2009, p. 12), indicating a possible source of 
predation. In a recent study, 22 and 40 percent of 111 adult 
mortalities were the result of avian and mammalian predation, 
respectively (Childers 2009, p. 7). Twenty-five and 35 percent of 40 
chick mortalities were caused by avian and mammalian predation, 
respectively (Childers 2009, p. 7). A causative agent of mortality was 
not determined in the remaining depredations observed in the western 
portion of the Gunnison Basin from 2000 to 2009 (Childers 2009, p. 7).
    Adult male Gunnison and greater sage-grouse are very susceptible to 
predation while on the lek (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 10; Schroeder and 
Baydack 2001, p. 25; Hagen 2011, p. 5), presumably because they are 
conspicuous while performing their mating displays. Because leks are 
attended daily by numerous grouse, predators also may be attracted to 
these areas during the breeding season (Braun 1995, p. 2). In a study 
of greater sage-grouse mortality causes in Idaho, it was found that, 
among males, 83 percent of the mortality was due to predation and 42 
percent of those mortalities occurred during the lekking season (March 
through June) (Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 228). In the same study, 52 
percent of the mortality of adult females was due to predation and 52 
percent of those mortalities occurred between March and August, which 
includes the nesting and brood-rearing periods (Connelly et al. 2000b, 
p. 228). The vast majority of adult female mortality outside of the 
breeding season was caused by hunting (Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 228). 
Adult female greater sage-grouse are susceptible to predators while on 
the nest but mortality rates are low (Hagen 2011, p. 97). Hens will 
abandon their nest when disturbed by predators (Patterson 1952, p. 
110), likely reducing this mortality (Hagen 2011, p. 97). Sage-grouse 
populations are likely more sensitive to predation upon females given 
the highly negative response of Gunnison sage-grouse population 
dynamics to adult female reproductive success and chick mortality 
(GSRSC, 2005, p. 173). Predation of adult sage-grouse is low outside 
the lekking, nesting, and brood-rearing season (Connelly et al. 2000b, 
p. 230; Naugle et al. 2004, p. 711; Moynahan et al. 2006, p. 1536; 
Hagen 2011, p. 97).
    Estimates of predation rates on juvenile sage-grouse are limited 
due to the difficulties in studying this age class (Aldridge and Boyce 
2007, p. 509; Hagen 2011, p. 97). For greater sage-grouse, chick 
mortality from predation ranged from 10 to 51 percent in 2002 and 2003 
on three study sites in Oregon (Gregg et al. 2003, p. 15; 2003b, p. 
17). Mortality due to predation during the first few weeks after 
hatching was estimated to be 82 percent (Gregg et al. 2007, p. 648). 
Survival of juveniles to their first breeding season was estimated to 
be low (10 percent). It is reasonable, given the sources of adult 
mortality, to assume that predation is a contributor to the high 
juvenile mortality rates (Crawford et al. 2004, p. 4).
    Sage-grouse nests are subject to varying levels of predation. 
Predation can be total (all eggs destroyed) or partial (one or more 
eggs destroyed). However, hens abandon nests in either case (Coates, 
2007, p. 26). Over a 3-year period in Oregon, 106 of 124 nests (84 
percent) were preyed upon (Gregg et al. 1994, p. 164). Patterson (1952, 
p. 104) reported nest predation rates of 41 percent in Wyoming. 
Holloran and Anderson (2003, p. 309) reported a predation rate of 12 
percent (3 of 26) in Wyoming. Moynahan et al. (2007, p. 1777) 
attributed 131 of 258 (54 percent) of nest failures to predation in 
Montana. Re-nesting efforts may partially compensate for the loss of 
nests due to predation (Schroeder 1997, p. 938), but re-nesting rates 
for greater sage-grouse are highly variable (Connelly et al. 2011, p. 
63). However, re-nesting rates are low in Gunnison sage-grouse (Young, 
1994, p. 44; Childers, 2009, p. 7), indicating that re-nesting is 
unlikely to offset losses due to predation. Losses of breeding hens and 
young chicks to predation can influence overall greater and Gunnison 
sage-grouse population numbers, as these two groups contribute most 
significantly to population productivity (GSRSC, 2005, p. 29, Baxter et 
al. 2008, p. 185; Connelly et al, 2011, pp. 64-65).
    Nesting success of greater sage-grouse is positively correlated 
with the presence of big sagebrush and grass and forb cover (Connelly 
et al. 2000, p. 971). Females actively select nest sites with these 
qualities (Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 25; Hagen et al. 2007, p. 
46). 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). Loss of nesting cover from any 
source (e.g., grazing, fire) can reduce nest success and adult hen 
survival. However, Coates (2007, p. 149) found that badger predation 
was facilitated by nest cover as it attracts small mammals, a badger's 
primary prey. In contrast, habitat alteration that reduces cover for 
young chicks can increase their rate of predation (Schroeder and 
Baydack 2001, p. 27).
    In a review of published nesting studies, Connelly et al. (2011, 
pp. 63-64) reported that nesting success was greater in unaltered 
habitats versus habitats affected by anthropogenic activities. Where 
greater sage-grouse habitat has been altered, the influx of predators 
can decrease annual recruitment (Gregg et al. 1994, p. 164; Braun 1995, 
pp. 1-2; Braun 1998; DeLong et al. 1995, p. 91; Schroeder and Baydack 
2001, p. 28; Coates 2007, p. 2; Hagen 2011, pp. 97-98). Agricultural 
development, landscape fragmentation, and human populations can 
increase predation pressure on all life stages of greater sage-grouse 
by forcing birds to nest in less suitable or marginal habitats, 
increasing travel time through altered habitats where they are 
vulnerable to predation, and increasing the diversity and density of 
predators (Ritchie et al. 1994, p. 125; Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 
25; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-23; and Summers et al. 2004, p. 523). We 
believe the aforementioned information is also applicable to Gunnison 
sage-grouse because overall behavior and life-history traits are

[[Page 2521]]

similar for the two species (Young 1994, p. 4).
    Abundance of red fox and corvids, which historically were rare in 
the sagebrush landscape, has increased in association with human-
altered landscapes (Sovada et al. 1995, p. 5). In the Strawberry Valley 
of Utah, low survival of greater sage-grouse may have been due to an 
unusually high density of red foxes, which apparently were attracted to 
that area by anthropogenic activities (Bambrough et al. 2000). The red 
fox population has increased within the Gunnison Basin (BLM, 2009, p. 
37), while just recently being observed in habitat within the 
Monticello, Utah, population area (UDWR 2011, p. 4). Ranches, farms, 
and housing developments have resulted in the introduction of nonnative 
predators including domestic dogs (Canis domesticus) and cats (Felis 
domesticus) into greater sage-grouse habitats (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
12-2). Local attraction of ravens to nesting hens may be facilitated by 
loss and fragmentation of native shrublands, which increases exposure 
of nests to potential predators (Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 522; Bui 
2009, p. 32). The presence of ravens was negatively associated with 
greater sage-grouse nest and brood fate in western Wyoming (Bui 2009, 
p. 27).
    Raven abundance has increased as much as 1,500 percent in some 
areas of western North America since the 1960s (Coates 2007, p. 5). 
Breeding bird survey trends from 1966 to 2007 indicate increases 
throughout Colorado and Utah (USGS, 2009, pp. 1-2). Increases in raven 
numbers are suggested in the Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population, though data 
have not been collected (CDOW 2009b, p. 110). Raven numbers in the 
Monticello subpopulation remain high (UDWR 2011, p. 4). Human-made 
structures in the environment increase the effect of raven predation, 
particularly in low canopy cover areas, by providing ravens with 
perches (Braun 1998, pp. 145-146; Coates 2007, p. 155; Bui 2009, p. 2).
    Reduction in patch size and diversity of sagebrush habitat, as well 
as the construction of fences, powerlines, and other infrastructure, 
also are likely to encourage the presence of the common raven (Coates 
et al. 2008, p. 426; Bui 2009, p. 4). For example, raven counts have 
increased by approximately 200 percent along the Falcon-Gondor 
transmission line corridor in Nevada (Atamian et al. 2007, p. 2). 
Ravens contributed to lek disturbance events in the areas surrounding 
the transmission line (Atamian et al. 2007, p. 2), but as a cause of 
decline in surrounding sage-grouse population numbers, it could not be 
separated from other potential impacts, such as West Nile virus. 
Holloran (2005, p. 58) attributed increased sage-grouse nest 
depredation to high corvid abundances, which resulted from 
anthropogenic food and perching subsidies in areas of natural gas 
development in western Wyoming. Bui (2009, p. 31) also found that 
ravens used road networks associated with oil fields in the same 
Wyoming location for foraging activities. Holmes (2009, pp. 2-4) also 
found that common raven abundance increased in association with oil and 
gas development in southwestern Wyoming.
    Raven abundance was strongly associated with sage-grouse nest 
failure in northeastern Nevada, with resultant negative effects on 
sage-grouse reproduction (Coates 2007, p. 130). The presence of high 
numbers of predators within a sage-grouse nesting area may negatively 
affect sage-grouse productivity without causing direct mortality. 
Increased raven abundance was associated with a reduction in the time 
spent off the nest by female sage-grouse, thereby potentially 
compromising their ability to secure sufficient nutrition to complete 
the incubation period (Coates 2007, pp. 85-98).
    As more suitable grouse habitat is converted to exurban 
development, agriculture, or other non-sagebrush habitat types, grouse 
nesting and brood-rearing become increasingly spatially restricted (Bui 
2009, p. 32). As discussed in Factor A, we anticipate a substantial 
increase in the distribution of residential development throughout the 
range of Gunnison sage-grouse. This increase will likely cause 
additional restriction of nesting habitat within the species' range, 
given removal of sagebrush habitats and the strong selection for 
sagebrush by the species. Additionally, Gunnison sage-grouse avoid 
residential development, resulting in functional habitat loss (Aldridge 
et al. 2011, p. 14). Ninety-one percent of nest locations in the 
western portion of the Gunnison Basin population occur within 35 
percent of the available habitat (Aldridge et al. 2011, p. 7). 
Unnaturally high nest densities, which result from habitat 
fragmentation or disturbance associated with the presence of edges, 
fencerows, or trails, may increase predation rates by making foraging 
easier for predators (Holloran 2005, p. C37). Increased nest density 
could negatively influence the probability of a successful hatch 
(Holloran and Anderson, 2005, p. 748).
    The influence of the human footprint in sagebrush ecosystems may be 
underestimated (Leu and Hanser 2011, pp. 270-271) since it is uncertain 
how much more habitat sage-grouse (a large landscape-scale species) 
need for persistence in increasingly fragmented landscapes (Connelly et 
al. 2011, pp. 80-82). Therefore, the influence of ravens and other 
predators associated with human activities may be underestimated. In 
addition, nest predation may be higher, more variable, and have a 
greater impact on the small, fragmented Gunnison sage-grouse 
populations, particularly the six smallest populations (GSRSC 2005, p. 
134). Unfortunately, except for the relatively few studies presented 
here, data are lacking that link Gunnison sage-grouse population 
numbers and predator abundance. However, in at least six of the seven 
populations where habitats have been significantly altered by human 
activities, we believe that predation could be limiting Gunnison sage-
grouse populations.
    Ongoing studies in the San Miguel population indicate that the lack 
of recruitment in Gunnison sage-grouse is likely due to predation (CDOW 
2009b, p. 31). In this area, six of 12 observed nests were destroyed by 
predation, with none of the chicks from the remaining nests surviving 
beyond two weeks (CDOW 2009b, p. 30). In small and declining 
populations, small changes to habitat abundance or quality, or in 
predator abundance, could have large consequences. A predator control 
program initiated by CPW occurred between March 2011 and June 2012 in 
the Miramonte subpopulation area of the San Miguel population to 
evaluate the effects of predator removal on Gunnison sage-grouse 
juvenile recruitment in the subpopulation (CPW 2012b, pp. 8-10). Over 
the two-year period, the United States Department of Agriculture Animal 
and Plant Health Inspection Service removed 155 coyotes, 101 corvids, 
two bobcats, eight badgers, two raccoons, and three red foxes by means 
of aerial gunning, calling, ground shooting, and bait stations. Radio-
marked hens, nest success, and chick survival were monitored during 
this time, and results were compared to baseline data collected for the 
same area from 2007 to 2010. Prior to predator control, of eight marked 
chicks, no individuals survived to 3 months. From 2011 through August 
of 2012, during which predator control occurred, of 10 marked chicks, 
four (40 percent) chicks survived to three months, and two (20 percent) 
survived at least one year. The study did not compare chick survival 
rates to non-predator removal areas, so it is unknown whether the 
apparent increase

[[Page 2522]]

in chick survival was due to predator control or other environmental 
factors (e.g., weather, habitat conditions, etc.).
    Predator removal efforts have sometimes shown short-term gains that 
may benefit fall populations, but not breeding population sizes (Cote 
and Sutherland 1997, p. 402; Hagen 2011, pp. 98-99; Leu and Hanser 
2011, p. 270). Predator removal may have greater benefits in areas with 
low habitat quality, but predator numbers quickly rebound without 
continual control (Hagen 2011, p. 99). Red fox removal in Utah appeared 
to increase adult greater sage-grouse survival and productivity, but 
the study did not compare these rates against other nonremoval areas, 
so inferences are limited (Hagen 2011, p. 98).
    Slater (2003, p. 133) demonstrated that coyote control failed to 
have an effect on greater sage-grouse nesting success in southwestern 
Wyoming. However, coyotes may not be an important predator of sage-
grouse. In a coyote prey base analysis, Johnson and Hansen (1979, p. 
954) showed that sage-grouse and bird egg shells made up a very small 
percentage (0.4-2.4 percent) of analyzed scat samples. Additionally, 
coyote removal can have unintended consequences resulting in the 
release of smaller predators, many of which, like the red fox, may have 
greater negative impacts on sage-grouse (Mezquida et al. 2006, p. 752).
    Removal of ravens from an area in northeastern Nevada caused only 
short-term reductions in raven populations (less than 1 year), as 
apparently transient birds from neighboring sites repopulated the 
removal area (Coates 2007, p. 151). Additionally, badger predation 
appeared to partially compensate for decreases due to raven removal 
(Coates 2007, p. 152). In their review of literature regarding 
predation, Connelly et al. (2004, p. 10-1) noted that only two of nine 
studies examining survival and nest success indicated that predation 
had limited a sage-grouse population by decreasing nest success, and 
both studies indicated low nest success due to predation was ultimately 
related to poor nesting habitat. Bui (2009, pp. 36-37) suggested 
removal of anthropogenic subsidies (e.g., landfills, tall structures) 
may be an important step to reducing the presence of sage-grouse 
predators. Leu and Hanser (2011, p. 270) also argue that reducing the 
effects of predation on sage-grouse can only be effectively addressed 
by precluding these features.
Summary of Predation
    Gunnison sage-grouse may be increasingly subject to levels of 
predation that would not normally occur in the historically contiguous 
unaltered sagebrush habitats. Gunnison sage-grouse are adapted to 
minimize predation by cryptic plumage and behavior, however, predation 
has a strong relationship with anthropogenic factors on the landscape, 
and human presence on the landscape will continue to increase. The 
impacts of predation on greater sage-grouse can increase where habitat 
quality has been compromised by anthropogenic activities (exurban 
development, road development, etc.) (e.g., Coates 2007, pp. 154, 155; 
Bui 2009, p. 16; Hagen 2011, p. 100). Landscape fragmentation, habitat 
degradation, and human populations have the potential to increase 
predator populations through increasing ease of securing prey and 
subsidizing food sources and nest or den substrate. Thus, otherwise 
suitable habitat may change into a habitat sink (habitat in which 
reproduction is insufficient to balance mortality) for grouse 
populations (Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 517).
    Anthropogenic influences on sagebrush habitats that increase 
suitability for ravens may also limit sage-grouse populations (Bui 
2009, p. 32). Current land-use practices in the intermountain West 
favor high predator (in particular, raven) abundance relative to 
historical numbers (Coates et al. 2008, p. 426). The interaction 
between changes in habitat and predation may have substantial effects 
to sage-grouse at the landscape level (Coates 2007, pp. 3-5). Since the 
Gunnison and greater sage-grouse have such similar behavior and life-
history traits, we believe the current impacts on Gunnison sage-grouse 
are at least as significant as those documented in greater sage-grouse 
and to date in Gunnison sage-grouse. Given the small population sizes 
and fragmented nature of the remaining Gunnison sage-grouse habitat, we 
believe that the impacts of predation will likely be even greater as 
habitat fragmentation continues.
    The studies presented above for greater sage-grouse suggest that, 
in areas of intensive habitat alteration and fragmentation, sage-grouse 
productivity and, therefore, populations could be negatively affected 
by increasing predation. As more habitats face development, even 
dispersed development such as that occurring throughout the range of 
Gunnison sage-grouse, we expect this threat to spread and increase. 
Studies of the effectiveness of predator control have failed to 
demonstrate a long-term inverse relationship between the predator 
numbers and sage-grouse nesting success or population numbers. 
Therefore, the best available information shows that predation is 
currently a threat to the Gunnison sage-grouse and will continue to be 
a threat to the species.
Summary of Factor C
    We have reviewed the available information on the effects of 
disease and predation on the long-term persistence of the Gunnison 
sage-grouse. The only disease that currently presents a potential 
impact on the survival of the Gunnison sage-grouse is West Nile virus. 
This virus is distributed throughout most of the species' range. 
However, despite its near 100 percent lethality, disease occurrence is 
sporadic in other taxa across the species' range and has not been 
detected to date in Gunnison sage-grouse. While we have no evidence of 
West Nile virus acting on the Gunnison sage-grouse, because of its 
presence within the species' range and the continued development of 
anthropogenic water sources in the area, the virus may pose a future 
threat to the species. We anticipate that West Nile virus will persist 
within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse indefinitely and will be 
exacerbated by any factor (e.g., climate change) that increases ambient 
temperatures and the presence of the vector on the landscape.
    The best available information shows that existing and continued 
landscape fragmentation will increase the effects of predation on this 
species, particularly in the six smaller populations, resulting in a 
reduction in sage-grouse productivity and abundance in the future.
    We have evaluated the best available scientific information 
regarding disease and predation and their effects on the Gunnison sage-
grouse. Based on the information available, we have determined that 
predation is a threat to the persistence of the species throughout its 
range and that disease is not currently a threat but has the potential 
to become a threat in the future.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    Under this factor, we examine whether threats to the Gunnison sage-
grouse are adequately addressed by existing regulatory mechanisms. 
Existing regulatory mechanisms that could provide some protection for 
Gunnison sage-grouse include: (1) Local land use laws, processes, and 
ordinances; (2) State laws and regulations; and (3) Federal laws and 
regulations. Regulatory mechanisms, if they exist, may preclude the 
need for listing if such mechanisms are judged to adequately address 
the threat to the species such that listing is not

[[Page 2523]]

warranted. Conversely, threats on the landscape continue to affect the 
species and may be exacerbated when not addressed by existing 
regulatory mechanisms, or when the existing mechanisms are not adequate 
(or not adequately implemented or enforced). We cannot predict when or 
how local, State, and/or Federal laws, regulations, and policies will 
change; however, most Federal land use plans are valid for at least 20 
years.
    An example of a regulatory mechanism is the terms and conditions 
attached to a grazing permit that describe how a permittee will manage 
livestock on a BLM allotment. They are nondiscretionary and 
enforceable, and would be considered a regulatory mechanism under this 
analysis. Other examples include city or county ordinances, State 
governmental actions enforced under a State statute or constitution, or 
Federal action under statute. Actions adopted by local groups, States, 
or Federal entities that are discretionary or are not enforceable, 
including conservation strategies and guidance, are typically not 
regulatory mechanisms. In this section we review actions undertaken by 
local, State, and Federal entities designed to reduce or remove threats 
to Gunnison sage-grouse and its habitat.
Local Laws and Regulations
    Approximately 41 percent of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
is privately owned (calculation from Table 1). Gunnison County and San 
Miguel County, Colorado, are the only local or county entities that 
have regulations and policy, respectively, that provide a level of 
conservation consideration for the Gunnison sage-grouse or its habitats 
on private land (Dolores County 2002; Mesa County 2003; Montrose County 
2003). In 2007, the Gunnison County, Colorado Board of County 
Commissioners approved Land Use Resolution (LUR) Number 07-17 to ensure 
all applications for land use change permits, including building 
permits, individual sewage disposal system permits, Gunnison County 
access permits, and Gunnison County Reclamation permits be reviewed for 
impact to Gunnison sage-grouse habitat within occupied Gunnison sage-
grouse habitat. If impacts are determined to result from a project, 
impacts are to be avoided, minimized, and/or mitigated. Approximately 
79 percent of private land occupied by the Gunnison Basin population is 
in Gunnison County, and thereby under the purview of these regulations. 
The remaining 21 percent of the private lands in the Gunnison Basin 
population is in Saguache County where similar regulations are not in 
place or applicable.
    Colorado State statute (C.R.S. 30-28-101) exempts parcels of land 
of 14 ha (35 ac) or more per home from regulation, so county zoning 
laws in Colorado such as LUR 07-17 only apply to properties with 
housing densities greater than one house per 14 ha (35 ac). C.R.S. 30-
28-101 allows these parcels to be exempt from county regulation LUR 07-
17 and may negatively affect Gunnison sage-grouse. A total of 1,190 
parcels, covering 16,351 ha (40,405 ac), within occupied habitat in 
Gunnison County currently contain development. Of those 1,190 parcels, 
851 are less than 14 ha (35 ac) in size and are thus subject to County 
review. However, those 851 parcels encompass only 13.1 percent of 
private land acreage with existing development in occupied habitat 
within Gunnison County. Parcels greater than 14 ha (35 ac) in size (339 
of the 1,190) encompass 86.9 of the existing private land acreage 
within occupied habitat within Gunnison County. Cumulatively, 91 
percent of the private land within the Gunnison County portion of the 
Gunnison Basin population that either has existing development or is 
potentially developable land is allocated in lots greater than 14 ha 
(35 ac) in size and, therefore, not subject to Gunnison County LUR 07-
17. This situation limits the effectiveness of LUR 07-17 in providing 
protection to Gunnison sage-grouse in Gunnison County.
    The only required review by Gunnison County under LUR 07-17 
pertains to the construction of roads, driveways, and individual 
building permits. Gunnison County reviews all new development 
applications in the County. Gunnison County reviewed 380 projects from 
July 2006 through September 2012 under the LUR for impacts to Gunnison 
sage-grouse. All but six projects were within the overall boundary of 
the Gunnison Basin population's occupied habitat, with most of the 
activity focused in the northern portion of this population. All of 
these projects were approved and allowed to proceed with restrictions 
on pets and animals, timing of construction, adjustment of building 
envelopes, and other recommendations (Gunnison County 2012, pp. 1-13).
    The majority of these projects were within established areas of 
development, and some were for activities such as outbuildings or 
additions to existing buildings; nonetheless, these projects provide an 
indication of further encroachment and fragmentation of the remaining 
occupied habitat. Sixty-six projects (17.4 percent of total projects) 
were within 1 km (0.6 mi) of a lek; most permits associated with these 
projects contained conditions or recommendations for the control of 
pets and animals, timing of construction, building envelopes, and 
similar restrictions. These minimally regulated negative impacts will 
continue to fragment the habitat and thus have substantial impacts on 
the conservation of the species. In summary, Gunnison County is to be 
highly commended for the regulatory steps it has implemented. However, 
the scope and implementation of that regulatory authority is limited in 
its ability to effectively and collectively conserve Gunnison sage-
grouse due to the County's limited authority within the Gunnison Basin 
portion of the species' range. Furthermore, Saguache County, which 
contains approximately 21 percent of the Gunnison Basin population 
area, has no Gunnison sage-grouse specific LUR.
    In 2005, San Miguel County amended its Land Use Codes to include 
consideration and implementation, to the extent possible, of 
conservation measures recommended in the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, entire) 
for the Gunnison sage-grouse when considering land use activities and 
development located within its habitat (San Miguel County 2005). The 
County is only involved when there is a request for a special use 
permit, which limits their involvement in review of projects adversely 
affecting Gunnison sage-grouse and their habitat and providing 
recommendations. Conservation measures are solicited from the CPW and a 
local Gunnison sage-grouse working group. Implementation of the 
conservation measures is dependent on negotiations between the County 
and the applicant. Some positive measures (e.g., locating a special use 
activity outside grouse habitat, establishing a 324-ha (800-ac) 
conservation easement; implementing speed limits to reduce likelihood 
of bird/vehicle collisions) have been implemented as a result of the 
policy. Typically, the County has not been involved with residential 
development, and most measures that result from discussions with 
applicants result in measures that may minimize, but do not prevent, or 
mitigate for impacts (Henderson 2010, pers. comm.). The San Miguel 
County Land Use Codes provide some conservation benefit to the species 
through some minimization of impacts and encouraging landowners to 
voluntarily minimize/mitigate impacts of residential development in 
grouse habitat. However, they do not implement adequate regulatory 
authority to address the continued

[[Page 2524]]

degradation and fragmentation of the species habitat within the county.
    In addition to the county regulations, Gunnison County hired a 
Gunnison Sage-grouse Coordinator (2005 to present) and organized a 
Strategic Committee (2005 to present) to facilitate implementation of 
conservation measures in the Gunnison Basin under both the local 
Conservation Plan and 2005 RCP (2005 RCP). San Miguel County hired a 
Gunnison Sage-grouse Coordinator for the San Miguel Basin population in 
March 2006. The Crawford working group hired a Gunnison sage-grouse 
coordinator in December 2009. Saguache County has applied for a grant 
to hire a part-time coordinator for the Poncha Pass population (grant 
status still pending). These efforts facilitate coordination relative 
to sage-grouse management and reflect positively on these counties' 
willingness to conserve Gunnison sage-grouse, but have no regulatory 
authority. None of the other counties with Gunnison sage-grouse 
populations have regulations or staff that implements regulation or 
policy review that consider the conservation needs of Gunnison sage-
grouse.
    Regulatory conservation measures implemented by Gunnison County in 
concert with State and Federal agencies include: Closing of shed antler 
collection in the Gunnison Basin by the Colorado Wildlife Commission 
due to its disturbance of Gunnison sage-grouse during the early 
breeding season; and a BLM/USFS/Gunnison County/CPW collective effort 
to implement and enforce road closures during the early breeding season 
(March 15 to May 15). These regulatory efforts have provided benefits 
to Gunnison sage-grouse during the breeding season. However, these 
mechanisms do not address the primary threat to the species of 
fragmentation of its habitat.
    Habitat loss is not adequately regulated or monitored in Colorado 
counties where Gunnison sage-grouse occur. Therefore, conversion of 
agricultural land from one use to another, such as native pasture 
containing sagebrush converted to another use, such as cropland, would 
not normally come before a county zoning commission. Based on the 
information we have available for the range of the species, we do not 
believe that habitat loss from conversion of sagebrush habitat to 
agricultural lands is occurring at a level that makes it a threat. The 
permanent loss, and associated fragmentation and degradation, of 
sagebrush habitat is considered the largest threat to Gunnison sage-
grouse (GSRSC 2005, p. 2). The minimally regulated residential/exurban 
development found throughout the vast majority of the species range is 
a primary cause of this loss, fragmentation, and/or degradation of 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. We are not aware of any local regulations 
that adequately address this threat.
    We recognize that county or city ordinances in San Juan County, 
Utah, that address agricultural lands, transportation, and zoning for 
various types of land uses have the potential to influence sage-grouse. 
We have no information to suggest that other counties within the range 
of Gunnison sage-grouse have regulatory mechanisms that provide any 
protections for Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Each of the seven population areas of Gunnison sage-grouse has a 
Conservation Plan written by the respective local working group with 
publication dates of 1999 to 2009. These plans provide recommendations 
for management of Gunnison sage-grouse and have been the basis for 
identifying and prioritizing local conservation efforts, but do not 
provide regulatory mechanisms for the conservation of the grouse.
State Laws and Regulations
    State laws and regulations may impact sage-grouse conservation by 
providing specific authority for sage-grouse conservation over lands 
that are directly owned by the State, providing broad authority to 
regulate and protect wildlife on all lands within their borders, and 
providing a mechanism for indirect conservation through regulation of 
threats to the species (e.g., noxious weeds).
    Colorado Revised Statutes section 33-1-104 gives CPW Board 
responsibility for the management and conservation of wildlife 
resources within State borders. Title 33 Article 1-101, Legislative 
Declaration requires a continuous operation of planning, acquisition, 
and development of wildlife habitats and facilities for wildlife-
related opportunities. The CPW, which operates under the direction of 
the CPW Board, is required by statute (C.R.S. 24-65.1-302) to provide 
counties with information on ``significant wildlife habitat,'' and 
provide technical assistance in establishing guidelines for designating 
and administering such areas, if asked. The CPW Board also has 
authority to regulate possession of the Gunnison sage-grouse, set 
hunting seasons, and issue citations for poaching. CRS 33-1-106. These 
authorities provide individual Gunnison sage-grouse with protection 
from direct mortality from hunting.
    The Wildlife Resources Code of Utah (Title 23) provides UDWR with 
the powers, duties, rights, and responsibilities to protect, propagate, 
manage, conserve, and distribute wildlife throughout the State. Section 
23-13-3 declares that wildlife existing within the State, not held by 
private ownership and legally acquired, is property of the State. 
Sections 23-14-18 and 23-14-19 authorize the Utah Wildlife Board to 
prescribe rules and regulations for the taking and/or possession of 
protected wildlife, including Gunnison sage-grouse. These authorities 
provide adequate protection to individual Gunnison sage-grouse from 
direct mortality from hunting.
    Gunnison sage-grouse are managed by CPW and UDWR on all lands 
within each State as resident native game birds. In both States this 
classification allows the direct human taking of the bird during 
hunting seasons authorized and conducted under State laws and 
regulations. In 2000, CPW closed the hunting season for Gunnison sage-
grouse in the Gunnison Basin, the only area then open to hunting for 
the species. The hunting season for Gunnison sage-grouse in Utah has 
been closed since 1989. The Gunnison sage-grouse is listed as a species 
of special concern in Colorado, as a sensitive species in Utah, and as 
a Tier I species under the Utah Wildlife Action Plan, providing 
heightened priority for management (CDOW 2009b, p. 40; UDWR 2009, p. 
9). Hunting and other State regulations that deal with issues such as 
harassment provide adequate protection for individual birds (see 
discussion under Factor B), but do not protect the habitat. Therefore, 
the protection afforded through the aforementioned State regulatory 
mechanisms is limited and is not sufficient to protect the Gunnison 
sage-grouse from extinction in the absence of listing under the Act.
    In April 2009, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission 
(COGCC), which is the entity responsible for permitting oil and gas 
well development in Colorado, adopted new rules addressing the impact 
of oil and gas development on wildlife resources (COGCC 2009 entire, 
promulgated pursuant to HB 07-1298, also available at 4 CCR 404-1). The 
rules went into effect on private lands on April 1, 2009, and on 
Federal lands July 1, 2009. The new rules require that permittees and 
operators determine whether their proposed development location 
overlaps with ``sensitive wildlife habitat,'' or is within a restricted 
surface occupancy (RSO) area. For Gunnison sage-grouse, areas within

[[Page 2525]]

1 km (0.6 mi) of an active lek can be designated as RSOs by CPW (CDOW 
2009b, p. 27), and surface area occupancy will be avoided except in 
cases of economic or technical infeasibility (CDOW 2009b, p. 27).
    Areas within approximately 6.4 km (4 mi) of an active lek are 
considered sensitive wildlife habitat (CDOW 2009b, p. 27), with the 
result that the development proponent is required to consult with the 
CPW to identify measures to (1) avoid impacts on wildlife resources, 
including sage-grouse; (2) minimize the extent and severity of those 
impacts that cannot be avoided; and (3) mitigate those effects that 
cannot be avoided or minimized (COGCC 2009, section 1202.a). The COGCC 
will consider CPW's recommendations in the permitting decision, 
although the final permitting and conditioning authority remains with 
COGCC. As stated in Section 1202.d of the new rules, consultation with 
CPW is not required under certain circumstances, such as the issuance 
of a variance by the Director of the COGCC, the existence of a 
previously CPW-approved wildlife mitigation plan, and others. Other 
categories for potential exemptions also can be found in the new rules 
(e.g., 1203.b).
    Because the new rules have been in place for only 3 years and their 
implementation is still being discussed, it is not known what level of 
protection they will afford the Gunnison sage-grouse. However, since we 
did not consider that nonrenewable energy development, based on the 
information available to us, rose to the level of a threat to the 
species now or in the future, it is not necessary to consider the 
effectiveness of the relative regulatory mechanism.
    We nonetheless note that the new rules could provide for greater 
consideration of the conservation needs of the species. Leases that 
have already been approved but not drilled (e.g., COGCC 2009, 
1202.d(1)), or drilling operations that are already on the landscape, 
may continue to operate without further restriction into the future. We 
also are not aware of any situations where RSOs have been effectively 
applied or where conservation measures have been implemented for 
potential oil and gas development impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse on 
private lands underlain with privately owned minerals.
    Colorado and Utah have laws that directly address the priorities 
for use of State school section lands, which require that management of 
these properties be based on maximizing financial returns. State school 
section lands account for only 1 percent of occupied habitat in 
Colorado and 1 percent in Utah, so impacts may be considered 
negligible. We have no information of any conservation measures that 
will be implemented under regulatory authority for Gunnison sage-grouse 
on State school section lands, other than a request to withdraw or 
apply ``no surface occupancy'' and conservation measures from the 2005 
RCP (GSRSC 2005) to four sections available for oil and gas leasing in 
the San Miguel Basin population (see Factor A for further discussion).
    In 2007, the Colorado State Land Board (SLB) purchased the 
Miramonte Meadows property (approximately 809 ha (2,300 ac) next to the 
Dan Noble State Wildlife Area (SWA)). Roughly 526 ha (1,300 ac) is 
considered prime Gunnison sage-grouse habitat (Garner 2010, pers. 
comm.). Discussions with the SLB have indicated a willingness to 
implement habitat improvements (juniper removal) on the property. They 
have also accepted an application to designate the tract as a 
``Stewardship Trust'' parcel. The Stewardship Trust program is capped 
at 119,383 to 121,406 ha (295,000 to 300,000 ac), and no more property 
can be added until another tract is removed from the program. Because 
of this cap, it is unknown if or when the designation of the tract as a 
Stewardship Trust parcel may occur. The scattered nature of State 
school sections (generally single sections of land) across the 
landscape and the requirement to conduct activities to maximize 
financial returns minimize the likelihood of implementation of measures 
that will benefit Gunnison sage-grouse. Thus, no regulatory mechanisms 
are present on State trust lands to minimize degradation and 
fragmentation of habitat and thus ensure conservation of the species.
    Some States require landowners to control noxious weeds, a 
potential habitat threat to sage-grouse (as discussed in Factor A). The 
types of plants considered to be noxious weeds vary by State. 
Cheatgrass is listed as a Class C species in Colorado (Colorado 
Department of Agriculture 2010, p. 3). The Class C designation 
delegates to local governments the choice of whether or not to 
implement activities for the control of cheatgrass. Gunnison, Saguache, 
and Hinsdale Counties target cheatgrass with herbicide applications 
(GWWC 2009, pp. 2-3). The CPW annually sprays for weeds on SWAs (CDOW 
2009b, p. 106). The State of Utah does not consider cheatgrass as 
noxious within the State (Utah Department of Agriculture 2010, p. 1) 
nor in San Juan County (Utah Department of Agriculture 2010a, p. 1). 
The laws dealing with other noxious and invasive weeds may provide some 
protection for sage-grouse in local areas by requiring some control of 
the invasive plants, although large-scale control of the most 
problematic invasive plants is not occurring. Rehabilitation and 
restoration techniques for sagebrush habitats are mostly unproven and 
experimental (Pyke 2011, p. 543). These regulatory mechanisms have not 
been demonstrated to be effective in addressing the overall impacts of 
invasive plants on the degradation and fragmentation of sagebrush 
habitat within the species' range.
Federal Laws and Regulations
    Gunnison sage-grouse are not covered or managed under the 
provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712) because 
they are considered resident game species. Federal agencies are 
responsible for managing 54 percent of the total Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat. The Federal agencies with the most sagebrush habitat are BLM, 
an agency of the Department of the Interior, and USFS, an agency of the 
Department of Agriculture. The NPS in the Department of the Interior 
also has responsibility for lands that contain Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat.
BLM
    About 42 percent of Gunnison sage-grouse occupied habitat is on 
BLM-administered land (see Table 1). The Federal Land Policy and 
Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) is the primary 
Federal law governing most land uses on BLM-administered lands. Section 
102(a)(8) of FLPMA specifically recognizes wildlife and fish resources 
as being among the uses for which these lands are to be managed. 
Regulations pursuant to FLPMA and the Mineral Leasing Act (30 U.S.C. 
181 et seq.) that address wildlife habitat protection on BLM-
administered land include 43 CFR 3162.3-1 and 43 CFR 3162.5-1; 43 CFR 
4120 et seq.; and 43 CFR 4180 et seq.
    Gunnison sage-grouse have been designated as a BLM Sensitive 
Species since they were first identified and described in 2000 (BLM 
2009, p. 7). The management guidance afforded sensitive species under 
BLM Manual 6840--Special Status Species Management (BLM 2008, entire) 
states that ``Bureau sensitive species will be managed consistent with 
species and habitat management objectives in land use and 
implementation plans to promote their conservation and to minimize the 
likelihood and need for listing under the ESA'' (BLM 2008, p.

[[Page 2526]]

05V). BLM Manual 6840 further requires that Resource Management Plans 
(RMPs) should address sensitive species, and that implementation 
``should consider all site-specific methods and procedures needed to 
bring species and their habitats to the condition under which 
management under the Bureau sensitive species policies would no longer 
be necessary'' (BLM 2008, p. 2A1). As a designated sensitive species 
under BLM Manual 6840, sage-grouse conservation must be addressed in 
the development and implementation of RMPs on BLM lands.
    RMPs are the basis for all actions and authorizations involving 
BLM-administered lands and resources. They establish allowable resource 
uses, resource condition goals and objectives to be attained, program 
constraints and general management practices needed to attain the goals 
and objectives, general implementation sequences, and intervals and 
standards for monitoring and evaluating the plan to determine its 
effectiveness and the need for amendment or revision (43 CFR 1601 et 
seq.).
    The RMPs provide a framework and programmatic guidance for activity 
plans, which are site-specific plans written to implement decisions 
made in a RMP. Examples include Allotment Management Plans that address 
livestock grazing, oil and gas field development, travel management 
(motorized and mechanized road and trail use), and wildlife habitat 
management. Activity plan decisions normally require additional 
planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. If an 
RMP contains specific direction regarding sage-grouse habitat, 
conservation, or management, it represents an enforceable regulatory 
mechanism to ensure that the species and its habitats are considered 
during permitting and other decision making on BLM lands.
    The BLM in Colorado manages Gunnison sage-grouse habitat under five 
existing RMPs. All five RMPs, and their subsequent revisions, contain 
some specific measures or direction pertinent to management of Gunnison 
sage-grouse or their habitats. Three of these RMPs (San Juan, Grand 
Junction, and Uncompahgre--covering all or portions of the San Miguel, 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa, Crawford, and Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa 
populations, and the Dove Creek group) are in various stages of 
revision. All RMPs currently propose some conservation measures 
(measures that if implemented should provide a level of benefit to 
Gunnison sage-grouse) outlined in the 2005 RCP (GSRSC 2005, entire) or 
local Gunnison sage-grouse working group conservation plans through 
project or activity level NEPA reviews (BLM 2009, p. 6). In addition, 
several offices have undergone other program-level planning, such as 
travel management, which incorporates some conservation measures to 
benefit the species (BLM 2009, p. 6). However, the information provided 
to us by the BLM in Colorado did not specify what requirements, 
direction, measures, or guidance will ultimately be included in the 
revised RMPs to address threats to sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat. 
The 2008 final RMP for the BLM Monticello Field Office in Utah 
incorporates the recommendations of the 2005 RCP, which provides a 
level of benefit for Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Current BLM RMPs do provide limited regulatory protection for 
Gunnison sage-grouse as they are being implemented through project-
level planning (e.g., travel management (the management of the 
motorized and nonmotorized use of public lands) and grazing permit 
renewals). We do not know what final measures will be included in the 
revised RMPs and, therefore, what will ultimately be implemented. Based 
on modeling results demonstrating the effects of roads on Gunnison 
sage-grouse (Aldridge et al. 2011, entire--discussed in detail in 
Factor A), implementation of even the most restrictive travel 
management alternatives proposed by the BLM and USFS will still result 
in further degradation and fragmentation of Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat in the Gunnison Basin.
    In addition to land use planning, BLM uses Instruction Memoranda 
(IM) to provide instruction to district and field offices regarding 
specific resource issues. Instruction Memoranda are guidance that 
require a process to be followed but do not mandate results. 
Additionally, IMs are of short duration (1 to 2 years) and are intended 
to address resource concerns by providing direction to staff until a 
threat passes or the resource issue can be addressed in a long-term 
planning document. BLM issued IM Number CO-2005-038 on July 12, 2005, 
stating BLM's intent and commitment to assist with and participate in 
the implementation of the 2005 RCP. Although this IM has not been 
formally updated or reissued, it continues to be used for BLM-
administered lands in the State of Colorado (BLM 2009, p. 6) and offers 
some conservation benefit for Gunnison sage-grouse through the 
establishment of Gunnison sage-grouse-specific management goals.
    The BLM has regulatory authority for oil and gas leasing on Federal 
lands and on private lands with a severed Federal mineral estate, as 
provided at 43 CFR 3100 et seq., and they are authorized to require 
stipulations as a condition of issuing a lease. The BLM's planning 
handbook has program-specific guidance for fluid minerals (which 
include oil and gas) that specifies that RMP decisions will identify 
restrictions on areas subject to leasing, including closures, as well 
as lease stipulations (BLM 2000, Appendix C, p. 16). The handbook also 
specifies that all stipulations must have waiver, exception, or 
modification criteria documented in the plan, and notes that the least 
restrictive constraint to meet the resource protection objective should 
be used (BLM 2000, Appendix C, p. 16).
    The BLM has regulatory authority to condition ``Application for 
Permit to Drill'' authorizations that are conducted under a lease that 
does not contain specific sage-grouse conservation stipulations, but 
utilization of conditions is discretionary and we are uncertain as to 
how this authority will be applied. However, since we did not consider 
that nonrenewable energy development, based on the information 
available to us, rose to the level of a threat to the species in the 
future, it is not necessary to consider the effectiveness of the 
relative regulatory mechanism. Also, oil and gas leases have a 200-m 
(650-ft) stipulation, which allows movement of the drilling area by 
that distance to avoid sensitive resources. However, in most cases this 
small amount of movement would have little to no conservation benefit 
to Gunnison sage-grouse because sage-grouse respond to nonrenewable 
energy development at much further distances (Holloran et al. 2007, p. 
12; Walker et al. 2007, p. 10). Many of the BLM field offices work with 
the operators to move a proposed drilling site farther or justify such 
a move through the site-specific NEPA process.
    For existing oil and gas leases on BLM land in occupied Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat, oil and gas companies can conduct drilling 
operations if they wish, but are always subject to permit conditions. 
To our knowledge, BLM Field Offices are deferring the sale of new 
drilling leases in ``priority'' habitats for Gunnison sage-grouse until 
RMP revisions are complete and/or adequate protective stipulations are 
in place. However, there is currently no policy or regulatory mechanism 
in effect which assures that future lease sales in occupied habitat 
will not occur. In addition, leases already exist in 17 percent of the 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa population, and 49 percent of the San Miguel Basin 
population. Given the already small and

[[Page 2527]]

fragmented nature of the populations where oil and gas leases are 
likely to occur, additional development within occupied habitat would 
negatively impact those populations by causing additional actual and 
functional habitat loss and fragmentation. Since we have no information 
on what minimization and mitigation measures might be applied, we 
cannot assess the overall conservation impacts of potential BLM 
regulations to those populations.
    The oil and gas leasing regulations authorize BLM to modify or 
waive lease terms and stipulations if the authorized officer determines 
that the factors leading to inclusion of the term or stipulation have 
changed sufficiently to no longer justify protection, or if proposed 
operations would not cause unacceptable impacts (43 CFR 3101.1-4). We 
have no information that the BLM has granted any waivers of 
stipulations pertaining to the Gunnison sage-grouse and/or their 
habitat, which likely has benefitted the species.
    The Energy Policy and Conservation Act Amendments of 2000 included 
provisions requiring the Secretary of the Department of the Interior to 
conduct a scientific inventory of all onshore Federal lands to identify 
oil and gas resources underlying these lands and the nature and extent 
of any restrictions or impediments to the development of such resources 
(42 U.S.C. 6217). On May 18, 2001, President Bush signed Executive 
Order 13212, Actions to Expedite Energy-Related Projects (66 FR 28357, 
May 22, 2001), which states that the executive departments and agencies 
shall take appropriate actions, to the extent consistent with 
applicable law, to expedite projects that will increase the production, 
transmission, or conservation of energy. The Executive Order specifies 
that this direction includes expediting review of permits or taking 
other actions as necessary to accelerate the completion of projects, 
while maintaining safety, public health, and environmental protections. 
Due to the relatively small amount of energy development activities 
occurring within Gunnison sage-grouse habitat (with the exception of 
the Dry Creek Basin subpopulation of the San Miguel population) and the 
low potential for oil and gas development over the majority of the 
species' range (BLM 2009, p. 1), we do not believe that energy 
development activities alone are a threat to Gunnison sage-grouse.
    As stated previously, Gunnison sage-grouse are considered a BLM 
Sensitive Species and therefore receive Special Status Species 
management considerations. The BLM regulatory authority for grazing 
management is provided at 43 CFR 4100 (Regulations on Grazing 
Administration Exclusive of Alaska). Livestock grazing permits and 
leases contain terms and conditions determined by BLM to be appropriate 
to achieve management and resource condition objectives on the public 
lands and other lands administered by BLM, and to ensure that habitats 
are, or are making significant progress toward being, restored or 
maintained for BLM special status species (43 CFR 4180.1(d)). The State 
or regional standards for grazing administration must address habitat 
for endangered, threatened, proposed, candidate, or special status 
species, and habitat quality for native plant and animal populations 
and communities (43 CFR 4180.2(d)(4) and (5)). The guidelines must 
address restoring, maintaining, or enhancing habitats of BLM special 
status species to promote their conservation, as well as maintaining or 
promoting the physical and biological conditions to sustain native 
populations and communities (43 CFR 4180.2(e)(9) and (10)). The BLM is 
required to take appropriate action not later than the start of the 
next grazing year upon determining that existing grazing practices or 
levels of grazing use are significant factors in failing to achieve the 
standards and conform with the guidelines (43 CFR 4180.2(c)).
    The BLM agreed to work with their resource advisory councils to 
expand the rangeland health standards required under 43 CFR 4180 so 
that there are public land health standards relevant to all ecosystems, 
not just rangelands, and that they apply to all BLM actions, not just 
livestock grazing (BLM Manual 180.06.A). Both Colorado and Utah have 
resource advisory councils. For instance, as of 2012, all active BLM 
grazing permits in occupied habitat managed by the BLM Gunnison Field 
Office have vegetation structure guidelines specific to Gunnison sage-
grouse incorporated into allotment management plans or Records of 
Decision for permit renewals (BLM 2012, pp. 3-4). Habitat objectives 
for Gunnison sage-grouse within allotment management plans were 
designed such that they should provide good habitat for the species 
when allotments are managed in accordance with the objectives. Similar 
objectives are also incorporated into allotment plans in portions of 
some of the smaller population areas (see section, Public Lands Grazing 
in other Population Areas). However, as noted earlier (see Domestic 
Grazing and Wild Ungulate Herbivory under Factor A), available 
information suggests that LHA objectives important to Gunnison sage-
grouse are not being met across portions of the species' range. Reduced 
habitat quality in those areas, as reflected in unmet LHA objectives, 
is likely negatively impacting Gunnison sage-grouse. However, the 
relationship between LHA determinations and the effects of domestic 
livestock grazing on Gunnison sage-grouse is imprecise.
    Specific Gunnison sage-grouse habitat objectives from the Rangewide 
Conservation Plan are incorporated in some grazing permits and are 
likely the most effective means of ensuring that the needs of Gunnison 
sage-grouse are met on grazed lands. Certain grazing permits contain 
standard terms and conditions, such as forage utilization standards, 
that may indirectly help achieve habitat objectives for Gunnison sage-
grouse. However, regulatory mechanisms applied within livestock grazing 
permits and leases are currently inadequate in portions of the range of 
Gunnison sage-grouse. It is anticipated that future changes will 
minimize further grazing impacts to habitat on BLM-administered lands 
and, in the future, improve degraded habitats for Gunnison sage-grouse, 
but there is no data at this time to substantiate this expectation.
USFS
    The USFS manages 10 percent of the occupied Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat (Table 1). Management of National Forest System lands is guided 
principally by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) (16 U.S.C. 
1600-1614, August 17, 1974, as amended). The NFMA specifies that all 
National Forests must have a Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) 
(16 U.S.C. 1600) to guide and set standards for all natural resource 
management activities on each National Forest or National Grassland. 
The NFMA requires USFS to incorporate standards and guidelines into 
LRMPs (16 U.S.C. 1600). USFS conducts NEPA analysis on its LRMPs, which 
include provisions to manage plant and animal communities for 
diversity, based on the suitability and capability of the specific land 
area in order to meet overall multiple-use objectives. The USFS 
planning process is similar to that of BLM.
    The Gunnison sage-grouse is a USFS sensitive species in both Region 
2 (Colorado) and Region 4 (Utah). USFS policy provides direction to 
analyze potential impacts of proposed management activities to 
sensitive species in a biological evaluation. The National Forests 
within the range of sage-grouse provide important seasonal habitats for 
the species, particularly the

[[Page 2528]]

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests. The 1991 
Amended Land and Resource Management Plan for the GMUG National Forests 
has not directly incorporated Gunnison sage-grouse conservation 
measures or habitat objectives. The Regional Forester signed the 2005 
RCP and as such has agreed to follow and implement those 
recommendations. Three of the 34 grazing allotments in occupied grouse 
habitat have incorporated Gunnison sage-grouse habitat objectives. To 
date, USFS has not deferred or withdrawn oil and gas leasing in 
occupied habitat, but sage-grouse conservation measures can be included 
at the ``Application for Permit to Drill'' stage. The BLM, which 
regulates oil and gas leases on USFS lands, has the authority to defer 
leases. However, the only population within USFS lands that is in an 
area of high or even medium potential for oil and gas reserves is the 
San Miguel Basin, and USFS lands only make up 1.4 percent of that 
population (GSRSC 2005, D-8). While consideration as a sensitive 
species and following the recommendations contained in the 2005 RCP 
(GSRSC 2005, entire) can provide some conservation benefits, they are 
voluntary in nature. Considering the aforementioned, the USFS has 
minimal regulatory authority that has been implemented to provide for 
the long-term conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse.
NPS
    The NPS manages 2 percent of occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
(Table 1), which means that there is little opportunity for the agency 
to affect range-wide conservation of the species. The NPS Organic Act 
(39 Stat. 535; 16 U.S.C. 1, 2, 3, and 4) states that NPS will 
administer areas under their jurisdiction ``by such means and measures 
as conform to the fundamental purpose of said parks, monuments, and 
reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural 
and historical objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the 
enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave 
them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.'' Lands in the 
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the Curecanti National 
Recreation Area include portions of occupied habitat of the Crawford 
and Gunnison Basin populations. The 1993 Black Canyon of the Gunnison 
General Management Plan (NPS 1993, entire) and the 1995 Curecanti 
National Recreation Area General Management Plan (NPS 1995, entire) do 
not identify any specific conservation measures for Gunnison sage-
grouse. However, these plans are outdated and will be replaced with 
Resource Stewardship Strategies, which will be developed in the next 5 
to 7 years. In the meantime, NPS's ability to actively manage for 
species of special concern is not limited by the scope of their 
management plans.
    NPS completed a Fire Management Plan in 2006 (NPS 2006, entire). 
Both prescribed fire and fire use (allowing wildfires to burn) are 
identified as a suitable use in Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. However, 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat is identified as a Category C area, 
meaning that, while fire is a desirable component of the ecosystem, 
ecological constraints must be observed. For Gunnison sage-grouse, 
constraints include limitation of acreage burned per year and 
limitation of percent of project polygons burned. The NPS is currently 
following conservation measures in the local conservation plans and the 
2005 RCP (Stahlnecker 2010, pers. comm.). In most cases, implementation 
of NPS fire management policies should result in minimal adverse 
effects since emphasis is placed on activities that will minimize, or 
ideally benefit, impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Overall, 
implementation of NPS regulations should minimize impacts to Gunnison 
sage-grouse because they result in actions that intend to protect 
Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Certain activities, such as human 
recreational activities occurring within occupied habitat, may have 
adverse effects although we believe the limited nature of such 
activities on NPS lands would limit their impacts on the species and 
thus not be considered a threat to Gunnison sage-grouse persistence. 
Grazing management activities on NPS lands are governed by BLM 
regulations, and their implementation and the results of these 
regulations are likely similar to those discussed for the BLM.
Conservation Easements and Fee Title Properties
    Easements that prevent long-term or permanent habitat loss by 
prohibiting development are held by CPW, UDWR, Natural Resources 
Conservation Service (NRCS), NPS, and nongovernmental organizations. In 
addition, state and nongovernmental conservation organizations have 
secured properties through fee title acquisition. Some of the easements 
include conservation measures that are specific for Gunnison sage-
grouse, while many are directed at other species, such as big game 
(GSRSC 2005, pp. 59-103). As of 2012, approximately 29,058 ha (71,084 
ac), or 21 percent, of private lands in occupied Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat in Colorado have been placed in conservation easements or 
acquired in fee title for conservation purposes (CPW 2011c, p. 11; CPW 
2012b, p. 6; Cochran 2012, pers. comm.). This constitutes approximately 
7.6 percent of rangewide occupied habitat (379,464 ha (937,676 ac)). 
Approximately 7,982 ha (19,725 ac), or 2 percent, of rangewide occupied 
habitat are under fee title ownership by conservation agencies or 
organizations noted above (Table 3).
    Although the decision of whether to enter into a conservation 
easement is voluntary on the part of the landowner, conservation 
easements are legally binding documents once they are recorded. 
Therefore, we have determined that perpetual conservation easements 
that are recorded may offer some regulatory protection to the species, 
depending on the terms of the easement. Some of these easements protect 
existing Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Similarly, fee title 
conservation properties (e.g. State Wildlife Areas) may offer 
regulatory protection to Gunnison sage-grouse, depending on the 
organization and conservation goals for the property.

  Table 3--Conservation Easements a by Population and Percentages of Occupied Habitat in Conservation Easements
                                     [Lavender et al. 2011, CPW 2012b, p. 6]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                   Percent of
                                                                                                occupied habitat
                        Population                             Hectares            Acres        in conservation
                                                                                                    easement
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gunnison Basin...........................................            11,334            28,008                4.7
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa........................................             4,772            11,791               30.3

[[Page 2529]]

 
Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa..........................             1,395             3,447                9.3
Monticello...............................................             1,036             2,560                3.6
San Miguel Basin.........................................             1,029             2,543                2.5
Dove Creek Group.........................................               330               815                2.0
Crawford.................................................               249               616                1.8
Poncha Pass..............................................                 0                 0                0
                                                          ------------------------------------------------------
Rangewide................................................            20,145            49,780                5.3
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ Includes conservation easements of all types and ownership as of September 2009, plus new CPW conservation
  easements since that time (CPW 2012b, p.6).

    Based on our GIS analysis of data from Colorado Ownership 
Management and Protection (COMaP) data (Lavendar et al. 2011), 
approximately 69 percent of the area under conservation easements have 
land cover types other than agricultural (covering 31 percent) that 
provide habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse. However, considering that the 
total conservation easements recorded to date cover only 5.3 percent of 
rangewide occupied habitat, and not all easements have sage-grouse-
specific habitat and/or conservation measures, and their scattered 
distribution throughout the range of the species, easements provide 
some level of protection from future development, but they do not 
provide adequate certainty against loss and fragmentation of Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat. Similarly, since fee title properties held by 
conservation agencies or organizations cover only about 2 percent of 
rangewide occupied habitat, and protections vary widely depending on 
the owner or organization goals, they do not provide adequate certainty 
against loss and fragmentation of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. The 
establishment of future conservation easements and fee title 
acquisition of properties will likely be limited considering their cost 
compared to the revenue generated by development of those lands, and 
money available through all sources to secure conservation properties. 
In addition, because entering into a conservation easement is voluntary 
on the part of the landowner, and fee title acquisitions will depend on 
the availability of lands for sale, market conditions, and other 
factors, we do not know if any future conservation easements or 
purchases will occur in such a configuration and magnitude that they 
will offer the species adequate protection.
Summary of Factor D
    Gunnison sage-grouse conservation has been addressed in some local, 
State, and Federal plans, laws, regulations, and policies. Gunnison 
County has implemented regulatory authority over some development 
within their area of jurisdiction, for which they are to be highly 
commended. While the regulatory authority that has been implemented in 
Gunnison County has minimized some impacts, it has not curtailed the 
habitat loss, fragmentation, and/or degradation occurring within the 
County's jurisdictional boundary. Other counties with jurisdiction 
within occupied Gunnison sage-grouse habitat have not enacted 
regulations to address impacts resulting from residential development. 
Due to the limited scope and applicability of the regulations that 
exist throughout the range of the species and within all populations, 
the current local land use or development planning regulations do not 
provide adequate regulatory authority to protect sage-grouse from 
development or other harmful land uses that result in habitat loss, 
degradation, and/or fragmentation.
    The CPW, UDWR, and other entities have implemented and continue to 
pursue conservation easements in Colorado and Utah, respectively, to 
conserve Gunnison sage-grouse habitat and meet the species' needs. 
These easements provide protection for the species where they occur, 
but do not cover enough of the landscape to provide for long-term 
conservation of the species. State wildlife regulations provide 
protection for individual Gunnison sage-grouse from direct mortality 
due to hunting but do not protect its habitat from the main threat of 
loss and fragmentation.
    Energy development is currently only considered a threat in the Dry 
Creek Basin subpopulation of the San Miguel population. However, 
renewable and non-renewable energy development is likely to increase in 
the future in the Monticello-Dove Creek population which may impact 
this already small population. For the BLM and USFS, RMPs and LRMPs are 
mechanisms through which adequate and enforceable protections for 
Gunnison sage-grouse could be implemented. The extent to which 
appropriate measures to reduce or eliminate threats to sage-grouse have 
been incorporated into those planning documents, or are being 
implemented, varies across the range. As evidenced by the discussion 
above, and the ongoing threats described under Factor A, BLM and the 
USFS are not fully implementing the regulatory mechanisms available to 
conserve Gunnison sage-grouse and their habitats on their lands.
    We have evaluated the best available scientific information on the 
adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to address threats to 
Gunnison sage-grouse and its habitats. While 54 percent of Gunnison 
sage-grouse habitat is managed by Federal agencies, these lands are 
interspersed with private lands which, as described above, do not have 
adequate regulatory mechanisms to ameliorate the further loss and 
fragmentation of habitat in all populations. This interspersion of 
private lands throughout Federal and other public lands extends the 
negative influence of those activities beyond the actual 41 percent of 
occupied habitat that private lands overlay. While we are unable to 
quantify the extent of the impacts on Federal lands resulting from 
activities on private lands, we have determined that the inadequacy of 
regulatory mechanisms on private lands as they pertain to human 
infrastructure development combined with inadequate regulatory 
mechanisms on some Federal

[[Page 2530]]

lands pose a threat to the species throughout its range.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    Other factors potentially affecting the Gunnison sage-grouse's 
continued existence include genetic risks, drought, recreational 
activities, pesticides and herbicides, and contaminants.
Genetics and Small Population Size
    Small populations face three primary genetic risks: Inbreeding 
depression; loss of genetic variation; and accumulation of new 
mutations. Inbreeding can have individual and population consequences 
by either increasing the phenotypic expression of recessive, 
deleterious alleles (the expression of harmful genes through the 
physical appearance) or by reducing the overall fitness of individuals 
in the population (GSRSC 2005, p. 109 and references therein). At the 
species level, Gunnison sage-grouse have low levels of genetic 
diversity particularly when compared to greater sage-grouse (Oyler-
McCance et al. 2005, p. 635). There is no consensus regarding how large 
a population must be in order to prevent inbreeding depression. 
However, the San Miguel Basin Gunnison sage-grouse effective population 
size is below the level at which inbreeding depression has been 
observed to occur (Stiver et al. 2008, p. 479). Lowered hatching 
success is a well-documented indicator of inbreeding in wild bird 
populations (Stiver et al. 2008, p. 479 and references therein). Stiver 
et al. (2008, p. 479) postulated that the observed lowered hatching 
success rate of Gunnison sage-grouse in their study may be caused by 
inbreeding depression. Similarities of hatchability rates exist among 
other bird species that had undergone genetic bottlenecks. The 
application of the same procedures of effective population size 
estimation as used for the San Miguel Basin to the other Gunnison sage-
grouse populations indicated that all populations other than the 
Gunnison Basin population may have population sizes low enough to 
induce inbreeding depression; and all populations could be losing 
adaptive potential (Stiver et al. 2008, p. 479).
    Population structure of Gunnison sage-grouse was investigated using 
mitochondrial DNA sequence (mtDNA, maternally-inherited DNA located in 
cellular organelles called mitochondria) and nuclear microsatellite 
data from six geographic areas (Crawford, Gunnison Basin, Curecanti 
area of the Gunnison Basin, Monticello-Dove Creek, Pi[ntilde]on Mesa, 
and San Miguel Basin) (Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, entire). The Cerro 
Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa population was not included in the analysis 
due to inadequate sample sizes. The Poncha Pass population also was not 
included as it is composed of individuals transplanted from Gunnison 
Basin. Levels of genetic diversity were highest in the Gunnison Basin, 
which had more alleles and most of the alleles present in other 
populations (Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, entire). All other populations 
had much lower levels of diversity. The lower diversity levels are 
linked to small population sizes and a high degree of geographic 
isolation.
    Collectively, the smaller populations contain 24 percent of the 
genetic diversity of the species. Individually, each of the small 
populations may not be important genetically to the survival of the 
species, but collectively it is likely that 24 percent of the genetic 
diversity is important to future rangewide survival of the species. 
Some of the genetic makeup contained within the smaller populations 
(with the potential exception of the Poncha Pass population since it 
consists of birds from the Gunnison Basin) may be critical to 
maintaining adaptability in the face of issues such as climate change 
or other environmental change. All populations sampled were found to be 
genetically discrete units (Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, p. 635), so the 
loss of any of them would result in a decrease in genetic diversity of 
the species. In addition, multiple populations across a broad 
geographic area provide insurance against a single catastrophic event 
(such as drought), and the aggregate number of individuals across all 
populations increases the probability of demographic persistence and 
preservation of overall genetic diversity by providing an important 
genetic reservoir (GSRSC 2005, p. 179). Thus, the loss of any one 
population would have a negative effect on the species as a whole.
    Historically, the Monticello-Dove Creek, San Miguel, Crawford, and 
Pi[ntilde]on Mesa populations were larger and were connected through 
more contiguous areas of sagebrush habitat. The loss and fragmentation 
of sagebrush habitat between the late 1950s and the early 1990s led to 
the current isolation of these populations, which is reflected in low 
amounts of gene flow and isolation by distance (Oyler-McCance et al. 
2005, p. 635). However, Oyler-McCance et al. (2005, p. 636) noted that 
a few individuals in their analysis appeared to have the genetic 
characteristics of a population other than their own, suggesting they 
were dispersers from a different population. Two probable dispersers 
were individuals moving from the San Miguel Basin population into 
Monticello-Dove Creek and Crawford. The San Miguel population itself 
appeared to have a mixture of individuals with differing probabilities 
of belonging to different clusters. This information suggests that the 
San Miguel population may act as a conduit of gene flow among the 
satellite populations surrounding the larger Gunnison Basin population. 
Additionally, another potential disperser into Crawford was found from 
the Gunnison Basin (Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, p. 636). This result is 
not surprising given their close geographic proximity.
    Effective population size (Ne) is an important parameter in 
conservation biology. It is defined as the size of an idealized 
population of breeding adults that would experience the same rate of 
(1) loss of heterozygosity (the amount and number of different genes 
within individuals in a population), (2) change in the average 
inbreeding coefficient (a calculation of the amount of breeding by 
closely related individuals), or (3) change in variance in allele (one 
member of a pair or series of genes occupying a specific position in a 
specific chromosome) frequency through genetic drift (the fluctuation 
in gene frequency occurring in an isolated population) as the actual 
population.
    The effective size of a population is often much less than its 
actual size or number of individuals. As effective population size 
decreases, the rate of loss of allelic diversity via genetic drift 
increases. Two consequences of this loss of genetic diversity, reduced 
fitness through inbreeding depression and reduced response to sustained 
directional selection (``adaptive potential''), are thought to elevate 
extinction risk (Stiver et al., 2008, p. 472 and references therein). 
While no consensus exists on the population size needed to retain a 
level of genetic diversity that maximizes evolutionary potential (i.e., 
the ability to adapt to local changes), up to 5,000 greater sage-grouse 
may be necessary to maintain an effective population size of 500 birds 
(Aldridge and Brigham, 2003, p. 30). Other recent recommendations also 
suggest populations of at least 5,000 individuals to deal with 
evolutionary and demographic constraints (Traill et al. 2009, p. 3, and 
references therein). While the persistence of wild populations is 
usually influenced more by ecological rather than by genetic effects, 
once populations are reduced in size, genetic factors become 
increasingly important (Lande 1995, p. 318).
    The CPW contracted a population viability analysis (PVA) for the

[[Page 2531]]

Gunnison sage-grouse (GSRSC 2005, Appendix G). The purpose of the 
Gunnison sage-grouse PVA was to assist the CPW in evaluating the 
relative risk of extinction for each population under the conditions at 
that time (i.e., the risk of extinction if nothing changed), to 
estimate relative extinction probabilities and loss of genetic 
diversity over time for various population sizes, and to determine the 
sensitivity of Gunnison sage-grouse population growth rates to various 
demographic parameters (GSRSC 2005, p. 169). The PVA was used as a tool 
to predict the relative, not absolute or precise, probability of 
extinction for the different populations under various management 
scenarios based on information available at that time and with the 
understanding that no data were available to determine how demographic 
rates would be affected by habitat loss or fragmentation. The analysis 
indicated that small populations (<50 birds) are at a serious risk of 
extinction within the next 50 years (assuming some degree of 
consistency of environmental influences in sage-grouse demography).
    In contrast, populations in excess of 500 birds had an extinction 
risk of less than 5 percent within the next 50 years. These results 
suggested that the Gunnison Basin population is likely to persist long 
term in the absence of threats acting on it. In the absence of 
intervention, however, the Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims Mesa and Poncha 
Pass populations and the Dove Creek group of the Monticello-Dove Creek 
population were likely to become extirpated (GSRSC 2005, pp. 168-179). 
Based on a combination of information including the PVA (GSRSC 2005, p. 
179), 2011 population estimates, and an overall declining population 
trend, the same three populations may soon be extirpated. Additionally, 
Gunnison sage-grouse estimates in the Crawford and Pi[ntilde]on Mesa 
populations have declined by more than 50 percent since the PVA was 
conducted (Table 2), so they too are likely trending towards 
extirpation. The San Miguel population has also declined, by 40 percent 
since 2004, so cumulative factors may be combining to cause its future 
extirpation.
    The lack of large expanses of sagebrush habitat required by 
Gunnison sage-grouse in at least six of the seven Gunnison sage-grouse 
populations (as discussed in Factor A), combined with the results of 
the PVA and current population trends suggest that at least five, and 
most likely six, of the seven Gunnison sage-grouse populations are at 
high risk of extirpation due to small population size. The loss of 
genetic diversity from the extirpation of the aforementioned 
populations would result in a loss of genetic diversity of the species 
as a whole and thus contribute to decreased functionality of the 
remaining populations in maintaining viability and adaptability, as 
well as the potential loss of these populations' contribution to 
rangewide population connectivity and the continued existence of the 
entire species.
    Six of the seven Gunnison sage-grouse populations may have 
effective sizes low enough to induce inbreeding depression, and all 
seven could be losing adaptive potential, with the assumption that the 
five populations smaller than the San Miguel population are exhibiting 
similar demography to the San Miguel population (Stiver et al. 2008, p. 
479) and thus trending towards extirpation. Stiver et al. (2008, p. 
479) suggested that long-term persistence of the six smaller 
populations would require translocations to supplement genetic 
diversity. The only population currently providing individuals to be 
translocated is the Gunnison Basin population, but because of 
substantial population declines such as those observed between the 2001 
and 2004 lek counts (Stiver et al., 2008, p. 479), questions arise as 
to whether this population would be able to sustain the loss of 
individuals required by a long-term, sustained translocation program. 
Lek counts, and consequently population estimates, especially in the 
San Miguel Basin and Gunnison Basin populations, have undergone 
substantial declines (Table 2) since peaks observed in the annual 2004 
and 2005 counts, thus making inbreeding depression even more likely to 
be occurring within all populations except the Gunnison Basin. While we 
recognize that sage-grouse population sizes are cyclical, and that 
there are concerns about the statistical reliability of lek counts and 
the resulting population estimates (CDOW 2009b, pp. 1-3), we 
nonetheless believe that the overall declining trends of six of the 
seven Gunnison sage-grouse populations, and for the species as a whole, 
are such that they are impacting the species' ability to persist.
    In summary, the declines in estimates of grouse numbers since 2005 
are likely to contribute to even lower levels of genetic diversity and 
higher levels of inbreeding depression than previously considered, thus 
making the species as a whole less adaptable to environmental variables 
and more vulnerable to extirpation. Based on the information presented 
above, we have determined that genetics risks related to the small 
population size of Gunnison sage-grouse are a threat to the species.
Drought
    Drought is a common occurrence throughout the range of the Gunnison 
and greater sage-grouse (Braun 1998, p. 148) and is considered a 
universal ecological driver across the Great Plains (Knopf 1996, p. 
147). Infrequent, severe drought may cause local extinctions of annual 
forbs and grasses that have invaded stands of perennial species, and 
recolonization of these areas by native species may be slow (Tilman and 
El Haddi 1992, p. 263). Drought reduces vegetation cover (Milton et al. 
1994, p. 75; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-18), potentially resulting in 
increased soil erosion and subsequent reduced soil depths, decreased 
water infiltration, and reduced water storage capacity. Drought also 
can exacerbate other natural events such as defoliation of sagebrush by 
insects. For example, approximately 2,544 km\2\ (982 mi\2\) of 
sagebrush shrublands died in Utah in 2003 as a result of drought and 
infestations with the Aroga (webworm) moth (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 5-
11). Sage-grouse are affected by drought through the loss of vegetative 
habitat components, reduced insect production (Connelly and Braun 1997, 
p. 9), and increased risk of West Nile virus infections as described in 
Factor C above. These habitat component losses can result in declining 
sage-grouse populations due to increased nest predation and early brood 
mortality associated with decreased nest cover and food availability 
(Braun 1998, p. 149; Moynahan et al. 2007, p. 1781).
    Greater sage-grouse populations declined during the 1930s period of 
drought (Patterson 1952, p. 68; Braun 1998, p. 148). Drought conditions 
in the late 1980s and early 1990s also coincided with a period when 
sage-grouse populations were at historically low levels (Connelly and 
Braun 1997, p. 8). Although drought has been a consistent and natural 
part of the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, drought impacts on sage-grouse 
can be exacerbated when combined with other habitat impacts, such as 
human developments, that reduce cover and food (Braun 1998).
    Aldridge et al. (2008, p. 992) found that the number of severe 
droughts from 1950 to 2003 had a weak negative effect on patterns of 
greater sage-grouse persistence. However, they cautioned that drought 
may have a greater influence on future sage-grouse populations as 
temperatures rise over the next 50 years, and synergistic effects of 
other threats affect habitat quality (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 992). 
Populations on the periphery of the

[[Page 2532]]

range may suffer extirpation during a severe and prolonged drought 
(Wisdom et al. 2011, pp. 468-469).
    Gunnison sage-grouse are capable of enduring moderate or severe, 
but relatively short-term, drought as observed from persistence of the 
populations during drought conditions from 1999 through 2003 throughout 
much of the range. The drought that began by at least 2001 and was most 
severe in 2002 had varying impacts on Gunnison sage-grouse habitat and 
is discussed in detail in our April 18, 2006, finding (71 FR 19954). 
Habitat appeared to be negatively affected by drought across a broad 
area of the Gunnison sage-grouse's range. However, the reduction of 
sagebrush density in some areas, allowing for greater herbaceous growth 
and stimulating the onset of sagebrush seed crops, may have been 
beneficial to sagebrush habitats over the long term. Nonetheless, six 
of the seven grouse populations (except for the Gunnison Basin 
population) have decreased in number since counts were conducted during 
the drought year of 2002 (Table 2).
    Data are not available to scientifically determine if the declines 
are due to the drought alone. It is likely that drought exacerbates 
other impacts such as discussed above in Factors A through D. The 
current status of the various populations throughout the species' range 
make it highly susceptible to stochastic factors such as drought, 
particularly when it is acting in conjunction with others factors such 
as habitat fragmentation, small population size, predation, and low 
genetic diversity, as discussed in Factors A and C above and previously 
in Factor E. The available information is too speculative to conclude 
that drought alone is a threat to the species at this time; however, 
based on rapid species decline in drought years, it is likely that 
drought exacerbates other known threats and thus can negatively affect 
the species.
Recreation
    Nonconsumptive recreational activities can degrade wildlife 
resources, water, and the land by distributing refuse, disturbing and 
displacing wildlife, increasing animal mortality, and simplifying plant 
communities (Boyle and Samson 1985, pp. 110-112). Sage-grouse response 
to disturbance may be influenced by the type of activity, recreationist 
behavior, predictability of activity, frequency and magnitude, timing, 
and activity location (Knight and Cole 1995, p. 71). We do not have any 
published literature concerning measured direct effects of recreational 
activities on Gunnison or greater sage-grouse, but can infer potential 
impacts on Gunnison sage-grouse from studies on related species and 
from research on nonrecreational activities. Baydack and Hein (1987, p. 
537) reported displacement of male sharp-tailed grouse at leks from 
human presence resulting in loss of reproductive opportunity during the 
disturbance period. Female sharp-tailed grouse were observed at 
undisturbed leks while absent from disturbed leks during the same time 
period (Baydack and Hein 1987, p. 537). Disturbance of incubating 
female sage-grouse could cause displacement from nests, increased 
predator risk, or loss of nests. Disruption of sage-grouse during 
vulnerable periods at leks, or during nesting or early brood-rearing 
could affect reproduction or survival (Baydack and Hein 1987, pp. 537-
538).
    Recreational use of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) is one of the 
fastest-growing outdoor activities. In the western United States, 
greater than 27 percent of the human population used OHVs for 
recreational activities between 1999 and 2004 (Knick et al. 2011, p. 
217). Knick et al. (2011, p. 219) reported that widespread motorized 
access for recreation facilitated the spread of predators adapted to 
humans and the spread of invasive plants. Any high-frequency human 
activity along established corridors can affect wildlife through 
habitat loss and fragmentation (Knick et al. 2011, p. 219). The effects 
of OHV use on sagebrush and sage-grouse have not been directly studied 
(Knick et al. 2011, p. 216). However, local working groups considered 
recreational uses, such as off-road vehicle use and biking, to be a 
risk factor in many areas.
    Recreation from OHVs, hikers, mountain bikes, campers, snowmobiles, 
bird watchers, and other sources has affected many parts of the range, 
especially portions of the Gunnison Basin and Pi[ntilde]on Mesa 
population (BLM 2005a, p. 14; BLM 2005d, p. 4; BLM 2009, p. 36). These 
activities can result in abandonment of lekking activities and nest 
sites, energy expenditure reducing survival, and greater exposure to 
predators (GSRSC 2005).
    Recreation is a significant use on lands managed by BLM (Connelly 
et al. 2004, p. 7-26). Recreational activities within the Gunnison 
Basin are widespread, occur during all seasons of the year, and have 
expanded as more people move to the area or come to recreate (BLM 2009, 
pp. 36-37). Four wheel drive, OHV, motorcycle, and other mechanized 
travel has been increasing rapidly. The number of annual OHV 
registrations in Colorado increased from 12,000 in 1991 to 131,000 in 
2007 (BLM 2009, p. 37). Recreational activities have direct and 
indirect impacts to the Gunnison sage-grouse and their habitat (BLM 
2009, p. 36). The Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National 
Forest is the fourth most visited National Forest in the Rocky Mountain 
Region of the USFS (Region 2) (Kocis et. al., 2004 in Draft 
Environmental Impact Statement for Gunnison Basin Federal Lands Travel 
Management (2009, p. 137)). The GMUG is the second most heavily visited 
National Forest on the western slope of Colorado (DEIS Gunnison Basin 
Federal Lands Travel Management 2009, p. 137). However, it is unknown 
what percentage of the visits occurs within Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitat on the Gunnison Ranger District (DEIS Gunnison Basin Federal 
Lands Travel Management 2009, p. 137). With human populations expected 
to increase in towns and cities within and adjacent to the Gunnison 
Basin and nearby populations (see Factor A), the impacts to Gunnison 
sage-grouse from recreational use will continue to increase.
    The BLM and Gunnison County have 38 closure points to minimize 
impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse within the Basin from March 15 to May 
15 each year (BLM 2009, p. 40). While road closures may be violated in 
a small number of situations, road closures are having a beneficial 
effect on Gunnison sage-grouse through avoidance or minimization of 
impacts during the breeding season.
    Dispersed camping occurs at a low level on public lands in all of 
the populations, particularly during the hunting seasons for other 
species. However, we have no information indicating that these camping 
activities are adversely affecting Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Domestic dogs accompanying recreationists or associated with 
residences can disturb, harass, displace, or kill Gunnison sage-grouse. 
Authors of many wildlife disturbance studies concluded that dogs with 
people, dogs on leash, or loose dogs provoked the most pronounced 
disturbance reactions from their study animals (Sime 1999 and 
references within). The primary consequences of dogs being off leash is 
harassment, which can lead to physiological stress as well as the 
separation of adult and young birds, or flushing incubating birds from 
their nest. However, we have no data indicating that this activity is 
adversely affecting Gunnison sage-grouse population numbers such that 
it can be

[[Page 2533]]

considered a rangewide or population level threat.
    Recreational activities as discussed above do not singularly pose a 
threat to Gunnison sage-grouse. However, there may be certain 
situations where recreational activities are impacting local 
concentrations of Gunnison sage-grouse, especially in areas where 
habitat is already fragmented such as in the six small populations and 
in certain areas within the Gunnison Basin.
Pesticides and Herbicides
    Insects are an important component of sage-grouse chick and 
juvenile diets (GSRSC 2005, p. 132 and references therein). Insects, 
especially ants (Hymenoptera) and beetles (Coleoptera), can comprise a 
major proportion of the diet of juvenile sage-grouse and are important 
components of early brood-rearing habitats (GSRSC 2005, p. 132 and 
references therein). Most pesticide applications are not directed at 
control of ants and beetles. Pesticides are used primarily to control 
insects causing damage to cultivated crops on private lands and to 
control grasshoppers (Orthoptera) and Mormon crickets (Mormonius sp.) 
on public lands.
    Few studies have examined the effects of pesticides to sage-grouse, 
but at least two have documented direct mortality of greater sage-
grouse from use of these chemicals. Greater sage-grouse died as a 
result of ingestion of alfalfa sprayed with organophosphorus 
insecticides (Blus et al. 1989, p. 1142; Blus and Connelly 1998, p. 
23). In this case, a field of alfalfa was sprayed with methamidophos 
and dimethoate when approximately 200 greater sage-grouse were present; 
63 of these sage-grouse were later found dead, presumably as a result 
of pesticide exposure (Blus et al. 1989; p. 1142, Blus and Connelly 
1998, p. 23). Both methamidophos and dimethoate remain registered for 
use in the United States (Christiansen and Tate 2011, p. 125), but we 
found no further records of sage-grouse mortalities from their use. In 
1950, rangelands treated with toxaphene and chlordane bait to control 
grasshoppers in Wyoming resulted in game bird mortality of 23.4 percent 
(Christiansen and Tate 2011, p. 125). Forty-five greater sage-grouse 
deaths were recorded, 11 of which were most likely related to the 
pesticide (Christiansen and Tate 2011, p. 125, and references therein). 
Greater sage-grouse who succumbed to vehicle collisions and mowing 
machines in the same area also were likely compromised from pesticide 
ingestion (Christiansen and Tate 2011, p. 125). Neither of these 
chemicals has been registered for grasshopper control since the early 
1980s (Christiansen and Tate 2011, p. 125, and references therein) and 
thus are no longer a threat to Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Infestations of Russian wheat aphids (Diuraphis noxia) have 
occurred in Gunnison sage-grouse occupied range in Colorado and Utah 
(GSRSC 2005, p. 132). Disulfoton, a systemic organophosphate extremely 
toxic to wildlife, was routinely applied to over a million acres of 
winter wheat crops to control the aphids during the late 1980s. We have 
no data indicating there were any adverse effects to Gunnison sage-
grouse (GSRSC 2005, p. 132). More recently, an infestation of army 
cutworms (Euxoa auxiliaries) occurred in Gunnison sage-grouse habitat 
along the Utah-Colorado State line. Thousands of acres of winter wheat 
and alfalfa fields were sprayed with insecticides such as permethrin, a 
chemical that is toxic to wildlife, by private landowners to control 
them (GSRSC 2005, p. 132), but again, we have no data indicating any 
adverse effects to Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Game birds that ingested sublethal levels of pesticides have been 
observed exhibiting abnormal behavior that may lead to a greater risk 
of predation (Dahlen and Haugen 1954, p. 477; McEwen and Brown 1966, p. 
609; Blus et al. 1989, p. 1141). Wild sharp-tailed grouse poisoned by 
malathion and dieldrin exhibited depression, dullness, slowed 
reactions, irregular flight, and uncoordinated walking (McEwen and 
Brown 1966, p. 689). Although no research has explicitly studied the 
indirect levels of mortality from sublethal doses of pesticides (e.g., 
predation of impaired birds), it has been assumed to be the reason for 
mortality among some study birds (McEwen and Brown 1966 p. 609; Blus et 
al. 1989, p. 1142; Connelly and Blus 1991, p. 4). Both Post (1951, p. 
383) and Blus et al. (1989, p. 1142) located depredated sage-grouse 
carcasses in areas that had been treated with insecticides. Exposure to 
these insecticides may have predisposed sage-grouse to predation. Sage-
grouse mortalities also were documented in a study where they were 
exposed to strychnine bait used to control small mammals (Ward et al. 
1942 as cited in Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 16). While we do not have 
specific information of these effects occurring in Gunnison sage-
grouse, the effects observed in greater sage-grouse can be expected if 
similar situations arise within Gunnison sage-grouse habitat.
    Cropland spraying may affect populations that are not adjacent to 
agricultural areas, given the distances traveled by females with broods 
from nesting areas to late brood-rearing areas (Knick et al. 2011, p. 
211). The actual footprint of this effect cannot be estimated, because 
the distances sage-grouse travel to get to irrigated and sprayed fields 
is unknown (Knick et al. 2011, p. 211). Similarly, actual mortalities 
from pesticides may be underestimated if sage-grouse disperse from 
agricultural areas after exposure.
    Much of the research related to pesticides that had either lethal 
or sublethal effects on greater sage-grouse was conducted on pesticides 
that have been banned or have had their use further restricted for more 
than 20 years due to their toxic effects on the environment (e.g., 
dieldrin). We currently do not have any information to show that the 
banned pesticides are having negative impacts to sage-grouse 
populations through either illegal use or residues in the environment. 
For example, sage-grouse mortalities were documented in a study where 
they were exposed to strychnine bait used to control small mammals 
(Ward et al. 1942 as cited in Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 16). According 
to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), above-ground uses of 
strychnine were prohibited in 1988 and those uses remain temporarily 
cancelled today. We do not know when, or if, above-ground uses will be 
permitted to resume. Currently, strychnine is registered for use only 
below-ground as a bait application to control pocket gophers (Thomomys 
sp.; EPA 1996, p. 4). Therefore, the current legal use of strychnine 
baits is unlikely to present a significant exposure risk to sage-
grouse. No information on illegal use, if it occurs, is available. We 
have no other information regarding mortalities or sublethal effects of 
strychnine or other banned pesticides on sage-grouse.
    Although a reduction in insect population levels resulting from 
insecticide application can potentially affect nesting sage-grouse 
females and chicks (Willis et al. 1993, p. 40; Schroeder et al. 1999, 
p. 16), there is no information as to whether insecticides are 
impacting survivorship or productivity of the Gunnison sage-grouse.
    Herbicide applications can kill sagebrush and forbs important as 
food sources for sage-grouse (Carr 1968 in Call and Maser 1985, p. 14). 
The greatest impact resulting from a reduction of either forbs or 
insect populations is to nesting females and chicks due to the loss of 
potential protein sources that are critical for successful egg 
production and chick nutrition (Johnson and Boyce 1991, p. 90; 
Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 16). A comparison of applied levels of

[[Page 2534]]

herbicides with toxicity studies of grouse, chickens, and other 
gamebirds (Carr 1968, in Call and Maser 1985, p. 15) concluded that 
herbicides applied at recommended rates should not result in sage-
grouse poisonings.
    Use of insecticides to control mosquitoes is infrequent and 
probably does not have detrimental effects on sage-grouse. Available 
insecticides that kill adult mosquitoes include synthetic pyrethroids 
such as permethrin, which are applied at very low concentrations and 
have very low vertebrate toxicity (Rose 2004). Organophosphates such as 
malathion have been used at very low rates to kill adult mosquitoes for 
decades, and are judged relatively safe for vertebrates (Rose 2004).
    In summary, historically insecticides have been shown to result in 
direct mortality of individuals, and also can reduce the availability 
of food sources, which in turn could contribute to mortality of sage-
grouse. Despite the potential effects of pesticides, we could find no 
information to indicate that the use of these chemicals, at current 
levels, negatively affects Gunnison sage-grouse population numbers. 
Schroeder et al.'s (1999, p. 16) literature review found that the loss 
of insects can have significant impacts on nesting females and chicks, 
but those impacts were not detailed. Many of the pesticides that have 
been shown to have an effect on sage-grouse have been banned in the 
United States for more than 20 years. We currently do not have any 
information to show that either the illegal use of banned pesticides or 
residues in the environment are presently having negative impacts to 
sage-grouse populations. While the reduction in insect availability via 
insecticide application has not been documented to affect overall 
population numbers in sage-grouse, it appears that insect reduction, 
because of its importance to chick production and survival, could be 
having as yet undetected negative impacts in populations with low 
population numbers. At present, however, there is no information 
available to indicate that either herbicide or insecticide applications 
pose a threat to the species.
Contaminants
    Gunnison sage-grouse exposure to various types of environmental 
contaminants may potentially occur as a result of agricultural and 
rangeland management practices, mining, energy development and pipeline 
operations, and transportation of materials along highways and 
railroads.
    We expect that the number of sage-grouse occurring in the immediate 
vicinity of wastewater pits associated with energy development would be 
small due to the small amount of energy development within the species' 
range, the typically intense human activity in these areas, the lack of 
cover around the pits, and the fact that sage-grouse do not require 
free standing water. Most bird mortalities recorded in association with 
wastewater pits are water-dependent species (e.g., waterfowl), whereas 
dead ground-dwelling birds (such as the sage-grouse) are rarely found 
at such sites (Domenici 2008, pers. comm.). However, if the wastewater 
pits are not appropriately screened, sage-grouse may have access to 
them and could ingest water and/or become oiled while pursuing insects. 
If these birds then return to sagebrush cover and die, their carcasses 
are unlikely to be found as only the pits are surveyed.
    A few gas and oil pipelines occur within the San Miguel population. 
Exposure to oil or gas from pipeline spills or leaks could cause 
mortalities or morbidity to Gunnison sage-grouse. Similarly, given the 
network of highways and railroad lines that occur throughout the range 
of the Gunnison sage-grouse, there is some potential for exposure to 
contaminants resulting from spills or leaks of hazardous materials 
being conveyed along these transportation corridors. We found no 
documented occurrences of impacts to Gunnison sage-grouse from such 
spills, and we do not expect they are a significant source of mortality 
or threat to the species because these types of spills occur 
infrequently and may involve only a small area within the occupied 
range of the species.
Summary of Factor E
    Although genetic consequences of low Gunnison sage-grouse 
population numbers have not been definitively detected to date, the 
results from Stiver et al. (2008, p. 479) suggest that six of the seven 
populations may have effective sizes low enough to induce inbreeding 
depression and all seven could be losing adaptive potential. While some 
of these consequences may be ameliorated by translocations, information 
indicates the long-term viability of Gunnison sage-grouse is 
compromised by this situation, particularly when combined with threats 
discussed in Factors A and D. We have, therefore, determined that 
genetics risks related to the small population size of Gunnison sage-
grouse are a threat to the species.
    While sage-grouse have evolved with drought, population numbers 
suggest that drought is at least correlated with, and potentially an 
underlying cause of, the declines. Although we cannot determine whether 
drought alone is a threat to the species, we suspect it is an indirect 
threat exacerbating other factors such as predation or habitat 
fragmentation. Based on the available information, insecticides are 
being used infrequently enough and in accordance with manufacturer 
labeling such that they are not adversely affecting populations of the 
Gunnison sage-grouse. The most likely impact of pesticides on Gunnison 
sage-grouse is the reduction of insect prey items. However, we could 
find no information to indicate that use of pesticides, in accordance 
with their label instructions, is a threat to Gunnison sage-grouse. We 
similarly do not have information indicating that contaminants, as 
described above, are a threat to the species.
    Thus, based on the best scientific and commercial data available, 
we have concluded that other natural or manmade factors (genetics risks 
related to small population size, and indirectly, drought that 
exacerbates other factors) are a threat to the Gunnison sage-grouse 
persistence.
Cumulative Effects From Factors A Through E
    Many of the threats described in this finding may cumulatively or 
synergistically impact Gunnison sage-grouse beyond the scope of each 
individual threat. For example, improper grazing management alone may 
only affect portions of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. However, improper 
grazing combined with invasive plants, drought, and recreational 
activities may collectively result in substantial habitat loss, 
degradation, or fragmentation across large portions of the species' 
range. In turn, climate change may exacerbate those effects, further 
diminishing habitat and increasing the isolation of already declining 
populations, making them more susceptible to genetic drift, disease, or 
catastrophic events such as fire. Further, predation on Gunnison sage-
grouse may increase as a result of the increase in human disturbance 
and development. Numerous threats are likely acting cumulatively to 
further increase the likelihood that the species will become extinct 
within the foreseeable future.

Determination

    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
to Gunnison sage-grouse. Section 3(6) of the Act defines an endangered 
species as ``any species which is in danger of extinction

[[Page 2535]]

throughout all or a significant portion of its range,'' and defines a 
threatened species as ``any species which is likely to become an 
endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range.'' As described in detail above, this 
species is currently at risk throughout all of its range due to ongoing 
threats of habitat destruction and modification (Factor A), predation 
(Factor C), inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms (Factor D), 
and other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence 
(Factor E).
    Based on the best available scientific and commercial data, we have 
determined that the principal threat to Gunnison sage-grouse is habitat 
loss, degradation, and fragmentation due to residential, exurban, and 
commercial development and associated infrastructure such as roads and 
power lines. The human population is increasing throughout much of the 
range of Gunnison sage-grouse, and data indicate this trend will 
continue. With this growth, we expect an increase in human development, 
further contributing to loss and fragmentation of Gunnison sage-grouse 
habitats. Other threats to the species include improper grazing 
management; predation (often facilitated by human development or 
disturbance); genetic risks in the declining, smaller populations; and 
inadequate local, State, and Federal regulatory mechanisms (e.g., laws, 
regulations, zoning) to conserve the species. Other factors that may 
not individually threaten the continued existence of Gunnison sage-
grouse but, collectively, have the potential to threaten the species, 
include invasive plants, fire, and climate change, and the interaction 
of these three factors; fences; renewable and non-renewable energy 
development; pi[ntilde]on-juniper encroachment; water development; 
disease;, drought; and recreation.
    We consider the threats that the Gunnison sage-grouse faces to be 
high in severity because many of the threats (exurban development, 
roads, predation, improper grazing management, inadequacy of regulatory 
mechanisms, genetic issues) occur throughout all of the species' range. 
Based on an evaluation of biotic, abiotic, and anthropogenic factors, 
no strongholds are believed to exist for Gunnison sage-grouse (Wisdom 
et al. 2011, entire). All seven populations are experiencing habitat 
degradation and fragmentation due to exurban development, roads, 
powerlines, and improper grazing management. Available habitat is 
limited and fragmented to extent that it is increasing the probability 
that the species will become extinct within the foreseeable future.
    Six of the seven populations of Gunnison sage-grouse have 
population sizes low enough to induce inbreeding depression, and all 
seven may be losing their adaptive potential (Stiver 2008, p. 479). 
Predation is exerting a strong influence on all populations, but 
especially the six smaller populations. Invasive weeds are likely to 
exert a strong influence on all populations in the future. Regulations 
that are in place at the local, State, or Federal level are not 
adequate to minimize the threat of habitat degradation and 
fragmentation resulting from exurban development and other factors 
identified as threats to the species. The existing regulatory 
mechanisms are not being appropriately implemented such that land use 
practices result in habitat conditions that adequately support the 
life-history needs of the species. Existing regulations are not 
effective at ameliorating the threats resulting from predation, genetic 
issues, or invasive weeds. Due to the impacts resulting from the issues 
described above and the current small population sizes and habitat 
areas, impacts from other stressors such as fences, recreation, 
grazing, powerlines, and drought/weather are likely acting cumulatively 
to further increase the likelihood that the species will become extinct 
within the foreseeable future.
    We have information that the threats are identifiable and that the 
species is currently facing them throughout its range. These actual, 
identifiable threats include habitat degradation and fragmentation from 
exurban development and roads, inadequate regulatory mechanisms, 
genetic issues, predation, and improper grazing management. In 
addition, the interaction among climate change, invasive plants, and 
drought/weather are impacting the species negatively. In addition to 
their current existence, we expect these threats to continue and likely 
intensify in the future.
    Gunnison sage-grouse currently occupy a small fraction of their 
historic range. Large patches of sagebrush vegetation are extremely 
limited in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Extant Gunnison 
sage-grouse populations occur within the last remaining areas that 
support large areas of suitable sagebrush. As described in detail in 
the above Summary of Factors Affecting the Species, the threats of 
human infrastructure (residential and commercial development, roads and 
trails, powerlines, improper grazing management, and fences), 
predation, and small population sizes currently exist (at varying 
degrees) throughout the range of Gunnison sage-grouse and thus are 
imminent threats. These threats are anticipated to increase throughout 
the range of the species. The components of human infrastructure, once 
present on the landscape, become virtually permanent features resulting 
in the reduction or elimination of proactive and effective management 
alternatives. We anticipate other potential threats such as widespread 
invasive species invasion and increased fire frequency to increase in 
the future and likely will act synergistically to become threats to 
Gunnison sage-grouse. We anticipate renewable energy development, 
particularly geothermal and wind energy development, to increase in 
some population areas.
    Therefore, based on the best available scientific and commercial 
information, we propose to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as an 
endangered species throughout all of its range. The ability of all 
remaining populations and habitat areas to retain the attributes 
required for long-term sustainability of this landscape-scale species 
is highly diminished, causing the species to meet the definition of 
endangered. Endangered status reflects the vulnerability of this 
species to threat factors negatively affecting it and its extremely 
limited and restricted habitat. We also examined the Gunnison sage-
grouse to analyze if any significant portion of its range may warrant a 
different status. However, because of its limited and curtailed range, 
and uniformity of the threats throughout its entire range, we find 
there are no significant portions of any of the species' range that may 
warrant a different determination of status.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness and 
conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies, private 
organizations, and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the 
States and requires that recovery actions be carried out for all listed 
species.
    The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered 
and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The 
ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these 
listed species, so that they no longer need the protective

[[Page 2536]]

measures of the Act. Subsection 4(f) of the Act requires the Service to 
develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered 
and threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the 
identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the 
species' decline by addressing the threats to its survival and 
recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a 
point where they are secure, self-sustaining, and functioning 
components of their ecosystems.
    Recovery planning includes the development of a recovery outline 
shortly after a species is listed, preparation of a draft and final 
recovery plan, and revisions to the plan as significant new information 
becomes available. The recovery outline guides the immediate 
implementation of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to 
be used to develop a recovery plan. The recovery plan identifies site-
specific management actions that will achieve recovery of the species, 
measurable criteria that determine when a species may be downlisted or 
delisted, and methods for monitoring recovery progress. Recovery plans 
also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate their recovery 
efforts and provide estimates of the cost of implementing recovery 
tasks. Recovery teams (comprising of species experts, Federal and State 
agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders) are often 
established to develop recovery plans. When completed, the recovery 
outline, draft recovery plan, and the final recovery plan will be 
available on our Web site (http://www.fws.gov/endangered), or from our 
Western Colorado Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the 
participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal 
agencies, States, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, 
and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat 
restoration (e.g., restoration of native vegetation), research, captive 
propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The 
recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on 
Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or solely on non-
Federal lands. To achieve recovery of these species requires 
cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal lands.
    If this species is listed, funding for recovery actions will be 
available from a variety of sources, including Federal budgets, State 
programs, and cost share grants for non-Federal landowners, the 
academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, 
pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the States of Colorado and Utah would 
be eligible for Federal funds to implement management actions that 
promote the protection and recovery of the Gunnison sage-grouse. 
Information on our grant programs that are available to aid species 
recovery can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/grants.
    Although the Gunnison sage-grouse is only proposed for listing 
under the Act at this time, please let us know if you are interested in 
participating in recovery efforts for this species. Additionally, we 
invite you to submit any new information on this species whenever it 
becomes available and any information you may have for recovery 
planning purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their 
actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as 
endangered or threatened and with respect to its critical habitat, if 
any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency 
cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. 
Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to confer with the 
Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of a species proposed for listing or result in destruction or 
adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a species is 
listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal 
agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out 
are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or 
destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action 
may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible 
Federal agency must enter into consultation with the Service.
    Federal agency actions within the species' habitat that may require 
conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding 
paragraph include management and any other landscape-altering 
activities on Federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land 
Management, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service; issuance of 
section 404 Clean Water Act permits by the Army Corps of Engineers; 
construction and management of gas pipeline and power line rights-of-
way by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and construction and 
maintenance of roads or highways by the Federal Highway Administration.
    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all endangered 
wildlife. The prohibitions of section 9(a)(2) of the Act, codified at 
50 CFR 17.21 for endangered wildlife, in part, make it illegal for any 
person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to take 
(includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these), import, export, ship 
in interstate commerce in the course of commercial activity, or sell or 
offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. 
Under the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42-43; 16 U.S.C. 3371-3378), it is also 
illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such 
wildlife that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to 
agents of the Service and State conservation agencies.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving endangered and threatened wildlife species under certain 
circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 
17.22 for endangered species, and at 17.32 for threatened species. With 
regard to endangered wildlife, a permit must be issued for the 
following purposes: For scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation 
or survival of the species, and for incidental take in connection with 
otherwise lawful activities.
    It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 
1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at 
the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this 
policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of a proposed 
listing on proposed and ongoing activities within the range of species 
proposed for listing. The following activities could potentially result 
in a violation of section 9 of the Act; this list is not comprehensive:
    (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, possessing, selling, 
delivering, carrying, or transporting of the species, including import 
or export across State lines and international boundaries, except for 
properly documented antique specimens of these taxa at least 100 years 
old, as defined by section 10(h)(1) of the Act.
    (2) 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 of sagebrush 
habitat to agricultural land use; habitat improvement or restoration 
projects involving mowing, brush-beating, Dixie harrowing, disking, 
plowing, or

[[Page 2537]]

prescribed burning; and fire suppression activities.
    (3) 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.
    (4) 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, 
buildings; motorized and nonmotorized recreational use; and activities 
such as well drilling, operation, and maintenance, which would entail 
significant human presence, noise, and infrastructure.
    Questions regarding whether specific activities would constitute a 
violation of section 9 of the Act should be directed to the Western 
Colorado Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Requests 
for copies of the regulations concerning listed animals and general 
inquiries regarding prohibitions and permits may be addressed to the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Permits, Denver 
Federal Center, P.O. Box 25486, Denver, Colorado 80225-0489 (telephone 
(303) 236-4256; facsimile (303) 236-0027).

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. We have invited these peer reviewers to 
comment during this public comment period on our specific assumptions 
and conclusions in this proposed rule.
    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

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.)

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), need not be 
prepared in connection with listing a species as an endangered or 
threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. We published a 
notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal 
Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

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.

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 
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) * * *

[[Page 2538]]



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        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               ...........           NA           NA
                                                          UT).
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* * * * *

    Dated: December 21, 2012.
Daniel M. Ashe,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-31667 Filed 1-10-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P