Sage grouse won’t be declared endangered |

Sage grouse won’t be declared endangered

The greater sage grouse, whose vast range spans 11 Western states, does not need federal protections, the Interior Department said last year. However, federal land managers have announced much-anticipated plans to protect the rare Gunnison sage grouse, a bird found only in Colorado and Utah.
AP | Rawlins Daily Times

EAGLE COUNTY — Federal wildlife officials won’t list the greater sage grouse as endangered, an announcement applauded by local ranchers.

Ben Wurtsmith, a lifelong Eagle County rancher in McCoy, said he’s happy they’re not endangered, but he’d like to see the kinds of numbers he recalls from years ago.

“Until a few years ago there were sage grouse all over,” Wurtsmith said.

Announced in Colorado

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the rangewide population of greater sage grouse does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

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Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell announced the decision in Commerce City, near Denver.

The agency’s decision affects sage grouse efforts on 167 million acres in 11 states, including Colorado. The ranch land in Eagle County encompasses some of the southernmost sage grouse range.

More than half of the land that makes up sage grouse habitat is public, managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Wurtsmith said sage grouse habitat is like time: “We have plenty, but none to waste.”

“There’s a lot of BLM land, sagebrush and habitat for the birds,” Wurtsmith said.

He said he supports all the conservation efforts and is happy to see so many people working together.

Still, as far as they’ve come, there’s still a long way to go.

“I’d like to see them back in numbers that they were in years ago. I don’t like that they’re getting scarce,” Wurtsmith said.

Much of the conflict revolved around human impacts on sage grouse habitat, such as oil and gas development and livestock grazing.

“Some people think grazing is bad for them, but there are fewer cattle now than there used to be,” Wurtsmith said.

Keep up the good work

For many of the groups involved in saving the sage grouse, the announcement comes with a cautious sense of relief.

“For years, sportsmen, ranchers, developers and biologists have anxiously awaited the day when the sage grouse listing decision would be made,” said Steve Riley, president and CEO of the North American Grouse Partnership. “Now, it is imperative that these collective conservation efforts are implemented and monitored for effectiveness in the long-term if we are to avoid winding up with sage grouse again at risk further down the road.”

Not a believer

House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he isn’t buying the Obama administration’s company line.

“Do not be fooled. The announcement not to list the sage grouse is a cynical ploy,” Bishop said. “With the stroke of a pen, the Obama Administration’s oppressive land management plan is the same as a listing. Now, successful conservation done at the state level will be in vain.”

Bishop said the Obama administration’s real goal is still to control the West.

“Some Western governors see this for what it is, and I will work with them to ensure the rational plans created at the grassroots level that solve the problem will be the way forward to protect this bird,” Bishop said.

Polis lauds the decision

Boulder Democrat Jared Polis’ 2nd Congressional District includes some of Eagle County.

Polis serves on the House Natural Resources Committee with Bishop, and sees things from a different perspective.

“Today’s announcement represents what can happen when people across the political divide and throughout different levels of government come together over a common cause,” Polis said in a statement. “The fact that this announcement was made in Colorado speaks volumes about the ability of our state to bridge the partisan divide and overcome Washington dysfunction for the best interests of all involved — ranchers, grazers, landowners and conservationists alike.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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