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Colorado's Plan for Sage Grouse Signed

The Colorado Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Plan was signed last week at the state's Division of Wildlife (DOW) headquarters in Denver. The plan is designed to guide and facilitate the conservation of greater sage grouse and their habitats.

The plan identifies broad strategies to protect the grouse, addressing threats that contribute to population declines, and recognizes the conservation role played by local working groups consisting of of private landowners, public agency representatives and others.

The sage grouse population has been on the decline across the West, and the states have stepped up to search for a way for development to coexist with the bird.

Those who seek to protect the sage grouse and its habitat have come into conflict with the interests of those who seek to develop western natural gas reserves. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has raised the interests of the sage grouse in his opposition to extensive energy development of the Wyoming Range (see NGI, Feb. 18). Conservation groups evoked the interests of the sage grouse in challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Utah state office over the federal agency's selection of 57 parcels totaling 83,000 acres for a lease sale. Late last year an Idaho district judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ignored the best available science and has to reconsider its decision not to list the greater sage grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act (see NGI, Dec. 10, 2007).

The Colorado sage grouse plan has been in development for the past two and a half years and is a compendium of information about Colorado populations of greater sage grouse as well as analysis of threats facing them. A steering committee composed of the signatory agencies developed the plan in partnership with an advisory committee made up of representatives from local working groups. Collectively, the federal agencies and DOW are responsible for the management of sage grouse populations and habitat on public land, encouraging sage grouse conservation on private lands, and conserving the species such that federal listing protection does not become necessary. Colorado's effort is part of a larger conservation effort by state and federal wildlife agencies across 12 western states.

"The conservation of our sage grouse requires active collaboration among our public and private partners at both the local and regional level to implement on-the-ground conservation actions." said DOW Director Tom Remington. "For wide-ranging wildlife species, these multi-state, multi-agency partnerships on public and private lands represent the future of conservation planning. This plan will ensure that the best possible science and analysis will guide those conservation efforts."

Greater sage grouse are designated by the DOW as a state species of concern. The species was petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act and its status is undergoing review by the FWS to determine whether federal listing is needed.

Greater sage grouse are the largest grouse in North America. Males are known for two large air sacs on their chest that are inflated in elaborate courtship displays. Sage grouse are found in areas where sagebrush is abundant. Sagebrush provides food and cover for the birds. During the winter months, sage provides the entire diet for sage grouse, so the protection of quality sagebrush habitats is critically important for the species.

To view a copy of Colorado's Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Plan visit www.wildlife.state.co.us.

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