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BLM to prepare land use amendment to protect Gunnison sage grouse

This April 2014 photo provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows a Gunnison sage grouse with tail feathers fanned near Gunnison.
Public comment sought on conservation efforts for rare bird in Southwest Colorado and southeast Utah

Public input is being sought by the Bureau of Land Management to prepare a management plan amendment and environmental impact study to protect the threatened Gunnison sage grouse and its habitat.

The rare bird exists in eight scattered population areas in Southwest Colorado and southeast Utah, and its population has been declining. It was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2014. Fewer than 5,000 birds remain.

A 45-day public scoping period began July 5 to gather comments for the Colorado Resource Management Plan Amendment and associated environmental impact statement, which will guide the conservation efforts for the bird.

The public may submit comments regarding alternatives, scope, issues or new information on the BLM ePlanning webpage at https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2019031/510.

The BLM will announce dates of virtual and in-person public meetings on the webpage.

The land use planning amendment and EIS will involve evaluating existing BLM resource management plans that intersect Gunnison sage grouse habitat in southern Colorado and Utah.

According to the BLM, the process will address actions that might affect the bird, such as mineral leasing and development, recreation, livestock grazing management, real estate actions, fire management and restoration actions.

“The BLM will then consider, with the best available science, reasonable alternative approaches to its management strategies,” a July 5 BLM news release says.

The BLM released a draft plan amendment and impact statement for the Gunnison sage grouse in August 2016 but paused the planning effort in 2018 after an announcement that the Fish and Wildlife Service would complete a recovery plan for the grouse.

The Gunnison sage grouse, a ground-dwelling bird with an elaborate mating ritual, survives in isolated sagebrush areas in Southwest Colorado and southeast Utah.

The Fish and Wildlife Service released the final recovery plan for the species in October 2020, prompting the BLM to resume the effort.

The BLM intends to initiate Section 7 consultation under the Endangered Species Act with the Fish and Wildlife Service on management and conservation actions identified through the planning process.

Once completed, the amended BLM Resource Management Plan intends to incorporate decisions and actions “to preserve and enhance habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse in all BLM land-use plans with occupied and unoccupied habitat” as identified by the USFWS 2020 Final Recover Plan that covers the eight population areas in Southwest Colorado and southeast Utah.

“The BLM is committed to working with our partners to best preserve the health and welfare of Gunnison sage grouse populations and their habitat throughout the Southwest,” stated BLM Deputy State Director for Resources Alan Bittner, in the news release. “We welcome and encourage robust public participation in this process as we consider potential management actions impacting our public lands.”

After the 45-day scoping process, a draft RMP amendment and EIS will be prepared and released for public comment, followed by a final plan and record of decision.

Gunnison sage grouse in snow. When the snow recedes in spring, they nest in sagebrush areas. (Courtesy photo)

jmimiaga@the-journal.com