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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the Gunnison sage grouse on the list of threatened species on Wednesday, a decision that will not please the Colorado leaders who insisted that voluntary protection would be enough to prevent the bird from going extinct. The decision will affect land use in some parts of both western Colorado and eastern Utah.
There are now less than 5,000 Gunnison sage grouse living in less than 7 percent of their original habitat. Around 4,000 of them roam in the Gunnison Basin of Colorado. The bird will now enjoy a large protective area, about 1.4 million acres, deemed sufficient for its survival by Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The things that you (in Colorado) have done are not for naught,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe told The Denver Post. “We could, potentially, see a fast-track toward recovery. There’s been a lot of good work done.”
Federal biologists were the first to raise the issue four years ago. When they assessed the birds’ chances of survival, they suggested its placement in the endangered species category. A final decision on the issue has been repeatedly postponed, until the FWS was forced to make one on Nov. 12.
Colorado officials repeatedly attempted to avert such a decision from being adopted by the FWS. Gov. John Hickenlooper warned that they will be forced to sure the federal government if the bird will receive protected status. But even a last-minute proposal from state officials, which included the relocation of a road to drilling wells, could not change Ashe’s mind.
Gas and oil drilling may be restricted as a corollary to the decision, but the FWS had not yet released any clear information on the matter. Drilling may have been an important factor backing the federal decision. Ashe said that even if the industry has the potential to drill without disturbing the bird, the agency will closely monitor their activities.
Another relative of the Gunnison sage grouse, the Greater sage grouse, is currently under FWS’s eye. The agency will have to make a decision regarding its status until September 2015. However, the debate will take place at a larger scale, as it involves 11 states.
Colorado officials and conservationists share a common feeling, as they are both unhappy about the decision. However, in opposition to state officials, conservationists complained that categorizing the Gunnison sage grouse an endangered species will not be enough to save it from extinction. The agency should have ruled that the bird is threatened to go extinct.