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Feds List Gunnison Sage Grouse As Threatened Species


A small rare bird called the Gunnison sage grouse is now protected under the Endangered Species Act and that designation could stop some oil, gas and other development in Colorado and Utah. As NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, the listing is expected to bring a number of legal challenges.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The Gunnison sage grouse gets its name from the high altitude Gunnison Basin in Colorado where in the spring the birds mate under the safe cover of sagebrush. The males strut around and pop their air sacs, which is quite a sight and sound.

There are fewer than 5,000 of these birds remaining. Biologists say oil and gas development, years of overgrazing from cattle and a surge in residential home development has put the bird's habitat in peril. Theo Stein is with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

THEO STEIN: It was a very difficult decision. It disappointed many folks, but we feel that a threatened designation is the appropriate level of protection at this point.

SIEGLER: Environmentalists want an endangered designation, which would bring even tougher development restrictions. They're expected to keep fighting for that in court. On the other side, the state of Colorado and some counties are also mounting a lawsuit.

This is Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Hauck.

JONATHAN HAUCK: A lot of people feel that the U.S. Fish and wildlife service kind of pulled the rug out from under us.

SIEGLER: Pulled the rug out because his county spent the past 20 years designing and running its own conservation program with success, but the federal government said the bird's shrinking habitat in other parts of Colorado and Utah warranted extra protections.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.