Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes to List and Designate Critical Habitat for Threatened Sage-grouse in the Mono Basin

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Listing proposal gives hope for protecting this unique population of “prairie dancers”

WASHINGTON (October 25, 2013) – The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the bi-state, or Mono Basin sage-grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and proposed to designate more than 1.8 million acres of critical habitat to support its recovery. The bi-state sage-grouse are a genetically distinct subpopulation of the more widely-ranged greater sage-grouse and with a population that averages 5,000 birds in a limited area of sagebrush habitat on the border of California and Nevada.

The listing proposal also includes a special rule to waive take prohibitions for continued land use within the range of bi-state sage-grouse where it comports with Fish and Wildlife Service approved conservation plans for the sage-grouse.

Statement from Mark Salvo, Federal Lands Policy Analyst, Defenders of Wildlife:

“The sage-grouse in the Mono Basin are truly imperiled, not only by the same habitat loss and degradation facing every other sage-grouse population, but also by their small numbers and isolation in one of the most ecologically sensitive areas of sagebrush in the West.

“With only a few, scattered populations of sage-grouse remaining in the Mono Basin, it’s important that the Fish and Wildlife Service moves forward to conserve the bi-state grouse. Congress specifically provided for the protection of distinct populations of imperiled wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, and without this protection we may not see the captivating Mono Basin sage-grouse mating ‘dance’ much longer.

“While we applaud and support the Service’s proposed listing of the Mono Basin sage-grouse as threatened, it is premature to determine whether the proposed rule will in fact conserve the sage-grouse since the devil will be in the details of the local sage-grouse conservation plans that the rule relies upon.”

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Contact: Courtney Sexton, 202-772-0253, csexton@defenders.org

Background:

Petitioned for protection in 2005, the bi-state sage-grouse is a genetically unique subpopulation of the charismatic greater sage-grouse that inhabits the Mono Basin area of east-central California and southwestern Nevada (hence its common moniker, “Mono Basin sage-grouse”). Research indicates that, genetically, the bi-state population is at least as different from greater sage-grouse as are Gunnison sage-grouse, which were designated a separate species from greater sage-grouse in 2000.

Aside from their distinct genetic traits, the bi-state grouse appear and behave as other sage-grouse, and have the same habitat requirements. The bi-state population occurs at the periphery of greater sage-grouse range, occupying an especially fragile area of sagebrush steppe. The bi-state’s limited range and small population make them particularly vulnerable to landscape disturbances. At present, only about 5,000 bi-state sage-grouse remain from a historic population that might have once numbered more than twice that number. Many factors have contributed to the population’s decline, including livestock grazing, invasive species, unnatural fires, mining and off-road vehicle use that degrades sagebrush habitat. 

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