A federal plan to recover the Gunnison sage-grouse in parts of Colorado and Utah could cost up to $560 million and take half a century, according to a draft recovery plan.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) draft recovery plan for the federally protected bird estimates timeframes and costs ranging from one to 50 years and up to $560.5 million to delist the bird.
“We estimate that the full implementation of these actions would improve the status of GUSG so that it could be delisted within 50 years following the adoption of this plan,” the draft plan, which was released publicly last week, says.
Among those costs are $309 million for purchasing conservation easements and more than $168 million for habitat maintenance and improvement.
The Gunnison sage-grouse, found in eight counties in southwestern Colorado and one county in southeastern Utah, occupies only 10 percent of its historical range and was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014.
The draft says that 42 percent of sage-grouse populations are on U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed lands, while 43 percent of populations are found on privately owned lands. The recovery plan would require those federal agencies, along with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and National Parks Service (NPS) and state agencies, to work together.
Under the draft recovery plan, the bird would be eligible for delisting if the male bird count of the population reaches 748 out of 3,669 birds for the Gunnison Basin population of Gunnison sage-grouse “as measured by the running 3-year average for at least 7 out of 9 consecutive years.”
But several environmental groups said the draft plan is “vague” and that target populations for delisting are too low.
“The minimum viable population size should be 5,000 based on the scientific literature, but even the Gunnison Basin population has a lower target,” said Clait Braun, a former avian research with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “The USFWS is abdicating responsibility for conserving satellite populations, and is placing all the eggs in the Gunnison Basin basket, condemning the species to extinction if there is an unforeseen stochastic event there.”
Erik Molvar, executive director with Western Watersheds Project, said the agency “turned its back on the science with the cursory analysis in its Recovery Plan and status assessment, and instead relies on the politics of collaboration to set habitat protection standards later.”
Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians also oppose the draft plan.
In July, Colorado formally opposed the BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office Resource Management Plan, citing concerns for protecting wildlife migration corridors and the Gunnison sage-grouse.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in September sent a letter urging the BLM to “correct inconsistencies” between their plan and new state regulations, adding that the plan was inconsistent with parts of the state’s wildlife management plans.