Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Gunnison Sage-grouse

Lisa Lynch/NPS

 

The Gunnison Sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) is a newly named species native to the Gunnison Basin and surrounding areas, recognized by the American Ornithological Union in 2000 as a separate species. It was formerly classified as part of the Greater Sage-grouse species (Centrocercus urophasianus). The Gunnison Sage-grouse is about 2/3 the size of the Greater Sage-grouse, has different coloration of tail feathers and a distinct mating ritual. Since the 1970's, researchers have been aware of the differences between the two birds. DNA testing and other studies by researchers from the University of Denver, Western Colorado University, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife contributed to the new species status of the Gunnison Sage-grouse.

Concerns

The Gunnison Sage-grouse was once native to Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. It is estimated that only 3000-4500 birds remain in isolated populations throughout southeast Utah and southwest Colorado today. The sage-grouse in the Gunnison Basin, including those in and around Curecanti National Recreation Area, account for the majority of these birds (88%). Gunnison sage-grouse populations are believed to have declined by more than 60% since the 1950’s, based on historic count and hunting harvest counts.

Habitat loss and habitat degradation are probably the biggest threats to the population of Gunnison Sage-grouse. Land conversion, development, roads, recreation, and invasive weeds have isolated the birds from one another. Isolated populations of birds decreases genetic diversity and increases the negative effects of inbreeding. Additionally, small populations are less likely to recover from major disturbances, such as drought or fire.

What is being done?

In 2014, Gunnison Sage-grouse were listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and designated critical habitat within each subpopulation. USFWS has developed a series of documents to guide species recovery – Species Status Assessment, Recovery Plan and Recovery Implementation Strategy.

The National Park Service is dedicated to the conservation and recovery of Gunnison Sage-grouse. NPS participates in collaborative groups of interagency Biologists, ranchers, recreationalists, and community members to implement conservation actions and share information. NPS also considers the impacts that all park projects and operations may have on Gunnison Sage-grouse or their habitat and consults with USFWS regarding those impacts and how to best avoid or mitigate them. Within the park, we also monitor sagebrush habitat health and trend, remove noxious weeds, and restore eroded areas.

What can you do?

While visiting Curecanti National Recreation Area, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the Gunnison Country, there are simple things that each of us can do to show our concern for the Sage-grouse.

  • Pets must be leashed and kept away from the birds as well as other wildlife.
  • Respect road and area closures during grouse mating season.
  • Clean dirt, vegetation litter, and seeds from shoes, clothing and gear before and after hiking in sagebrush areas to avoid spreading noxious weeds. Cheatgrass is an especially significant threat to the health of sagebrush habitat.
  • Spread the word about the Gunnison Sage-grouse. Everyone's awareness is important!

Additional Resources

Western Colorado University - The Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Sisk-a-dee Gunnison Sage-Grouse Conservation

Last updated: May 19, 2021

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Mailing Address:

102 Elk Creek
Gunnison , CO 81230

Phone:

970 641-2337 x205

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