The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced on Tuesday that the decision on whether the Gunnison sage grouse should be listed as an endangered species will be delayed for another six months. The extension was granted by the Washington, DC District Court and will allow the USFWS more time to review additional data. The service originally proposed listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act last January, which would affect well over half a million acres of private and public land.

“The Gunnison sage grouse needed protection 14 years ago, not another six-month delay—and certainly not a delay with the sole purpose of watering down protections,” Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “It’s well past time for Fish and Wildlife’s foot-dragging to end. If the Gunnison sage grouse is to have any chance at survival, it needs firm protections immediately.”

The bird once existed across Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico but now only occupies seven percent of its historic range. Experts estimate there to be around 4,600 Gunnison sage grouse still currently living in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. The Deseret News reported that between 1975 and 1999, the Gunnison grouse population is believed to have declined by 75 percent.

The USFWS determined that the primary threats to the grouse, like many other species, are from human development. In particular, the service pointed to habitat loss, commercial development, and improper grazing management. The proposed listing would mean that federal agencies will take a firmer hand in developing programs to protect the species and its habitat, which is controversial because of its effect on industries like oil and gas. Activists claim that the latest delay—the fourth so far—is another sign that the USFWS is bowing to pressure from development companies.

“While the Gunnison sage grouse heads toward extinction, political interests reign over conservation at the Service,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Delaying protection for the bird and its habitat for another six months just to water down protections might suit political interests but it does not suit the sage grouse.”

The USFWS predicted that if the species does find itself on the endangered species list, as much as $12 million will be spent over the next two decades to protect the bird.

Gunnison sage grouse is closely related to the greater sage grouse, albeit much smaller in size. In the spring, male Gunnison grouse will put on elaborate displays and make low, toad-like noises. You can see a demonstration below.

Image screenshot of video by LabofOrnithology on YouTube

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