Get ready for the Gunnison sage grouse

The Waunita Lek near Gunnison, mating grounds for a large group of Gunnison sage grouse, is open for public viewings, and bird watchers will have good news to share with the rare species, which puts on an unusual and exotic springtime dance.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it will reconsider an April 2006 decision not to list the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species, according to a notice filed in March with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The grouse was labeled as a unique species in 2000, becoming the first new bird to be identified in the United States in a hundred years. But there are only 2,000 to 6,000 of the birds left, primarily in the Gunnison Basin and in San Miguel County. (Please see our May 22, 2008, feature story, "Going Going Gone.")

In 2007, however, the Interior department's inspector general found that former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald and other Bush administration officials had interfered with the results of the reports done on a number of possibly endangered or threatened species, including the Gunnison sage grouse.

The inspector general released a second report in December 2008 with similar results, which prompted the agency, now headed by former Colorado Senator Ken Salazar (the subject of this week's Westword cover story), to review its decisions on thirteen species, according to agency spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger.

She was unable to say when the review would take place, however, adding that "the logistics of it haven't been worked out."

For information about viewing the Gunnison sage grouse, log onto the websites of grouse conservation organization Sisk-a-dee or the Colorado Birding Society.

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