[Federal Register Volume 75, Number 55 (Tuesday, March 23, 2010)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 13909-14014]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2010-5132]



[[Page 13909]]

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Part III





Department of the Interior





-----------------------------------------------------------------------



Fish and Wildlife Service



-----------------------------------------------------------------------



50 CFR Part 17



Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Findings for 
Petitions to List the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) 
as Threatened or Endangered; Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 75, No. 55 / Tuesday, March 23, 2010 / 
Proposed Rules

[[Page 13910]]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[FWS-R6-ES-2010-0018]
[MO 92210-0-0008-B2]


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Findings 
for Petitions to List the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus 
urophasianus) as Threatened or Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 12-month petition findings.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce 
three 12-month findings on petitions to list three entities of the 
greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as threatened or 
endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). 
We find that listing the greater sage-grouse (rangewide) is warranted, 
but precluded by higher priority listing actions. We will develop a 
proposed rule to list the greater sage-grouse as our priorities allow.
    We find that listing the western subspecies of the greater sage-
grouse is not warranted, based on determining that the western 
subspecies is not a valid taxon and thus is not a listable entity under 
the Act. We note, however, that greater sage-grouse in the area covered 
by the putative western subspecies (except those in the Bi-State area 
(Mono Basin), which are covered by a separate finding) are encompassed 
by our finding that listing the species is warranted but precluded 
rangewide.
    We find that listing the Bi-State population (previously referred 
to as the Mono Basin area population), which meets our criteria as a 
distinct population segment (DPS) of the greater sage-grouse, is 
warranted but precluded by higher priority listing actions. We will 
develop a proposed rule to list the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-
grouse as our priorities allow, possibly in conjunction with a proposed 
rule to list the greater sage-grouse rangewide.

DATES: The finding announced in the document was made on March 23, 
2010.

ADDRESSES: This finding is available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov and www.fws.gov. Supporting documentation we used 
to prepare this finding is available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 5353 Yellowstone Road, Suite 308A, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82009; 
telephone (307) 772-2374; facsimile (307) 772-2358. Please submit any 
new information, materials, comments, or questions concerning this 
species to the Service at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brian T. Kelly, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming Ecological Services Office (see 
ADDRESSES). If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), 
call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at (800) 877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires 
that, for any petition containing substantial scientific or commercial 
information that the listing may be warranted, we make a finding within 
12 months of the date of the receipt of the petition on whether the 
petitioned action is (a) not warranted, (b) warranted, or (c) 
warranted, but that immediate proposal of a regulation implementing the 
petitioned action is precluded by other pending proposals to determine 
whether species are threatened or endangered, and expeditious progress 
is being made to add or remove qualified species from the Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Section 4(b)(3)(C) of 
the Act requires that we treat a petition for which the requested 
action is found to be warranted but precluded as though resubmitted on 
the date of such finding; that is, requiring a subsequent finding to be 
made within 12 months. We must publish these 12-month findings in the 
Federal Register.

Previous Federal Action

Greater Sage-Grouse

    On July 2, 2002, we received a petition from Craig C. Dremann 
requesting that we list the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus 
urophasianus) as endangered across its entire range. We received a 
second petition from the Institute for Wildlife Protection on March 24, 
2003, requesting that the greater sage-grouse be listed rangewide. On 
December 29, 2003, we received a third petition from the American Lands 
Alliance and 20 additional conservation organizations (American Lands 
Alliance et al.) to list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or 
endangered rangewide. On April 21, 2004, we announced our 90-day 
petition finding in the Federal Register (69 FR 21484) that these 
petitions taken collectively, as well as information in our files, 
presented substantial information indicating that the petitioned 
actions may be warranted. On July 9, 2004, we published a notice to 
reopen the period for submitting comments on our 90-day finding, until 
July 30, 2004 (69 FR 41445). In accordance with section 4(b)(3)(A) of 
the Act, we completed a status review of the best available scientific 
and commercial information on the species. On January 12, 2005, we 
announced our not-warranted 12-month finding in the Federal Register 
(70 FR 2243).
    On July 14, 2006, Western Watersheds Project filed a complaint in 
Federal district court alleging that the Service's 2005 12-month 
finding was incorrect and arbitrary and requested the finding be 
remanded to the Service. On December 4, 2007, the U.S. District Court 
of Idaho ruled that our 2005 finding was arbitrary and capricious, and 
remanded it to the Service for further consideration. On January 30, 
2008, the court approved a stipulated agreement between the Department 
of Justice and the plaintiffs to issue a new finding in May 2009, 
contingent on the availability of a new monograph of information on the 
sage-grouse and its habitat (Monograph). On February 26, 2008, we 
published a notice to initiate a status review for the greater sage-
grouse (73 FR 10218), and on April 29, 2008, we published a notice 
extending the request for submitting information to June 27, 2008 (73 
FR 23172). Publication of the Monograph was delayed due to 
circumstances outside the control of the Service. An amended joint 
stipulation, adopted by the court on June 15, 2009, required the 
Service to submit the 12-month finding to the Federal Register by 
February 26, 2010; this due date was subsequently extended to March 5, 
2010.

Western Subspecies of the Greater Sage-Grouse

    The western subspecies of the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus 
urophasianus phaios) was identified by the Service as a category 2 
candidate species on September 18, 1985 (50 FR 37958). At the time, we 
defined Category 2 species as those species for which we possessed 
information indicating that a proposal to list as endangered or 
threatened was possibly appropriate, but for which conclusive data on 
biological vulnerability and threats were not available to support a 
proposed rule. On February 28, 1996, we discontinued the designation of 
category 2 species as candidates for listing under the Act (61 FR 
7596), and consequently the western subspecies was no longer considered 
to be a candidate for listing.
    We received a petition, dated January 24, 2002, from the Institute 
for Wildlife

[[Page 13911]]

Protection requesting that the western subspecies occurring from 
northern California through Oregon and Washington, as well as any 
western sage-grouse still occurring in parts of Idaho, be listed under 
the Act. The petitioner excluded the Mono Basin area populations in 
California and northwest Nevada since they already had petitioned this 
population as a distinct population segment (DPS) for emergency listing 
(see discussion of Bi-State area (Mono Basin) population below). The 
petitioner also requested that the Service include the Columbia Basin 
DPS in this petition, even though we had already identified this DPS as 
a candidate for listing under the Act (66 FR 22984, May 7, 2001) (see 
discussion of Columbia Basin below).
    We published a 90-day finding on February 7, 2003 (68 FR 6500), 
that the petition did not present substantial information indicating 
the petitioned action was warranted based on our determination that 
there was insufficient evidence to indicate that the petitioned western 
population of sage-grouse is a valid subspecies or DPS. The petitioner 
pursued legal action, first with a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue, 
followed by filing a complaint in Federal district court on June 6, 
2003, challenging the merits of our 90-day finding. On August 10, 2004, 
the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in 
favor of the Service (Case No. C03-1251P). The petitioner appealed and 
on March 3, 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 
reversed in part the ruling of the District Court and remanded the 
matter for a new 90-day finding (Institute for Wildlife Protection v. 
Norton, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 5428 9th Cir., March 3, 2006). 
Specifically, the Court of Appeals rejected the Service's conclusion 
that the petition did not present substantial information indicating 
that western sage-grouse may be a valid subspecies, but upheld the 
Service's determination that the petition did not present substantial 
information indicating that the petitioned population may constitute a 
DPS. The Court's primary concern was that the Service did not provide a 
sufficient description of the principles we employed to determine the 
validity of the subspecies classification. On April 29, 2008, we 
published in the Federal Register (73 FR 23170) a 90-day finding that 
the petition presented substantial scientific or commercial information 
indicating that listing western sage-grouse may be warranted and 
initiated a status review for western sage-grouse.
    In a related action, the Service also has made a finding on a 
petition to list the eastern subspecies of the greater sage-grouse 
(Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus). On July 3, 2002, we received 
a petition from the Institute for Wildlife Protection to list the 
eastern subspecies, identified in the petition as including all sage-
grouse east of Oregon, Washington, northern California, and a small 
portion of Idaho. The petitioners sued the Service in U.S. District 
Court on January 10, 2003, for failure to complete a 90-day finding. On 
October 3, 2003, the Court ordered the Service to complete a finding. 
The Service published its not-substantial 90-day finding in the Federal 
Register on January 7, 2004 (69 FR 933), based on our determination 
that the eastern sage-grouse was not a valid subspecies. The not-
substantial finding was challenged, and on September 28, 2004, the U.S. 
District Court ruled in favor of the Service, dismissing the 
plaintiff's case.

Columbia Basin (Washington) Population of the Western Subspecies

    On May 28, 1999, we received a petition dated May 14, 1999, from 
the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation. 
The petitioners requested that the Washington population of western 
sage-grouse (C. u. phaios) be listed as threatened or endangered under 
the Act. The petitioners requested listing of the Washington population 
of western sage-grouse based upon threats to the population and its 
isolation from the remainder of the taxon. Accompanying the petition 
was information relating to the taxonomy, ecology, threats, and the 
past and present distribution of western sage-grouse.
    In our documents we have used ``Columbia Basin population'' rather 
than ``Washington population'' because we believe it more appropriately 
describes the petitioned entity. We published a substantial 90-day 
finding on August 24, 2000 (65 FR 51578). On May 7, 2001, we published 
our 12-month finding (66 FR 22984), which included our determination 
that the Columbia Basin population of the western sage-grouse met the 
requirements of our policy on DPSs (61 FR 4722) and that listing the 
DPS was warranted but precluded by other higher priority listing 
actions. As required by section 4(b)(3)(C) of the Act, we have 
subsequently made resubmitted petition findings, announced in 
conjunction with our Candidate Notices of Review, in which we continued 
to find that listing the Columbia Basin DPS of the western subspecies 
was warranted but precluded by other higher priority listing actions 
(66 FR 54811, 67 FR 40663, 69 FR 24887, 70 FR 24893, 74 FR 57803). 
Subsequent to the March 2006 decision by the court on our 90-day 
finding on the petition to list the western subspecies of the greater 
sage-grouse (described above), our resubmitted petition findings stated 
we were not updating our analysis for the DPS, but would publish an 
updated finding regarding the petition to list the Columbia Basin 
population of the western subspecies following completion of the new 
rangewide status review for the greater sage-grouse.

Bi-State Area (Mono Basin) Population of Sage-grouse

    On January 2, 2002, we received a petition from the Institute for 
Wildlife Protection requesting that the sage-grouse occurring in the 
Mono Basin area of Mono County, California, and Lyon County, Nevada, be 
emergency listed as an endangered distinct population segment (DPS) of 
Centrocercus urophasianus phaios, which the petitioners considered to 
be the western subspecies of the greater sage-grouse. This request was 
for portions of Alpine and Inyo Counties and most of Mono County in 
California and portions of Carson City, Douglas, Esmeralda, Lyon, and 
Mineral Counties in Nevada. On December 26, 2002, we published a 90-day 
finding that the petition did not present substantial scientific or 
commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be 
warranted (67 FR 78811). Our 2002 finding was based on our 
determination that the petition did not present substantial information 
indicating that the population of greater sage-grouse in this area was 
a DPS under our DPS policy (61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996), and thus was 
not a listable entity (67 FR 78811; December 26, 2002). Our 2002 
finding also included a determination that the petition did not present 
substantial information regarding threats to indicate that listing the 
petitioned population may be warranted (67 FR 78811).
    On November 15, 2005, we received a petition submitted by the 
Stanford Law School Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of the Sagebrush 
Sea Campaign, Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological 
Diversity, and Christians Caring for Creation to list the Mono Basin 
area population of greater sage-grouse as a threatened or endangered 
DPS of the greater sage-grouse (C. urophasianus) under the Act. On 
March 28, 2006, we responded that emergency listing was not warranted 
and, due to court orders and settlement agreements for other listing 
actions, we would not be able to address the petition at that time.

[[Page 13912]]

    On November 18, 2005, the Institute for Wildlife Protection and Dr. 
Steven G. Herman sued the Service in U.S. District Court for the 
Western District of Washington (Institute for Wildlife Protection et 
al. v. Norton et al., No. C05-1939 RSM), challenging the Service's 2002 
finding that their petition did not present substantial information 
indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. On April 11, 
2006, we reached a stipulated settlement agreement with both plaintiffs 
under which we agreed to evaluate the November 2005 petition and 
concurrently reevaluate the December 2001 petition (received in January 
2002). The settlement agreement required the Service to submit to the 
Federal Register a 90-day finding by December 8, 2006, and if 
substantial, to complete the 12-month finding by December 10, 2007. On 
December 19, 2006, we published a 90-day finding that these petitions 
did not present substantial scientific or commercial information 
indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted (71 FR 76058).
    On August 23, 2007, the November 2005 petitioners filed a complaint 
challenging the Service's 2006 finding. After review of the complaint, 
the Service determined that we would revisit our 2006 finding. The 
Service entered into a settlement agreement with the petitioners on 
February 25, 2008, in which the Service agreed to a voluntary remand of 
the 2006 petition finding, and to submit for publication in the Federal 
Register a new 90-day finding by April 25, 2008. The agreement further 
stipulated that if the new 90-day finding was positive, the Service 
would undertake a status review of the Mono Basin area population of 
the greater sage-grouse and submit for publication in the Federal 
Register a 12-month finding by April 24, 2009.
    On April 29, 2008, we published in the Federal Register (73 FR 
23173) a 90-day petition finding that the petitions presented 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that 
listing the Mono Basin area population may be warranted and initiated a 
status review. Based on a joint stipulation by the Service and the 
plaintiffs to extend the due date for the 12-month finding, on April 
23, 2009, the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, 
issued an order that if the parties did not agree to a later 
alternative date, the Service would submit a 12-month finding for the 
Mono Basin population of the greater sage-grouse to the Federal 
Register no later than May 26, 2009. On May 27, 2009, the U.S. District 
Court, Northern District of California, issued an order accepting a 
joint stipulation between the Department of Justice and the plaintiffs, 
which states that the parties agree that the Service may submit to the 
Federal Register a single document containing the 12-month findings for 
the Mono Basin area population and the greater sage-grouse no later 
than by February 26, 2010. Subsequently, the due date for submission of 
the document to the Federal Register was extended to March 5, 2010.
    Both the November 2005 and the December 2001 petitions as well as 
our 2002 and 2006 findings use the term ``Mono Basin area'' to refer to 
greater sage-grouse that occur within the geographic area of eastern 
California and western Nevada that includes Mono Lake. For conservation 
planning purposes, this same geographic area is referred to as the Bi-
State area by the States of California and Nevada (Greater Sage-grouse 
Conservation Plan for Nevada and Eastern California, 2004, pp. 4-5). 
For consistency with ongoing planning efforts, we will adopt the ``Bi-
State'' nomenclature hereafter in this finding.

Biology and Ecology of Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse Description

    The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is the largest 
North American grouse species. Adult male greater sage-grouse range in 
length from 66 to 76 centimeters (cm) (26 to 30 inches (in.)) and weigh 
between 2 and 3 kilograms (kg) (4 and 7 pounds (lb)). Adult females are 
smaller, ranging in length from 48 to 58 cm (19 to 23 in.) and weighing 
between 1 and 2 kg (2 and 4 lb). Males and females have dark grayish-
brown body plumage with many small gray and white speckles, fleshy 
yellow combs over the eyes, long pointed tails, and dark green toes. 
Males also have blackish chin and throat feathers, conspicuous 
phylloplumes (specialized erectile feathers) at the back of the head 
and neck, and white feathers forming a ruff around the neck and upper 
belly. During breeding displays, males exhibit olive-green apteria 
(fleshy bare patches of skin) on their breasts (Schroeder et al. 1999, 
p. 2).

Taxonomy

    Greater sage-grouse are members of the Phasianidae family. They are 
one of two congeneric species; the other species in the genus is the 
Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus). In 1957, the American 
Ornithologists' Union (AOU) (AOU 1957, p 139) recognized two subspecies 
of the greater sage-grouse, the eastern (Centrocercus urophasianus 
urophasianus) and western (C. u. phaios) based on information from 
Aldrich (1946, p. 129). The original subspecies designation of the 
western sage-grouse was based solely on differences in coloration 
(specifically, reduced white markings and darker feathering on western 
birds) among 11 museum specimens collected from 8 locations in 
Washington, Oregon, and California. The last edition of the AOU Check-
list of North American Birds to include subspecies was the 5\th\ 
Edition, published in 1957. Subsequent editions of the Check-list have 
excluded treatment of subspecies. Richard Banks, who was the AOU Chair 
of the Committee on Classification and Nomenclature in 2000, indicated 
that, because the AOU has not published a revised edition at the 
subspecies level since 1957, the subspecies in that edition, including 
the western sage-grouse, are still recognized (Banks 2000, pers. 
comm.). However, in the latest edition of the Check-list (7\th\ Ed., 
1998, p. xii), the AOU explained that its decision to omit subspecies, 
``carries with it our realization that an uncertain number of currently 
recognized subspecies, especially those formally named early in this 
century, probably cannot be validated by rigorous modern techniques.''
    Since the publication of the 1957 Check-list, the validity of the 
subspecies designations for greater sage-grouse has been questioned, 
and in some cases dismissed, by several credible taxonomic authorities 
(Johnsgard 1983, p. 109; Drut 1994, p. 2; Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 3; 
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2000, p. 62; 
Banks 2000, 2002 pers. comm.; Johnsgard 2002, p. 108; Benedict et al. 
2003, p. 301). The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 
(WAFWA), an organization of 23 State and provincial agencies charged 
with the protection and management of fish and wildlife resources in 
the western part of the United States and Canada, also questioned the 
validity of the western sage-grouse as a subspecies in its Conservation 
Assessment of Greater Sage-grouse and Sagebrush Habitats (Connelly et 
al. 2004, pp. 8-4 to 8-5). Furthermore, in its State conservation 
assessment and strategy for greater sage-grouse, the Oregon Department 
of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) stated that ``recent genetic analysis 
(Benedict et al. 2003) found little evidence to support this subspecies 
distinction, and this Plan refers to sage-grouse without reference to 
subspecies delineation in this document'' (Hagen 2005, p. 5).

[[Page 13913]]

    The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), a database 
representing a partnership of U.S., Canadian, and Mexican agencies, 
other organizations, and taxonomic specialists designed to provide 
scientifically credible taxonomic information, lists the taxonomic 
status of western sage-grouse as ``invalid - junior synonym'' (ITIS 
2010). In an evaluation of the historical classification of the western 
sage-grouse as a subspecies, Banks stated that it was ``weakly 
characterized'' but felt that it would be wise to continue to regard 
western sage-grouse as taxonomically valid ``for management purposes'' 
(Banks, pers. comm. 2000). This statement was made prior to the 
availability of behavioral and genetic information that has become 
available since 2000. In addition, Banks' opinion is qualified by the 
phrase ``for Management purposes.'' Management recommendations and 
other considerations must be clearly distinguished from scientific or 
commercial data that indicate whether an entity may be taxonomically 
valid for the purpose of listing under the Act.
    Although the Service had referred to the western sage-grouse in 
past decisions (for example, in the 12-month finding for a petition to 
list the Columbia Basin population of western sage-grouse, 66 FR 22984; 
May 7, 2001), this taxonomic reference was ancillary to the decision at 
hand and was not the focal point of the listing action. In other words, 
when past listing actions were focused on some other entity, such as a 
potential distinct population segment in the State of Washington, we 
accepted the published taxonomy for western sage-grouse because that 
taxonomy itself was not the subject of the review and thus not subject 
to more rigorous evaluation at the time.
    Taxonomy is a component of the biological sciences. Therefore, in 
our evaluation of the reliability of the information, we considered 
scientists with appropriate taxonomic credentials (which may include a 
combination of education, training, research, publications, 
classification and/or other experience relevant to taxonomy) as 
qualified to provide informed opinions regarding taxonomy, make 
taxonomic distinctions, and/or question taxonomic classification.
    There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a 
subspecies, and the use of subspecies may vary between taxonomic groups 
(Haig et al. 2006, pp. 1584-1594). The Service acknowledges the diverse 
opinions of the scientific community about species and subspecies 
concepts. However, to be operationally useful, subspecies must be 
discernible from one another (i.e., diagnosable); this element of 
``diagnosability,'' or the ability to consistently distinguish between 
populations, is a common thread that runs through all subspecies 
concepts. The AOU Committee on Classification and Nomenclature offers 
the following definition of a subspecies: ``Subspecies should represent 
geographically discrete breeding populations that are diagnosable from 
other populations on the basis of plumage and/or measurements, but are 
not yet reproductively isolated. Varying levels of diagnosability have 
been proposed for subspecies, typically ranging from at least 75% to 
95% * * * subspecies that are phenotypically but not genetically 
distinct still warrant recognition if individuals can be assigned to a 
subspecies with a high degree of certainty'' (AOU 2010). In addition, 
the latest AOU Check-list of North American Birds describes subspecies 
as: ``geographic segments of species' populations that differ abruptly 
and discretely in morphology or coloration; these differences often 
correspond with difference in behavior and habitat'' (AOU 1998, p. 
xii).
    In general, higher levels of confidence in the classification of 
subspecies may be gained through the concurrence of multiple 
morphological, molecular, ecological, behavioral, and/or physiological 
characters (Haig et al. 2006, p. 1591). The AOU definition of 
subspecies also incorporates this concept of looking for multiple lines 
of evidence, in referring to abrupt and discrete differences in 
morphology, coloration, and often corresponding differences in behavior 
or habitat as well (AOU 1998, p. xii). To assess subspecies 
diagnosability, we evaluated all the best scientific and commercial 
information available to determine whether the evidence points to a 
consistent separation of birds currently purported to be ``western 
sage-grouse'' from other populations of greater sage-grouse. This 
evaluation incorporated information that has become available since the 
AOU's last subspecies review in 1957, and included data on the 
geographic separation of the putative eastern and western subspecies, 
behavior, morphology, and genetics. If the assessment of these multiple 
characters provided a clear and consistent separation of the putative 
western subspecies from other populations of sage-grouse, such that any 
individual bird from the range of the western sage-grouse would likely 
be correctly assigned to that subspecies on the basis of the suite of 
characteristics analyzed, that would be considered indicative of a 
likely valid subspecies.
Geography
    The delineation between eastern and western subspecies is vaguely 
defined and has changed over time from its original description 
(Aldrich 1946, p. 129; Aldrich and Duvall 1955 p. 12; AOU 1957, p. 139; 
Aldrich 1963, pp. 539-541). The boundary between the subspecies is 
generally described along a line starting on the Oregon-Nevada border 
south of Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge and ending near Nyssa, 
Oregon (Aldrich and Duvall 1955, p. 12; Aldrich 1963, pp. 539-541). 
Aldrich described the original eastern and western ranges in 1946 
(Aldrich 1946, p. 129), while Aldrich and Duvall (1955, p. 12) and 
Aldrich (1963, pp. 539-541) described an intermediate form in northern 
California, presumably in a zone of intergradation between the 
subspecies. All of Aldrich's citations include a portion of Idaho 
within the western subspecies' range, but the 1957 AOU designation 
included Idaho as part of the eastern subspecies (AOU 1957, p. 139).
    Our evaluation reveals that a boundary between potential western 
and eastern subspecies may be drawn multiple ways depending on whether 
one uses general description of historical placement, by considering 
topographic features, or in response to the differing patterns reported 
in studying sage-grouse genetics, morphology, or behavior. In their 
description of greater sage-grouse distribution, Schroeder et al. 
(2004, p. 369) noted the lack of evidence for differentiating between 
the purported subspecies, stating ``We did not quantify the respective 
distributions of the eastern and western subspecies because of the lack 
of a clear dividing line (Aldrich and Duvall 1955) and the lack of 
genetic differentiation (Benedict et al. 2003).'' Based on this 
information, there does not appear to be any clear and consistent 
geographic separation between sage-grouse historically described as 
``eastern'' and ``western.''
Morphology
    As noted above, the original description of the western subspecies 
of sage-grouse was based solely on differences in coloration 
(specifically, reduced white markings and darker feathering on western 
birds) among 11 museum specimens (10 whole birds, 1 head only) 
collected from 8 locations in Washington, Oregon, and California 
(Aldrich 1946, p. 129). By today's standards, this represents an 
extremely small sample size that would likely

[[Page 13914]]

yield little confidence in the ability to discriminate between 
populations on the basis of this character. Furthermore, the subspecies 
designation was based on this single characteristic; no other 
differences between the western and eastern subspecies of sage-grouse 
were noted in Aldrich's original description (Aldrich 1946, p. 129; 
USFWS 2010). Banks (1992) noted plumage color variation in the original 
specimens Aldrich (1946) used to make his subspecies designation, and 
agreed that the specimens from Washington, Oregon, and northern 
California did appear darker than the specimens collected in the 
eastern portion of the range. However, individual morphological 
variation in greater sage-grouse, such as plumage coloration, is 
extensive (Banks 1992). Further, given current taxonomic concepts, 
Banks (1992) doubted that most current taxonomists would identify a 
subspecies based on minor color variations from a limited number of 
specimens, as were available to Aldrich during the mid-1900s (Aldrich 
1946, p. 129; Aldrich and Duvall 1955, p. 12; Aldrich 1963, pp. 539-
541). Finally, the AOU Committee on Classification has stated that, 
because of discoloration resulting from age and poor specimen 
preparation, museum specimens ``nearly always must be supplemented by 
new material for comprehensive systematic studies.'' (AOU, Check-list 
of North American Birds, 7\th\ ed., 1998, p. xv.)
    Schroeder (2008, pp. 1-19) examined previously collected 
morphological data across the species' range from both published and 
unpublished sources. He found statistically significant differences 
between sexes, age groups, and populations in numerous characteristics 
including body mass, wing length, tail length, and primary feather 
length. Many of these differences were associated with sex and age, but 
body mass also varied by season. There also were substantial 
morphometric (size and shape) differences among populations. Notably, 
however, these population differences were not consistent with any of 
the described geographic delineations between eastern and western 
subspecies. For example, sage-grouse from Washington and from Northern 
Colorado up to Alberta appeared to be larger than those in Idaho, 
Nevada, Oregon, and California (Schroeder 2008, p. 9). This regional 
variation was not consistent with differences in previously established 
genetic characteristics (Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, as cited in 
Schroeder 2008, p. 9). Thus our review revealed no clear basis for 
differentiating between the two described subspecies based on plumage 
or morphology.
Behavior
    The only data available with respect to behavior are for strutting 
behavior on leks, a key component of mate selection. One recent study 
compared the male strut behavior between three sage-grouse populations 
that happen to include populations from both sides of the putative 
eastern-western line (Taylor and Young 2006, pp. 36-41). However, the 
classification of these populations changes depending on the 
description of western sage-grouse used. The Lyon/Mono population falls 
within the intermediate zone identified by Aldrich and Duvall (1955, p. 
12) but would be classified as eastern under Aldrich (1963, p. 541). 
The Lassen population may be considered either western (Aldrich 1946, 
p. 129) or intermediate (Aldrich and Duvall 1955, p. 12; Aldrich 1963, 
p. 541). The Nye population falls within the range of the eastern sage-
grouse (Aldrich and Duvall 1955, p. 12; Aldrich 1963, p. 541). The 
researchers found that male strut rates were not significantly 
different between populations, but that acoustic components of the 
display for the Lyon/Mono and Lassen populations (considered 
intermediate and/or western) were similar to each other, whereas the 
Nye population (eastern) was distinct. We consider these results 
inconclusive in distinguishing between eastern and western subspecies 
because of the inconsistent results and limited geographic scope of the 
study.
    Schroeder (2008, p. 9) also examined previously collected data on 
strutting behavior on leks, including Taylor and Young (2006). He noted 
that, although there was regional variation in the strut rate of sage-
grouse, it was not clear if this variation reflected population-level 
effects or some other unexplained variation. Based on the above limited 
information, we do not consider there to be any strong evidence of a 
clear separation of the western sage-grouse from other populations on 
the basis of behavioral differences.
Genetics
    Genetic research can sometimes augment or refine taxonomic 
definitions that are based on morphology or behavior or both (discussed 
in Haig et al. 2006, p. 1586; Oyler-McCance and Quinn in press, p. 19). 
Benedict et al. (2003, p. 309) found no genetic data supporting a 
subspecies designation. To investigate taxonomic questions and examine 
levels of gene flow and connectedness among populations, Oyler-McCance 
et al. (2005, p. 1294) conducted a comprehensive examination of the 
distribution of genetic variation across the entire range of greater 
sage-grouse, using both mitochondrial and nuclear deoxyribonucleic acid 
(DNA) sequence data. Oyler-McCance et al. (2005, p. 1306) found that 
the overall distribution of genetic variation showed a gradual shift 
across the range in both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA data sets. Their 
results demonstrate that greater sage-grouse populations follow an 
isolation-by-distance model of restricted gene flow (gene flow 
resulting from movement between neighboring populations rather than 
being the result of long distance movements of individuals) (Oyler-
McCance et al. 2005, p. 1293; Campton 2007, p. 4), and are not 
consistent with subspecies designations. Oyler-McCance and Quinn (in 
press, entire) reviewed available studies that used molecular genetic 
approaches, including Oyler-McCance et al. (2005). They examined the 
genetic data bearing on the delineation of the western and eastern 
subspecies of greater sage-grouse, and determined that the distinction 
is not supported by the genetic data (Oyler-McCance and Quinn in press, 
p. 4). The best available genetic information thus does not support the 
recognition of the western sage-grouse as a separate subspecies.
Summary: Taxonomic Evaluation of the Subspecies
    The AOU has not revisited the question of whether the eastern and 
western subspecies are valid since their original classification in 
1957. We have examined the best scientific information available 
regarding the putative subspecies of the greater sage-grouse and have 
considered multiple lines of evidence for the potential existence of 
western and eastern subspecies based on geographic, morphological, 
behavioral, and genetic data. In our evaluation, we looked for any 
consistent significant differences in these characters that might 
support recognition of the western or eastern sage-grouse as clear, 
discrete, and diagnosable populations, such that either might be 
considered a subspecies.
    As described above, the boundaries distinguishing the two putative 
subspecies have shifted over time, and there does not appear to be any 
clear and consistent geographic separation between sage-grouse 
historically described as ``eastern'' and ``western.'' Banks (1992) and 
Schroeder (2008, p. 9) both found morphological variations between 
individuals and populations, but Banks stated that the differences 
would not be sufficient to recognize

[[Page 13915]]

subspecies by current taxonomic standards, and Schroeder noted that the 
differences were not consistent with any of the described geographic or 
genetic delineations between putative subspecies. Schroeder (2008 p. 9) 
also noted regional behavior differences in strut rate, but stated it 
was not clear if this variation reflected population-level effects. 
Finally, the best available genetic information indicates there is no 
distinction between the putative western and eastern subspecies 
(Benedict et al. 2003, p. 309; Oyler-McCance and Quinn in press, p. 
12).
    Because the best scientific and commercial information do not 
support the taxonomic validity of the purported eastern or western 
subspecies, our analysis of the status of the greater sage-grouse 
(below) does not address considerations at the scale of subspecies. 
(See Findings section, below, for our finding on the petition to list 
the western subspecies of the greater sage-grouse.)

Life History Characteristics

    Greater sage-grouse depend on a variety of shrub-steppe habitats 
throughout their life cycle, and are considered obligate users of 
several species of sagebrush (e.g., Artemisia tridentata ssp. 
wyomingensis (Wyoming big sagebrush), A. t. ssp. vaseyana (mountain big 
sagebrush), and A. t. tridentata (basin big sagebrush)) (Patterson 
1952, p. 48; Braun et al. 1976, p. 168; Connelly et al. 2000a, pp. 970-
972; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-1; Miller et al. in press, p. 1). 
Greater sage-grouse also use other sagebrush species such as A. 
arbuscula (low sagebrush), A. nova (black sagebrush), A. frigida 
(fringed sagebrush), and A. cana silver sagebrush (Schroeder et al. 
1999, pp. 4-5; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 3-4). Thus, sage-grouse 
distribution is strongly correlated with the distribution of sagebrush 
habitats (Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 364). Sage-grouse exhibit strong 
site fidelity (loyalty to a particular area even when the area is no 
longer of value) to seasonal habitats, which includes breeding, 
nesting, brood rearing, and wintering areas (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
3-1). Adult sage-grouse rarely switch between these habitats once they 
have been selected, limiting their adaptability to changes.
    During the spring breeding season, male sage-grouse gather together 
to perform courtship displays on areas called leks. Areas of bare soil, 
short-grass steppe, windswept ridges, exposed knolls, or other 
relatively open sites typically serve as leks (Patterson 1952, p. 83; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 3-7 and references therein). Leks are often 
surrounded by denser shrub-steppe cover, which is used for escape, 
thermal, and feeding cover. The proximity, configuration, and abundance 
of nesting habitat are key factors influencing lek location (Connelly 
et al., 1981, and Connelly et al., 2000 b, cited in Connelly et al., in 
press a, p. 11). Leks can be formed opportunistically at any 
appropriate site within or adjacent to nesting habitat (Connelly et al. 
2000a, p. 970), and, therefore, lek habitat availability is not 
considered to be a limiting factor for sage-grouse (Schroeder 1999, p. 
4). Nest sites are selected independent of lek locations, but the 
reverse is not true (Bradbury et al. 1989, p. 22; Wakkinen et al. 1992, 
p. 382). Thus, leks are indicative of nesting habitat.
    Leks range in size from less than 0.04 hectare (ha) (0.1 acre (ac)) 
to over 36 ha (90 ac) (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-3) and can host from 
several to hundreds of males (Johnsgard 2002, p. 112). Males defend 
individual territories within leks and perform elaborate displays with 
their specialized plumage and vocalizations to attract females for 
mating. Although males are capable of breeding the first spring after 
hatch, young males are rarely successful in breeding on leks due to the 
dominance of older males (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 14). Numerous 
researchers have observed that a relatively small number of dominant 
males account for the majority of copulations on each lek (Schroeder et 
al. 1999, p. 8). However, Bush (2009, p. 106) found on average that 
45.9 percent (range 14.3 to 54.5 percent) of genetically identified 
males in a population fathered offspring in a given year, which 
indicates that males and females likely engage in off-lek copulations. 
Males do not participate in incubation of eggs or rearing chicks.
    Females have been documented to travel more than 20 km (12.5 mi) to 
their nest site after mating (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 970), but 
distances between a nest site and the lek on which breeding occurred is 
variable (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 4-5). Average distance between a 
female's nest and the lek on which she was first observed ranged from 
3.4 km (2.1 mi) to 7.8 km (4.8 mi) in five studies examining 301 nest 
locations (Schroeder et al. 1999 p. 12).
    Productive nesting areas are typically characterized by sagebrush 
with an understory of native grasses and forbs, with horizontal and 
vertical structural diversity that provides an insect prey base, 
herbaceous forage for pre-laying and nesting hens, and cover for the 
hen while she is incubating (Gregg 1991, p. 19; Schroeder et al. 1999, 
p. 4; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 971; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 4-17, 
18; Connelly et al. in press b, p. 12). Sage-grouse also may use other 
shrub or bunchgrass species for nest sites (Klebenow 1969, p. 649; 
Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 970; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-4). Shrub 
canopy and grass cover provide concealment for sage-grouse nests and 
young, and are critical for reproductive success (Barnett and Crawford 
1994, p. 116; Gregg et al. 1994, p. 164; DeLong et al.1995, p. 90; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-4). Published vegetation characteristics of 
successful nest sites included a sagebrush canopy cover of 15-25 
percent, sagebrush heights of 30 to 80 cm (11.8 to 31.5 in.), and 
grass/forb cover of 18 cm (7.1 in.) (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 977).
    Sage-grouse clutch size ranges from 6 to 9 eggs with an average of 
7 eggs (Connelly et al. in press a, pp. 14-15). The likelihood of a 
female nesting in a given year averages 82 percent in eastern areas of 
the range (Alberta, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, 
Wyoming) and 78 percent in western areas of the range (California, 
Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Utah ) (Connelly et al. in press a, 
p. 15). Adult females have higher nest initiation rates than yearling 
females (Connelly et al. in press a, p. 15). Nest success (one or more 
eggs hatching from a nest), as reported in the scientific literature, 
varies widely (15-86 percent Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 11). Overall, 
the average nest success for sage-grouse in habitats where sagebrush 
has not been disturbed is 51 percent and for sage-grouse in disturbed 
habitats is 37 percent (Connelly et al., in press a, p. 1). Re-nesting 
only occurs if the original nest is lost (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 
11). Sage-grouse re-nesting rates average 28.9 percent (based on 9 
different studies) with a range from 5 to 41 percent (Connelly et al. 
2004. p. 3-11). Other game bird species have much higher re-nesting 
rates, often exceeding 75 percent. The impact of re-nesting on annual 
productivity for most sage-grouse populations is unclear and thought to 
be limited (Crawford et al. 2004, p. 4). In north-central Washington 
State, re-nesting contributed to 38 percent of the annual productivity 
of that population (Schroeder 1997, p. 937). However, the author 
postulated that the re-nesting efforts in this population may be 
greater than anywhere else in the species' range because environmental 
conditions allow a longer period of time to successfully rear a clutch 
(Schroeder 1997, p. 939).
    Little information is available on the level of productivity 
(number of chicks per hen that survive to fall) that is necessary to 
maintain a stable population (Connelly et al. 2000b, p.

[[Page 13916]]

970). However, Connelly et al. (2000b, p. 970, and references therein) 
suggest that 2.25 chicks per hen are necessary to maintain stable to 
increasing populations. Long-term productivity estimates of 1.40-2.96 
chicks per hen across the species range have been reported (Connelly 
and Braun 1997, p. 20). Productivity declined slightly after 1985 to 
1.21-2.19 chicks per hen (Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 20). Despite 
average clutch sizes of 7 eggs (Connelly et al. in press a, p. 15) due 
to low chick survival and limited renesting, there is little evidence 
that populations of sage-grouse produce large annual surpluses 
(Connelly et al. in press a, p. 24).
    Hens rear their broods in the vicinity of the nest site for the 
first 2-3 weeks following hatching (within 0.2-5 km (0.1-3.1 mi)), 
based on two studies in Wyoming (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-8). Forbs 
and insects are essential nutritional components for chicks (Klebenow 
and Gray 1968, p. 81; Johnson and Boyce 1991, p. 90; Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 4-9). Therefore, early brood-rearing habitat must provide 
adequate cover (sagebrush canopy cover of 10 to 25 percent; Connelly et 
al. 2000a, p. 977) adjacent to areas rich in forbs and insects to 
ensure chick survival during this period (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-
9).
    All sage-grouse gradually move from sagebrush uplands to more mesic 
areas (moist areas such as streambeds or wet meadows) during the late 
brood-rearing period (3 weeks post-hatch) in response to summer 
desiccation of herbaceous vegetation (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 971). 
Summer use areas can include sagebrush habitats as well as riparian 
areas, wet meadows, and alfalfa fields (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 4). 
These areas provide an abundance of forbs and insects for both hens and 
chicks (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 4; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 971). 
Sage-grouse will use free water although they do not require it since 
they obtain their water needs from the food they eat. However, natural 
water bodies and reservoirs can provide mesic areas for succulent forb 
and insect production, thereby attracting sage-grouse hens with broods 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-12). Broodless hens and cocks also will use 
more mesic areas in close proximity to sagebrush cover during the late 
summer, often arriving before hens with broods (Connelly et al. 2004, 
p. 4-10).
    As vegetation continues to desiccate through the late summer and 
fall, sage-grouse shift their diet entirely to sagebrush (Schroeder et 
al. 1999, p. 5). Sage-grouse depend entirely on sagebrush throughout 
the winter for both food and cover. Sagebrush stand selection is 
influenced by snow depth (Patterson 1952, p. 184; Hupp and Braun 1989, 
p. 827), availability of sagebrush above the snow to provide cover 
(Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 4-13, and references therein) and, in some 
areas, topography (e.g., elevation, slope and aspect; Beck 1977, p. 22; 
Crawford et al. 2004, p. 5).
    Many populations of sage-grouse migrate between seasonal ranges in 
response to habitat distribution (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 3-5). 
Migration can occur between winter and breeding and summer areas, 
between breeding, summer, and winter areas, or not at all. Migration 
distances of up to 161 km (100 mi) have been recorded (Patterson 1952, 
p.189); however, distances vary depending on the locations of seasonal 
habitats (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 3). Migration distances for female 
sage-grouse generally are less than for males (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
3-4), but in one study in Colorado, females traveled farther than males 
(Beck 1977, p. 23). Almost no information is available regarding the 
distribution and characteristics of migration corridors for sage-grouse 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-19). Sage-grouse dispersal (permanent moves 
to other areas) is poorly understood (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 3-5) and 
appears to be sporadic (Dunn and Braun 1986, p. 89). Estimating an 
``average'' home range for sage-grouse is difficult due to the large 
variation in sage-grouse movements both within and among populations. 
This variation is related to the spatial availability of habitats 
required for seasonal use, and annual recorded home ranges have varied 
from 4 to 615 square kilometers (km\2\) (1.5 to 237.5 square miles 
(mi\2\)) (Connelly et al., in press a, p. 10).
    Sage-grouse typically live between 3 and 6 years, but individuals 
up to 9 years of age have been recorded in the wild (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 3-12). Hens typically survive longer due to a disproportionate 
impact of predation on leks to males (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 14). 
Juvenile survival (from hatch to first breeding season) is affected by 
food availability, habitat quality, harvest, and weather. Based on a 
review of many field studies, juvenile survival rates range from 7 to 
60 percent (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 3-12). The variation in juvenile 
mortality rates may be associated with gender, weather, harvest rates, 
age of brood female (broods with adult females have higher survival), 
and with habitat quality (rates increase in poor habitats) (Schroeder 
et al. 1999, p. 14; Connelly et al., in press a, p. 20). The average 
annual survival rate for male sage-grouse (all ages combined) 
documented in various studies ranged from 38 to 60 percent and 55 to 75 
percent for females (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 14). Higher female 
survival rates account for a female-biased sex ratio in adult birds 
(Schroeder 1999, p. 14; Johnsgard 2002, p. 621). The sex ratio of sage-
grouse breeding populations varies widely with values between 1.2 and 3 
females per male being reported (Connelly et al., in press a, p. 23). 
Although seasonal patterns of mortality have not been thoroughly 
examined, over-winter mortality appears to be low (Connelly et al. 
2000b, p. 229; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 9-4). While both males and 
females are capable of breeding the first spring after hatch, young 
males are rarely successful due to the dominance of older males on the 
lek (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 14). Nesting rates of yearling females 
are 25 percent less than adult females (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 13).

Habitat Description and Characteristics

    Sage-grouse are dependent on large areas of contiguous sagebrush 
(Patterson 1952, p. 48; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-1; Connelly et al. 
in press a, p. 10; Wisdom et al. in press, p. 4), and large-scale 
characteristics within surrounding landscapes influence sage-grouse 
habitat selection (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 26). Sagebrush is the 
most widespread vegetation in the intermountain lowlands in the western 
United States (West and Young 2000, p. 259) and is considered one of 
the most imperiled ecosystems in North America (Knick et al. 2003, p. 
612; Miller et al. in press, p. 4, and references therein). Scientists 
recognize 14 species and 13 subspecies of sagebrush (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 5-2; Miller et al. in press, p. 8), each with unique habitat 
requirements and responses to perturbations (West and Young 2000, p. 
259). Sagebrush species and subspecies occurrence in an area is 
dictated by local soil type, soil moisture, and climatic conditions 
(West 1983, p. 333; West and Young 2000, p. 260; Miller et al. in 
press, pp. 8-11). The degree of dominance by sagebrush varies with 
local site conditions and disturbance history. Plant associations, 
typically defined by perennial grasses, further define distinctive 
sagebrush communities (Miller and Eddleman 2000, pp. 10-14; Connelly et 
al. 2004, p. 5-3), and are influenced by topography, elevation, 
precipitation, and soil type. These ecological conditions influence the 
response and resiliency of sagebrush and their associated understories 
to natural and human-caused changes.
    Sagebrush is typically divided into two groups, big sagebrush and 
low sagebrush, based on their affinities for

[[Page 13917]]

different soil types (West and Young 2000, p. 259). Big sagebrush 
species and subspecies, such as A. tridentata ssp. wyomingensis, are 
limited to coarse-textured and/or well-drained sediments. Low 
sagebrush, such as A. nova, typically occur where erosion has exposed 
clay or calcified soil horizons (West 1983, p. 334; West and Young 
2000, p. 261). Reflecting these soil differences, big sagebrush will 
die if surfaces are saturated long enough to create anaerobic 
conditions for 2 to 3 days (West and Young 2000, p. 259). Some low 
sagebrush are more tolerant of occasionally supersaturated soils, and 
many low sage sites are partially flooded during spring snowmelt. None 
of the sagebrush taxa tolerate soils with high salinity (West 1983, p. 
333; West and Young 2000, p. 257). Sagebrush that provide important 
annual and seasonal habitats for sage-grouse include three subspecies 
of big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. wyomingensis, A. t. ssp. tridentata and A. 
t. ssp. vaseyana), two low forms of sagebrush (A. arbuscula (little 
sagebrush) and A. nova), and A. cana ssp. cana (Miller et al. in press, 
p. 8).
    All species of sagebrush produce large ephemeral leaves in the 
spring, which persist until reduced soil moisture occurs in the summer. 
Most species also produce smaller, over-wintering leaves in the late 
spring that last through summer and winter. Sagebrush have fibrous tap 
root systems, which allow the plants to draw surface soil moisture, and 
also to access water deep within the soil profile when surface water is 
limited (West and Young 2000, p. 259). Most sagebrush flower in the 
fall. However, during years of drought or other moisture stress, 
flowering may not occur. Although seed viability and germination are 
high, seed dispersal is limited. Sagebrush seeds, depending on the 
species, remain viable for 1 to 3 years. However, Wyoming big sagebrush 
seeds do not persist beyond the year of their production (West and 
Young 2000, p. 260).
    Sagebrush is long-lived, with plants of some species surviving up 
to 150 years (West 1983, p. 340). They produce allelopathic chemicals 
that reduce seed germination, seedling growth, and root respiration of 
competing plant species and inhibit the activity of soil microbes and 
nitrogen fixation. Sagebrush has resistance to environmental extremes, 
with the exception of fire and occasionally defoliating insects (e.g., 
webworm (Aroga spp.); West 1983, p. 341). Most species of sagebrush are 
killed by fire (West 1983, p. 341; Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 17; 
West and Young 2000, p. 259), and historic fire-return intervals were 
as long as 350 years, depending on sagebrush type and environmental 
conditions (Baker in press, p. 16). Natural sagebrush recolonization in 
burned areas depends on the presence of adjacent live plants for a seed 
source or on the seed bank, if present (Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 
17), and requires decades for full recovery.
    Plants associated with the sagebrush understory vary, as does their 
productivity. Both plant composition and productivity are influenced by 
moisture availability, soil characteristics, climate, and topographic 
position (Miller et al., in press, pp. 8-14). Forb abundance can be 
highly variable from year to year and is largely affected by the amount 
and timing of precipitation.
    Very little sagebrush within its extant range is undisturbed or 
unaltered from its condition prior to EuroAmerican settlement in the 
late 1800s (Knick et al. 2003, p. 612, and references therein). Due to 
the disruption of primary patterns, processes, and components of 
sagebrush ecosystems since EuroAmerican settlement (Knick et al. 2003, 
p. 612; Miller et al. in press, p. 4), the large range of abiotic 
variation, the minimal short-lived seed banks, and the long generation 
time of sagebrush, restoration of disturbed areas is very difficult. 
Not all areas previously dominated by sagebrush can be restored because 
alteration of vegetation, nutrient cycles, topsoil, and living 
(cryptobiotic) soil crusts has exceeded recovery thresholds (Knick et 
al. 2003, p. 620). Additionally, processes to restore sagebrush ecology 
are relatively unknown (Knick et al. 2003, p. 620). Active restoration 
activities are often limited by financial and logistic resources and 
lack of political motivation (Knick et al. 2003, p. 620; Miller et al. 
in press, p. 5) and may require decades or centuries (Knick et al. 
2003, p. 620, and references therein). Meaningful restoration for 
greater sage-grouse requires landscape, watershed, or eco-regional 
scale context rather than individual, unconnected efforts (Knick et al. 
2003, p. 623, and references therein; Wisdom et al. in press, p. 27). 
Landscape restoration efforts require a broad range of partnerships 
(private, State, and Federal) due to landownership patterns (Knick et 
al. 2003, p. 623; see discussion of landownership below). Except for 
areas where active restoration is attempted following disturbance 
(e.g., mining, wildfire), management efforts in sagebrush ecosystems 
are usually focused on maintaining the remaining sagebrush (Miller et 
al. in press, p. 5; Wisdom et al. in press, pp. 26, 30).
    Greater sage-grouse require large, interconnected expanses of 
sagebrush with healthy, native understories (Patterson 1952, p. 9; 
Knick et al. 2003, p. 623; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 4-15; Connelly et 
al. in press a, p. 10; Pyke in press, p. 7; Wisdom et al. in press, p. 
4). There is little information available regarding minimum sagebrush 
patch sizes required to support populations of sage-grouse. This is due 
in part to the migratory nature of some but not all sage-grouse 
populations, the lack of juxtaposition of seasonal habitats, and 
differences in local, regional, and range-wide ecological conditions 
that influence the distribution of sagebrush and associated 
understories. Where home ranges have been reported (Connelly et al. in 
press a, p. 10 and references therein), they are extremely variable (4 
to 615 km\2\ range (1.5 to 237.5 mi\2\)). Occupancy of a home range 
also is based on multiple variables associated with both local 
vegetation characteristics and landscape characteristics (Knick et al. 
2003, p. 621). Pyke (in press, p. 18) estimated that greater than 4,000 
ha (9,884 ac) was necessary for population sustainability. However, he 
did not indicate whether this value was for migratory or nonmigratory 
populations, nor if this included juxtaposition of all seasonal 
habitats. Large seasonal and annual movements emphasize the landscape 
nature of the greater sage-grouse (Knick et al. 2003, p. 624; Connelly 
et al. in press a, p. 10).
Range and Distribution of Sage-Grouse and Sagebrush
    Prior to settlement of western North America by European immigrants 
in the 19th century, greater sage-grouse occurred in 13 States and 3 
Canadian provinces--Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, 
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, 
Arizona, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan (Schroeder et al. 
1999, p. 2; Young et al. 2000, p. 445; Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 369). 
Sagebrush habitats that potentially supported sage-grouse occurred over 
approximately 1,200,483 km\2\ (463,509 mi\2\) before 1800 (Schroeder et 
al. 2004, p. 366). Currently, greater sage-grouse occur in 11 States 
(Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, 
Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, and North Dakota), and 2 Canadian 
provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan), occupying approximately 56 
percent of their historical range (Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 369). 
Approximately 2 percent of the total range of the greater sage-grouse

[[Page 13918]]

occurs in Canada, with the remainder in the United States (Knick in 
press, p. 14).
    Sage-grouse have been extirpated from Nebraska, British Columbia, 
and possibly Arizona (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 2; Young et al. 2000 p. 
445; Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 369). Current distribution of the 
greater sage-grouse is estimated at 668,412 km\2\ (258,075 mi\2\; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-9; Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 369). Changes 
in distribution are the result of sagebrush alteration and degradation 
(Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 363).
    Sage-grouse distribution is associated with sagebrush (Schroeder et 
al. 2004; p. 364), although sagebrush is more widely distributed. 
However, sagebrush does not always provide suitable habitat due to 
fragmentation and degradation (Schroeder et al. 2004, pp. 369, 372). 
Very little of the extant sagebrush is undisturbed, with up to 50 to 60 
percent having altered understories or having been lost to direct 
conversion (Knick et al. 2003, p. 612 ). There also are challenges in 
mapping altered and depleted understories, particularly in semi-arid 
regions, so maps depicting only sagebrush as a dominant cover type are 
deceptive in their reflection of habitat quality and, therefore, use by 
sage-grouse (Knick et al. 2003, p. 616). As such, variations in the 
quality of sagebrush habitats (from either abiotic or anthropogenic 
events) are reflected by sage-grouse distribution and densities (Figure 
1).
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP23MR10.000

    Sagebrush occurs in two natural vegetation types that are 
delineated by temperature and patterns of precipitation (Miller et al. 
in press, p. 7). Sagebrush steppe ranges across the northern portion of 
sage-grouse range, from British Columbia and the Columbia Basin, 
through the northern Great Basin, Snake River Plain, and Montana, and 
into the Wyoming Basin and northern Colorado. Great Basin sagebrush 
occurs south of sagebrush steppe, and extends from the Colorado Plateau 
westward into Nevada, Utah, and California (Miller et al. in press, p. 
7). Other sagebrush types within greater sage-grouse range include 
mixed-desert shrubland in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, and grasslands 
in eastern Montana and Wyoming that also support A. cana and A. 
filifolia (sand sagebrush) (Miller et al. in press, p. 7).
    Due to differences in the ecology of sagebrush across the range of 
the greater sage-grouse, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife 
Agencies (WAFWA) delineated seven Management Zones (MZs I-VII) based 
primarily on floristic provinces (Figure 2; Table 1; Stiver et al. 
2006, p. 1-6). The boundaries of these MZs were delineated based on 
their ecological and biological attributes rather than on arbitrary 
political boundaries (Stiver et al. 2006, p. 1-6). Therefore, 
vegetation found within a MZ is similar and sage-grouse and their 
habitats within these areas are likely to respond similarly to 
environmental factors and management actions. The WAFWA conservation 
strategy includes the Gunnison sage-grouse, and the boundary for MZ VII 
includes its range (Stiver et al. 2006, pp. 1-1, 1-8), which does not 
overlap with the range of the greater sage-grouse.

[[Page 13919]]



 Table 1--The Management Zones of the greater sage-grouse as defined by
                  Stiver et al. (2006, pp. 1-7, 1-11).
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                      STATES AND
               MZ                 PROVINCES INCLUDED   FLORISTIC REGION
------------------------------------------------------------------------
I                                MT, WY, ND, SD, SK,  Great Plains
                                  AL
------------------------------------------------------------------------
II                               ID, WY, UT, CO       Wyoming Basin
------------------------------------------------------------------------
III                              UT, NV, CA           Southern Great
                                                       Basin
------------------------------------------------------------------------
IV                               ID, UT, NV, OR       Snake River Plain
------------------------------------------------------------------------
V                                OR, CA, NV           Northern Great
                                                       Basin
------------------------------------------------------------------------
VI                               WA                   Columbia Basin
------------------------------------------------------------------------
VII                              CO, UT               Colorado Plateau
------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                                      [GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP23MR10.001
                                                      
    As stated above, due to the variability in habitat conditions, 
sage-grouse are not evenly distributed across the range (Figure 1). The 
MZs I, II, IV, and V encompass the core populations of greater sage-
grouse and have the highest reported densities (Table 2, Figures 1, 2; 
Stiver et al. 2006, p. 1-12). The MZ III is composed of lower density 
populations in the Great Basin, while fewer numbers of more dispersed 
birds occur in MZ VI (Stiver et al. 2006, p. 1-7).

  Table 2--Relative abundance of greater sage-grouse leks, and numbers of males attending leks by Management Zone, based on the mean number of individual leks and mean maximum number of males
                                                                             attending leks by MZ during 2005-2007.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                    MZ                                                      Relative Abundance of Leks                        Relative Abundance of Males  Attending Leks
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I                                                                                                                               0.17                                                       0.15
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
II                                                                                                                              0.48                                                       0.50
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 13920]]

 
III                                                                                                                             0.06                                                       0.07
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
IV                                                                                                                              0.19                                                       0.18
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
V                                                                                                                               0.09                                                       0.10
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VI                                                                                                                             0.004                                                      0.005
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VII                                                                                                                            0.003                                                      0.003
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Land Ownership of Habitats

    Greater sage-grouse extant habitats have multiple surface 
ownerships, as reflected in Table 3. Most of the habitats occur on 
Federal surfaces, a reflection of land disposal practices during 
EuroAmerican settlement of the western United States (Knick in press, 
pp. 5-10). Lands dominated by sagebrush that were disposed to private 
ownership typically had deeper soils and greater available water 
capacity or access to water (valley bottoms), reflecting their capacity 
for agricultural development or increased grazing activities (Knick in 
press, p. 15). The lands remaining in Federal ownership were of poorer 
overall quality. The resulting low productivity on Federal surfaces 
affects their ability to recover from disturbance (Knick in press, p. 
17).
    Federal agencies manage almost two-thirds of the sagebrush habitats 
(Table 3). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages just over half 
of sage-grouse habitats, while the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is 
responsible for management of approximately 8 percent of sage-grouse 
habitat (Table 3). Other Federal agencies, including the Service, 
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), National 
Park Service (NPS), Department of Defense (DOD), and Department of 
Energy (DOE) also are responsible for sagebrush habitats, but at a much 
smaller scale (Table 3). State agencies manage approximately 5 percent 
of sage-grouse habitats.

  Table 3--Percent surface ownership of total sagebrush area (km\2\ (mi\2\)) within the sage-grouse management zones (from Knick in press, p. 39). Other Federal agencies include the Service,
                                                         BOR, NPS, DOD, and DOE. MZ VII includes both Gunnison and greater sage-grouse.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                    Sagebrush Management and Ownership
                                                                         -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
         Sage-grouse MZ                  km\2\               mi\2\                                                                                                              Other  Federal
                                                                             BLM  Percent      Private  Percent      USFS  Percent      State  Percent       BIA  Percent           Percent
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I Great Plains                    50,264              19,407              17                  66                  2                   7                   4                   3
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
II Wyoming Basin                  108,771             41,996              49                  35                  4                   7                   4                   1
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
III Southern Great Basin          92,173              35,588              73                  13                  10                  3                   1                   0
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
IV Snake River Plain              134,187             51,810              53                  29                  11                  6                   1                   0
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
V Northern Great Basin            65,536              25,303              62                  21                  10                  1                   1                   6
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VI Columbia Basin                 12,105              4,674               6                   64                  2                   12                  13                  3
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VII Colorado Plateau              17,534              6,770               42                  36                  6                   6                   9                   1
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                            480,570             185,549             52                  31                  8                   5                   3                   1
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Population Size

    Estimates of greater sage-grouse abundance were mostly anecdotal 
prior to the implementation of systematic surveys in the 1950s (Braun 
1998, p. 139). Early reports suggested the birds were abundant 
throughout their range, with estimates of historical populations 
ranging from 1,600,000 to 16,000,000 birds (65 FR 51580, August 24, 
2000). However, concerns about extinction were raised in early 
literature due to market hunting and habitat alteration (Hornaday 1916, 
pp. 181-185). Following a review of published literature and anecdotal 
reports, Connelly et al. (2004, ES-1-3) concluded that the abundance of 
sage-grouse has declined from presettlement (defined as 1800) numbers. 
Most of the historical

[[Page 13921]]

population changes were the result of local extirpations, which has 
been inferred from a 44 percent reduction in sage-grouse distribution 
described by Schroeder et al. 2004 (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-9).
    Population numbers are difficult to estimate due to the large range 
of the species, physical difficulty in accessing some areas of habitat, 
the cryptic coloration and behavior of hens (Garton et al. in press, p. 
6), and survey protocols. Problems with inconsistent sampling protocols 
for lek surveys (e.g., number of times a lek is counted, number of leks 
surveyed in a year, observer bias, observer experience, time counted) 
were identified by Walsh et al. (2006, pp. 61-64) and Garton et al. (in 
press, p. 6), and many of those problems still persist (Stiver et al. 
2006, p. 3-1). Additionally, estimating population sizes using lek data 
is difficult as the relationship of those data to actual population 
size (e.g., ratio of males to females, percent unseen birds) is usually 
unknown (WAFWA 2008, p. 3). However, the annual counting of males on 
leks remains the primary approach to monitor long-term trends of 
populations (WAFWA 2008, p. 3), and standardized techniques are 
beginning to be implemented throughout the species' range (Stiver et 
al. 2006, pp. 3-1 to 3-16). The use of harvest data for estimating 
population numbers also is of limited value since both harvest and the 
population size on which harvest is based are estimates. Given the 
limitations of these data, States usually rely on a combination of 
actual counts of birds on leks and harvest data to estimate population 
size. Estimates of populations by State, generated from a variety of 
data sources, are provided in Table 4.

              Table 4--Sage-grouse population estimates based on data from State wildlife agencies.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                      Estimated
             Location                         Data Year                          Source               Population
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                CA/2004                              California/Nevada Sage-grouse        88,000
                                                                     Conservation Team (2004, p.
                                                                     26)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                CO 2008                             2007 CO Conservation plan,            22,646
                                                                     based on adjusted male lek
                                                                     counts (count + 1.6
                                                                     multiplier, sex ratio
                                                                     females:males) (Colorado
                                                                     Greater Sage-grouse Steering
                                                                     Committee 2008, p. 56)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              ID   2007                             Calculated based on assumption        98,700
                                                                     of 5% of population is
                                                                     harvested
                                                                    (Service, unpublished data)....
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              MT   2007                             Calculated based on assumption        62,320
                                                                     of 5% of population is
                                                                     harvested
                                                                    (Service, unpublished data)....
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              ND   2007                             2008 lek counts adjusted                 308
                                                                     (assumes 75% of males counted
                                                                     at lek, & sex ratio of 2:1)
                                                                     (A. Robinson, NDGFD, pers.
                                                                     comm., 2008)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              OR   2003                             2003 Oregon Conservation Plan         40,000
                                                                     Estimate (Hagen 2005, p. 27)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              SD   2007                             South Dakota Game and Fish web         1,500
                                                                     page (last updated in 2007)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              UT   2002                             Utah Division of Wildlife             12,999
                                                                     Resources (2002, p. 13)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              WA   2003                             Washington Division of Fish and        1,059
                                                                     Wildlife (Stinson et al. 2004,
                                                                     p. 21)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              WY   2007                             Calculated based on assumption       207,560
                                                                     of 5% of population is
                                                                     harvested
                                                                    (Service, unpublished data)....
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                Can2006                             Government of Canada 2010                450
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Braun (1998, p. 141) estimated that the minimum 1998 rangewide 
spring population numbered about 157,000 sage-grouse, derived from 
numbers of males counted on leks. The same year, State wildlife 
agencies within the range of the species estimated the population was 
at least 515,000 based on lek counts and harvest data (Warren 2008, 
pers. comm.). In 2000, we estimated the rangewide abundance of sage-
grouse was between a minimum of 100,000 (taken from Braun 1998, p. 141) 
up to 500,000 birds (based on harvest data from Idaho, Montana, Oregon, 
and Wyoming, with the assumption that 10 percent of the population is 
typically harvested) (65 FR 51578, August 24, 2000). In 2003, based on 
increased lek survey efforts, Connelly et al. (2004, p. 13-5) concluded 
that rangewide population numbers were likely much greater than the 
157,000 estimated by Braun (1998, p. 141), but they were unable to 
generate a rangewide population estimate. Garton et al., (in press, p. 
2) estimated a rangewide minimum of 88,816 males counted on leks in 
2007, the last year data were formally collated and reported. Estimates 
of historical populations range from 1,600,000 to 16,000,000 birds (65 
FR 51580).

Population Trends

    Although population numbers are difficult to estimate, the long-
term data collected from counting males on leks provides insight to 
population trends. Periods of historical decline in sage-grouse 
abundance occurred from the late 1800s to the early-1900s (Hornaday 
1916, pp. 179-221; Crawford 1982, pp. 3-6; Drut 1994, pp. 2-5; WDFW 
1995; Braun 1998, p. 140; Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 1). Other 
noticeable declines in sage-grouse populations occurred in the 1920s 
and 1930s, and then again in the 1960s and 1970s (Connelly and Braun 
1997, pp. 3-4; Braun 1998, p. 141). Declines in the 1920s and 1930s 
were attributed to hunting, and declines in the 1960s and 1970s were 
primarily as a result of loss of habitat quality and quantity (Connelly 
and Braun 1997, p. 2). State wildlife agencies were sufficiently 
concerned with the decline in the 1920s and 1930s that many closed 
their hunting seasons and others significantly reduced bag limits and 
season lengths as a precautionary measure (Patterson 1952, pp. 30-33; 
Autenrieth 1981, p. 10).

[[Page 13922]]

    Using lek counts as an index for abundance, Connelly et al. (2004, 
p. 6-71) reported rangewide declines from 1965 through 2003. Declines 
averaged 2 percent per year from 1965 to 2003. The decline was more 
dramatic from 1965 through 1985, with an average annual change of 3.5 
percent. The rate of decline rangewide slowed to 0.37 percent annually 
during 1986 to 2003 and some populations increased (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 6-71). Based on these analyses, Connelly et al. 2004 (p. 6-71) 
estimated that sage-grouse population numbers in the late 1960s and 
early 1970s were likely two to three times greater than current numbers 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-71). Using a statistical population 
reconstruction approach, Garton et al. (in press, p. 67) also 
demonstrated a pattern of higher numbers of sage-grouse in the late 
1960s and early 1970s, which was supported by data from several other 
sources (Garton et al. in press, p. 68).
    In 2008, WAFWA conducted new population trend analyses that 
incorporated an additional 4 years of data beyond the Connelly et al. 
2004 analysis (WAFWA 2008, entire). Although the WAFWA analyses used 
different statistical techniques, lek counts also were used. WAFWA 
results were similar to Connelly et al. (2004) in that a long-term 
population decline was detected during 1965 to 2007 (average 3.1 
percent annually; WAFWA 2008, p. 12). WAFWA attributed the decline to 
the reduction in number of active leks (WAFWA 2008, p. 51). Similar to 
Connelly et al. (2004), the WAFWA analyses determined that the rate of 
decline lessened during 1985 to 2007 (average annual change of 1.4 
percent annually) (WAFWA 2008, p. 58). Garton et al. (in press, pp. 68-
69) also had similar results. While the average annual rate of decline 
has lessened since 1985 (3.1 to 1.4 percent), population declines 
continue and populations are now at much lower levels than in the early 
1980's. Therefore, these continuing negative trends at such low 
relative numbers are concerning regarding long-term population 
persistence. Similarly, short-term increases or stable trends, while on 
the surface seem encouraging, do not indicate that populations are 
recovering but may instead be a function of losing leks and not 
increases in numbers (WAFWA 2008, p.51). Population stability may also 
be compromised if cycles in sage-grouse populations (Schroeder et al. 
1999, p. 15; Connelly et al. 2004, p.6-71) are lost, which current 
analyses suggest, minimizing the opportunities for population recovery 
if habitat were available (Garton 2009, pers. comm.).
    Although the MZs were not formally adopted by WAFWA until 2006, the 
population trend analyses conducted by Connelly et al. (2004) included 
trend analyses based on the same floristic provinces used to define the 
zones. While the average annual rate of change was not presented, the 
results of those analyses indicated long-term declines in greater sage-
grouse for MZs I, II, III, IV and VI. Population trends in MZs V and 
VII were increasing, but the trends were not statistically significant 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-71; Stiver et al. 2006, p. 1-7). WAFWA 
(2008) and Garton et al. (in press) population trend analyses did 
consider MZs. The WAFWA (2008, pp. 13-27) and Garton et al. (in press, 
pp. 22-62) reported that MZs I through VI had negative population 
trends from 1965 to 2007. All population trend analyses had similar 
results, with the exception of MZ VII (Table 5). However, this MZ has 
one of the highest proportions of inactive leks (Garton et al. in 
press, p. 65), which may imply that male numbers on the remaining leks 
are increasing as birds relocate. The analysis of this MZ also suffered 
from small sample sizes and therefore large confidence intervals 
(Garton et al. in press, p. 217), so the trend may not actually reflect 
the population status.

             Table 5--Long-term population trend estimates for greater sage-grouse Management Zones.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                               Population Trend
                                                       Population Trend    Population Trend   Estimates Based on
                                      States and        Estimates 1965-   Estimates Based on    Annual Rates of
               MZ                      Provinces      2003* (Connelly et    Annual Rates of    Change (%) 1965-
                                       Included            al. 2004)       Change (%) 1965-     2007 (Garton et
                                                                           2007(WAFWA 2008)      al. in press)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I                                 MT, WY, ND, SD,     Long-term decline   -2.9                -2.9
                                   SK, AL
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
II                                ID, WY, UT, CO      Long-term decline   -2.7                -3.5
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
III                               UT, NV, CA          Long-term decline   -2.2                -10**
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
IV                                ID, UT, NV, OR      Long-term decline   -3.8                -4**
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
V                                 OR, CA, NV          Change              -3.3                -2**
                                                       statistically
                                                       undetectable
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VI                                WA                  Long-term decline   -5.1                -6.5
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VII                               CO, UT              Change              No detectable       +34**
                                                       statistically       trend
                                                       undetectable
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*Average annual rate of change was not reported.
**Due to sample inadequacies for the statistical analyses used, only data from 1995 to 2007 could be used.

    Differences in the MZ trends observed between the three analyses 
are minimal, with the exception of MZs III, V, and VII. While the 
results of Connelly et al. (2004) and WAFWA (2008) were similar for MZ 
III, Garton et al. (in press) showed a larger rate of decline. This 
difference may be due to the shortened time period (12 versus 42 years) 
Garton et al. (in press) used for the analyses because some earlier 
data were not suitable for the statistical procedures used. This 
increased rate of decline was not observed for MZ IV where Garton et 
al.'s (in press) analyses also spanned only 12 years, suggesting that 
declines in MZ III may have recently accelerated. No explanation was 
offered by WAFWA (2008) about the difference between their analyses and 
Connelly et al. (2004) for MZ V. However, Garton et al. (in press) 
results are similar to WAFWA for the same area.
    The difference in the annual rate of change between Connelly et al. 
(2004) and WAFWA (2008) as compared to Garton et al. (in press) for MZ 
VII is substantial (Table 5). Garton et al. (in press) did not offer an 
explanation of this difference, but Connelly et al.

[[Page 13923]]

(2004; as cited by (Stiver et al. 2006, p. 1-7)) indicated population 
trends were increasing in this MZ, although those increases were not 
statistically significant. However, Garton et al. (in press, pp. 62-63) 
reported that the number of leks in MZ VII declined by 39 percent 
during the same analysis period. The increase in annual rate of change 
may simply reflect increases on remaining leks as habitat became more 
limited.
    In addition to calculating annual rates of change by MZ, Garton et 
al (in press) also reported the percent change in number of males per 
lek from 1965 to 2007, the percent change of active leks from 1965 to 
2007, and minimum male population estimates in 2007 (Table 6). The 
percent change in number of males per lek and the percent change in 
active leks reflect population declines, and possibly habitat loss in 
all MZs.

 Table 6--Minimum male greater sage-grouse population estimates in 2007,
 percent change in number of males per lek and percent change in number
 of active leks between 1965 and 2007 by Management Zone (from Garton et
                        al. in press, pp. 22-64).
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     Min Population   Percent Change in
                      Est in 2007         of     Percent Change
        MZ           ( of      Males per Lek     of Active Leks
                         males)          (1965-2007)       (1965-2007)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
             I             14,814                -17          -22
------------------------------------------------------------------------
            II             42,429                -30           -7
------------------------------------------------------------------------
           III              6,851                -24      -16 ***
------------------------------------------------------------------------
            IV             15,761                -54       -11***
------------------------------------------------------------------------
             V              6,925              -17**        -21**
------------------------------------------------------------------------
            VI                315                -76          -57
------------------------------------------------------------------------
           VII                241                -13         -39*
------------------------------------------------------------------------
*1995 to 2007 -- due to sample sizes, only data from this time period
  were used.
**1985 to 2007 -- due to sample sizes, only data from this time period
  were used.
***1975 to 2007 -- due to sample sizes, only data from this time period
  were used.

    In summary, since neither presettlement nor current numbers of 
sage-grouse are accurately known, the actual rate and magnitude of 
decline since presettlement times is uncertain. However, three groups 
of researchers using different statistical methods (but the same lek 
count data) concluded that rangewide greater sage-grouse have 
experienced long-term population declines in the past 43 years, with 
that decline lessening in the past 22 years. Many of these declines are 
the result of loss of leks (WAFWA 2008, p. 51), indicating either a 
direct loss of habitat or habitat function (Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 
2). A recent increase in the annual rate of change for MZ VII may 
simply be an anomaly of small population numbers, as other indicators 
suggest this area is suffering habitat losses. A delayed response of 
sage-grouse to changes in carrying capacity was identified by Garton et 
al. (in press, p.71).

Connectivity

    Greater sage-grouse are a landscape-scale species, requiring large 
expanses of sagebrush to meet all seasonal habitat requirements. The 
loss of habitat from fragmentation and conversion decreases the 
connectivity between seasonal habitats potentially resulting in the 
loss of the population (Doherty et al. 2008, p. 194). Loss of 
connectivity also can increase population isolation (Knick and Hanser 
in press, p. 4, and references therein) and, therefore, the probability 
of loss of genetic diversity and extirpation from stochastic events.
    Analyses of connectivity of greater sage-grouse across the 
sagebrush landscape were conducted by Knick and Hanser (in press, 
entire). Knick and Hanser (in press, p. 29) found that the average 
movement between population centers (leks) of sage-grouse rangewide was 
16.6 km (10.3 mi), with a standard deviation of 7.3 km (4.5 mi). Leks 
within 18 km (11.2 mi) of each other had common features when compared 
to leks further than this distance (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 17). 
Therefore, they used a distance of 18 km (11.2 mi) between leks to 
assess connectivity (movement between populations), but cautioned that 
this distance may not accurately reflect genetic flow, or lack thereof, 
between populations (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 28). Genetic 
evidence suggests that exchange of individual birds has not been 
restricted, although there is a gradation of allelic frequencies across 
the species' range (Oyler-McCance and Quinn, in press, p. 14). This 
result suggests that widespread movements (e.g., across several States) 
are not occurring.
    Population linkages primarily occurred within MZs, and connectivity 
between MZs was limited, with the exception of MZs I (Great Plains) and 
II (Wyoming Basin). Within MZs, the Wyoming Basin (MZ II) had the 
highest levels of connectivity, followed by MZ IV (Snake River Plain) 
and MZ I (Great Plains) (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 18). The MZ VI 
(Columbia Basin) and VII (Colorado Plateau) had the least internal 
connectivity, suggesting there was limited dispersal between leks and 
an existing relatively high degree of isolation (Knick and Hanser in 
press, p. 18). Areas along the edges of the sage-grouse range (e.g., 
Columbia Basin, Bi-State area) are currently isolated from other sage-
grouse populations (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 28).
    Connectivity between sage-grouse MZs and the populations within 
them declined across all three analysis periods examined: 1965-1974, 
1980-1989, and 1998-2007. The decline in connectivity was due to the 
loss of leks and reduced population size (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 
29). Historic leks with low connectivity also were lost (Knick and 
Hanser in press, p. 20), suggesting that current isolation of leks by 
distance (including habitat fragmentation) will likely result in their 
future loss (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 28). Small decreases in lek 
connectivity resulted in large increases in probability of lek 
abandonment (Knick and Hanser, in press, p. 29). Therefore, maintaining 
habitat connectivity and sage-grouse population numbers are essential 
for sage-grouse persistence.

[[Page 13924]]

    Sagebrush distribution was the most important factor in maintaining 
connectivity (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 32). This result suggests 
that any activities that remove or fragment sagebrush habitats will 
contribute to loss of connectivity and population isolation. This 
conclusion is consistent with research from both Aldridge et al. (2008, 
p. 988) and Wisdom et al. (in press, p. 13), which independently 
identified the proximity of sagebrush patches and area in sagebrush 
cover as the best predictors for sage-grouse presence.

Summary of Information Pertaining to the Five Factors

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and implementing regulations 
(50 CFR part 424) set forth procedures for adding species to the 
Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. In 
making this finding, we summarize below information regarding the 
status and threats to the greater sage-grouse in relation to the five 
factors provided in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. Under section (4) of 
the Act, we may determine a species to be endangered or threatened on 
the basis of any of the following five factors: (A) Present or 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or 
range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence. Our evaluation of threats is based 
on information provided in the petition, available in our files, and 
other sources considered to be the best scientific and commercial 
information available, including published and unpublished studies and 
reports.
    Differences in ecological conditions within each MZ affect the 
susceptibility of these areas to the various threats facing sagebrush 
ecosystems and its potential for restoration. For example, Centaurea 
diffusa (diffuse knapweed), an exotic annual weed, is most competitive 
within shrub-grassland communities where antelope bitterbrush is 
dominant (MZ VI), and Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) is more dominant in 
areas with minimal summer precipitation (MZs III and V) (Miller et al., 
in press, pp. 20-21). Therefore, we stratify our analyses by these MZs 
because they represent zones within which ecological variation is less 
than what it would be across the range of the species. This approach 
allows us to better assess the impact and benefits of actions occurring 
across the species' range and in turn more accurately assess the status 
of the species.

Factor A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Habitat or Range

    Several factors are contributing to the destruction, modification, 
or curtailment of the greater sage-grouse's habitat or range. Several 
recent studies have demonstrated that sagebrush area is one of the best 
landscape predictors of greater sage-grouse persistence (Aldridge et 
al. 2008, p. 987; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 191; Wisdom et al., in press, 
p. 17). Sagebrush habitats are becoming increasingly degraded and 
fragmented due to the impacts of multiple threats, including direct 
conversion, urbanization, infrastructure such as roads and powerlines 
built in support of several activities, wildfire and the change in 
wildfire frequency, incursion of invasive plants, grazing, and 
nonrenewable and renewable energy development. Many of these threat 
factors are exacerbated by the effects of climate change, which may 
influence long-term habitat trends.

Habitat Conversion for Agriculture

    Sagebrush is estimated to have covered roughly 120 million ha (296 
million ac; Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 365) in western North America, 
but large portions of that area have been cultivated for the production 
of agricultural crops (e.g., potatoes, wheat; Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 
16; 2000, p. 11). Western rangelands were converted to agricultural 
lands on a large scale beginning with the series of Homestead Acts in 
the 1800s (Braun 1998, p. 142, Hays et al. 1998, p. 26; Knick in press, 
p. 4; Knick et al. in press, p. 11), especially where suitable deep 
soil terrain and water were available (Rogers 1964, p.13, Schroeder and 
Vander Haegen, 2009, in press, p. 3). Connelly et al. (2004, p. 5-55) 
estimated that 24.9 million ha (61.5 million ac) within the sage-grouse 
conservation area (SGCA) used for their assessment area (historic range 
of Gunnison and greater sage-grouse plus a 50-km (31-mi) buffer) for 
sage-grouse is now comprised of agricultural lands, although some areas 
within the species' range are not sagebrush habitat, and the SGCA is 
larger than the sage-grouse current distribution. An estimated 10 
percent of sagebrush steppe that existed prior to EuroAmerican 
settlement has been converted to agriculture (Knick et al. in press, p. 
13). The remaining 90 percent is largely unsuited for agriculture 
because irrigation is not considered to be feasible, topography and 
soils are limiting, or temperatures are too extreme for many crops 
(West 1996 cited in Knick et al. in press, p. 13).
    Habitat conversion results in loss of habitat available for sage-
grouse use. The actual effect of this loss depends on the amount of 
sagebrush lost, the type of seasonal habitat affected, and the 
arrangement of habitat lost (large blocks or small patches) (Knick et 
al. in press, p. 15). Direct impacts to sage-grouse depend on the 
timing of conversion (e.g., loss of nests, eggs). Indirect effects of 
agricultural activities adjoining sagebrush habitats include increased 
predation with a resulting reduced sage-grouse nest success (Connelly 
et al. 2004, p. 7-23), increased human presence, and habitat 
fragmentation.
    To estimate the area possibly influenced by these indirect effects, 
Knick et al. (in press, p. 13) applied a ``high effective buffer'' out 
to 6.9 km (4.3 mi) from agricultural lands, based on foraging distances 
of synathropic (ecologically associated with humans) predators (e.g. 
red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and ravens (Corvus corax)). Given the 
distribution of agricultural activities across the sagebrush range, 
nearly three quarters of all sagebrush within range of sage-grouse has 
been influenced by agricultural activities (falls within the high 
effective buffer) (Knick et al. in press, p. 13). This influence 
includes foraging distances for synathropic predators (Leu et al. 2008, 
p. 1120; Knick et al. in press, p. 13), and associated features such as 
irrigation ditches. Extensive conversion of sagebrush to agriculture 
within a landscape has decreased abundance of sage-grouse in many 
portions of their range (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 30, and 
references therein).
    Soil associations have resulted in disproportionate levels of 
habitat conversion across different sagebrush communities. For example, 
Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana is found at lower elevations, in 
soils that retain moisture 2 to 4 weeks longer than in well-drained, 
but dry and higher elevation soils typical of A. t. ssp. wyomingensis 
locations. Therefore, sagebrush communities dominated by basin big 
sagebrush (A. t. ssp. tridentata) have been converted to agriculture 
more extensively than have communities on poorer soil sites (Winward 
2004, p. 29) (also see discussion below).
    Large losses of sagebrush shrub-steppe habitats due to agricultural 
conversion have occurred in some areas within the range of the greater 
sage-grouse. This loss has been especially apparent in the Columbia 
Basin of the Northwest (MZ VI), the Snake River Plain of Idaho (MZ IV) 
(Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 370), and the Great Plains (MZ

[[Page 13925]]

I) (Knick et al. in press, p. 13). Hironaka et al. (1983, p. 27) 
estimated that 99 percent of basin big sagebrush habitat in the Snake 
River Plain has been converted to cropland. Between 1975 and 1992 
alone, 29,762 ha (73,543 ac) of sagebrush habitat were converted to 
cropland on the Upper Snake River Plain, a 74-percent increase in 
cropland (Leonard et al. 2000, p. 268). The loss of this primarily 
winter sage-grouse habitat is significantly related to subsequent sage-
grouse declines (Leonard et al. 2000, p. 268).
    Prior to EuroAmerican settlement in the 19th century, Washington 
had an estimated 42 million ha (103.8 million ac) of shrub-steppe 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-22). Approximately 60 percent of the 
original shrub-steppe habitat in Washington has been converted to 
primarily agricultural uses (Dobler 1994, p. 2). Deep soils supporting 
shrub-steppe communities in Washington within sage-grouse range 
continue to be converted to agricultural uses (Vander Haegen et al. 
2000, p. 1156), resulting in habitat loss. Agriculture is the dominant 
land cover within sagebrush areas of Washington (42 percent) and Idaho 
(19 percent) (Miller et al., in press, p. 18). In north-central Oregon 
(MZ V), approximately 2.6 million ha (6.4 million ac) of habitat were 
converted for agricultural purposes, essentially eliminating sage-
grouse from this area (Willis et al. 1993, p. 35). More broadly, across 
the interior Columbia Basin of southern Idaho, northern Utah, northern 
Nevada, eastern Oregon (MZ IV), and Washington, approximately 6 million 
ha (14.8 million ac) of shrub-steppe habitat has been converted to 
agricultural crops (Altman and Holmes 2000, p. 10).
    Braun concluded that development of irrigation projects to support 
agricultural production in areas where soils were sufficient to support 
agriculture, in some cases conjointly with hydroelectric dam 
construction, has resulted in additional sage-grouse habitat loss 
(Braun 1998, p. 142). The reservoirs formed by these projects impacted 
native shrub-steppe habitat adjacent to the rivers in addition to 
supporting the irrigation and direct conversion of shrub-steppe lands 
to agriculture. The projects precipitated conversion of large expanses 
of upland shrub-steppe habitat in the Columbia Basin for irrigated 
agriculture (65 FR 51578). The creation of these reservoirs also 
inundated hundreds of kilometers of riparian habitats used by sage-
grouse broods (Braun 1998, p. 144). However, other small and isolated 
reclamation projects (4,000 to 8,000 ha (10,000 to 20,000 ac)) were 
responsible for three-fold localized increases in sage-grouse 
populations (Patterson 1952, pp. 266-274) by providing water in a 
semiarid environment, which provided additional insect and forb food 
resources (e.g., Eden Reclamation Project in Wyoming). Benefits of 
providing water through agricultural activities may now be negated due 
to the threat of West Nile virus (WNv) (Walker et al. 2004, p. 4).
    Five percent of the areas occupied by Great Basin sagebrush have 
been converted to agriculture, urban or industrial areas (MZs III and 
IV) (Miller et al. in press, p. 18). Five percent has also been 
converted in the wheatgrass-needlegrass-shrubsteppe (MZ II, primarily 
in north-central Wyoming) (Miller et al., in press, p. 18). In 
sagebrush-steppe habitats, 14 percent of sagebrush habitats had been 
converted to agriculture, urban or industrial activities (MZs II, IV, 
V, and VI) (Miller et al., in press, pp. 17-18). Nineteen percent of 
the Great Plains area (MZ I) has been converted to agriculture (Knick 
et al. in press, p. 13). Conversions for sagebrush habitat types by 
State are detailed in Table 7.

 Table 7--Current sagebrush-steppe habitat and agricultural lands within
     Great Basin sagebrush (as derived from LANDFIRE 2006 vegetation
           coverage) (from Miller et al. in press, pp. 17-18).
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Percent
              State                Percent Sagebrush      Agriculture
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Washington                        23.7                42.4
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Montana                           56.2*               7.5*
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Wyoming                           66.0*               3.4*
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Idaho                             55.0                18.6
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Oregon                            64.5                8.6
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Nevada                            58.7                1.3
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Utah                              37.6                9.7
------------------------------------------------------------------------
California                        49.8                8.0
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Colorado                          40.6*               11.8*
------------------------------------------------------------------------
TOTAL                             55.4                10.0
------------------------------------------------------------------------
*Analyses did not include sagebrush lands in the eastern portions of
  Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming.

    Aldridge et al. (2008, pp. 990-991) reported that sage-grouse 
extirpations were more likely to occur in areas where cultivated crops 
exceeded 25 percent. Their results supported the conclusions of others 
(e.g., Schroeder 1997, p. 934; Braun 1998, p. 142; Aldridge and Brigham 
2003, p. 30) that extensive cultivation and fragmentation of native 
habitats have been associated with sage-grouse population declines. 
Wisdom et al. (in press, p. 4) identified environmental factors 
associated with the regional extirpation of sage-grouse. Areas still 
occupied by sage-grouse have three times less area in agriculture and a 
mean human density 26 times lower than extirpated areas (Wisdom et al., 
in press, p. 13). While sage-grouse may forage on agricultural crops 
(see discussion below), they avoid landscapes dominated by agriculture 
(Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 991). Conversions to croplands in southern 
Idaho have resulted in isolation of sagebrush-dominated landscapes into 
less productive regions north and south

[[Page 13926]]

of the Snake River Plain (Knick et al. 2003, p. 618). Therefore, 
formerly continuous populations in this area are now disconnected 
(Knick and Hanser in press, p. 52).
    Sagebrush habitat continues to be converted for both dryland and 
irrigated crop production (Montana Farm Services Agency (FSA) in litt, 
2009; Braun 1998, p. 142; 65 FR 51578, August 24, 2000). The increasing 
value of wheat and corn crops has driven new conversions in recent 
years. For example, the acres of sagebrush converted to tilled 
agriculture in Montana increased annually from 2005 to 2009, with 
approximately 10,259 ha (25,351 ac) converted, primarily in the eastern 
two-thirds of the State (MZ I) (Montana FSA in litt, 2009). In 
addition, in 2008, a single conversion in central Montana totaled 
between 3,345 and 10,000 ha (10,000 and 30,000 ac) (MZ I) (Hanebury 
2008a, pers. comm.). Other large conversions occurred in the same part 
of Montana in 2008, although these were unquantified (Hanebury 2008b, 
pers. comm.). We were unable to gather any further information on crop 
conversions of sagebrush habitats as there are no systematic efforts to 
collect State or local data on conversion rates in the majority of the 
greater sage-grouse range (GAO 2007, p. 16).
    In addition to crop conversion for traditional crops, recent 
interest in the development of crops for use as biofuels could 
potentially impact sage-grouse. For example, the 2008 Farm Bill 
authorized the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which provides 
financial incentives to agricultural producers that establish and 
produce eligible crops for conversion to bioenergy products (U.S. 
Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2009b, p. 1). Further loss of 
sagebrush habitats due to BCAP will negatively impact sage-grouse 
populations. However, currently we have no way of predicting the 
magnitude of BCAP impacts to sage-grouse (see discussion under Factor 
D, below).
    Although conversion of shrub-steppe habitat to agricultural crops 
impacts sage-grouse through the loss of sagebrush on a broad scale, 
some studies report the use of agricultural crops (e.g., alfalfa) by 
sage-grouse. When alfalfa fields and other croplands are adjacent to 
extant sagebrush habitat, sage-grouse have been observed feeding in 
these fields, especially during brood-rearing (Patterson 1952, p. 203; 
Rogers 1964, p. 53; Wallestad 1971, p. 134; Connelly et al. 1988, 
p.120; Fischer et al. 1997, p. 89). Connelly et al. (1988, p. 120) 
reported seasonal movements of sage-grouse to agricultural crops as 
sagebrush habitats desiccated during the summer. However, use of 
irrigated crops may not be beneficial to greater sage-grouse if it 
increases exposure to pesticides (Knick et al. in press, p. 16) and WNv 
(Walker et al. 2004, p. 4).
    Some conversion of cropland to sagebrush has occurred in former 
sage-grouse habitats through the USDA's voluntary Conservation Reserve 
Program (CRP) which pays landowners a rental fee to plant permanent 
vegetation on portions of their lands, taking them out of agricultural 
production. In Washington State (Columbia Basin, MZ VI), sage-grouse 
have declined precipitously in the Columbia Basin largely due to 
conversion of sagebrush habitats to cropland (Schroeder and Vander 
Haegen, in press, p. 4). Approximately 599,314 ha (1,480,937 ac) of 
converted farmland had been enrolled in the CRP, almost all of which 
was historically shrub-steppe (Schroeder and Vander Haegen in press, p. 
5). Schroeder and Vander Haegen (in press, p. 20) found that CRP lands 
that have been out of production long enough to allow re-establishment 
of sagebrush and was juxtaposed to a relatively intact shrub-steppe 
landscape was most beneficial to sage-grouse. There appears to be some 
correlation with sage-grouse use of CRP and a slight increase in 
population size in north-central Washington (Schroeder and Vander 
Haegen in press, p. 21). Schroeder and Vander Haegen (in press, p. 21) 
concluded that the loss of CRP due to expiration of the program or 
incentives to produce biofuels would likely severely impact populations 
in the Columbia Basin.
    Although estimates of the numbers of acres enrolled rangewide in 
CRP (and the number of acres soon to expire from CRP) are available, 
the extent of cropland conversion to habitats beneficial to sage-grouse 
(i.e., CRP lands planted with native grasses, forbs, and shrubs) is not 
known for any other area barring the Columbia Basin. Thus, outside this 
area, we cannot judge the overall impact of CRP land to sage-grouse 
persistence.
    Direct habitat loss and conversion also occurs via numerous other 
landscape uses, including urbanization, livestock forage production, 
road building, and oil pads. These activities are described in greater 
detail below. Although we were unable to obtain an estimate of the 
total amount of sagebrush habitats that have been lost due to these 
activities, they have resulted in habitat fragmentation, as well as 
habitat loss.

Urbanization

    Low densities of indigenous peoples have been present for more than 
12,000 years in the historical range of sage-grouse. By 1900, less than 
1 person per km\2\ (1 person per 0.4 mi\2\) resided in 51 percent of 
the 325 counties within the SGCA, and densities greater than 10 persons 
per km\2\ (10 persons per 0.4 mi\2\) occurred in 4 percent of the 
counties (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-24). By 2000, counties with less 
than 1 person per km\2\ (1 person per 0.4 mi\2\) occurred in 31 percent 
of the 325 counties and densities greater than 10 persons per km\2\ (10 
persons per 0.4 mi\2\) occurred in 22 percent of the counties (Connelly 
et al. 2004, p. 7-25). Today, the Columbia Basin (MZ VI) has the 
highest density of humans while the Great Plains (MZ I) and Wyoming 
Basin (MZ II) have the lowest (Knick et al. in press, p. 19). Growth in 
the Great Plains (MZ I) continues to be slower than other areas. For 
example, population densities have increased since 1990 by 7 percent in 
the Great Plains (MZ I), by 19 percent in the Wyoming Basin (MZ II), 
and by 31 percent in the Colorado Plateau (MZ VII) (Knick et al. in 
press, p. 19).
    The dominant urban areas in the sage-grouse range are located in 
the Bear River Valley of Utah, the portion of Bonneville Basin 
southeast of the Great Salt Lake, the Snake River Valley of southern 
Idaho, and the Columbia River Valley of Washington (Rand McNally Road 
Atlas 2003; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-25). Overall, approximately 1 
percent of the amount of potential sagebrush (estimated historic range) 
is now covered by lands classified as urban (Miller et al., in press, 
p. 18).
    Knick et al (in press, p. 107) examined the influence of 
urbanization on greater sage-grouse MZs by adding a 6.9-km (4.3-mi) 
buffer (an estimate of the foraging distances of mammalian and corvid 
predators of sage-grouse) to the total area of urban land use. Based 
the estimates using this approach, the Columbia Basin (MZ VI) was 
influenced the most by urbanization with 48.4 percent of the sagebrush 
area affected. The Northern Great Basin (MZ V) was influenced least 
with 12.5 percent affected. Wyoming Basin (MZ II), which has the 
majority of sage-grouse in the range, was at 18.4 percent affected.
    Since 1950, the western U.S. population growth rate has exceeded 
the national average (Leu and Hanser in press, p. 4). This growth has 
led to increases in urban, suburban, and rural development. Rural 
development has increased especially rapidly in recent decades. For 
example, the amount of uninhabited area in the Great Basin

[[Page 13927]]

ecoregion has decreased from 90,000 km\2\ (34,749 mi\2\) in 1990 to 
less than 12,000 km\2\ (4,633 mi\2\) in 2004 (Knick et al. in press, p. 
20). Urbanization has directly eliminated some sage-grouse habitat 
(Braun 1998, p. 145). Interrelated effects from urbanization include 
construction of associated infrastructure (e.g., roads, powerlines, and 
pipelines) and predation threats from the introduction of domestic pets 
and increases in predators subsidized by human activities. In 
particular, municipal solid waste landfills (landfills) and roads have 
been shown to contribute to increases in common raven (Corvus corax) 
populations (Knight et al. 1993 p. 470; Restani et al. 2001, p. 403; 
Webb et al. 2004, p. 523). Ravens are known to be an important predator 
on sage-grouse nests and have been considered a restraint on sage-
grouse population growth in some locations (Batterson and Morse 1948, 
p. 14; Autenrieth 1981, p. 45; Coates 2007, p. 26). Landfills (and 
roads) are found in every State within the greater sage-grouse range 
and a number of these are located within or adjacent to sage-grouse 
habitat.
    Recent changes in demographic and economic trends have resulted in 
greater than 60 percent of the Rocky Mountain West's counties 
experiencing rural sprawl where rural areas are outpacing urban areas 
in growth (Theobald 2003, p. 3). In some Colorado counties, up to 50 
percent of sage-grouse habitat is under rural subdivision development, 
and an estimated 3 to 5 percent of all sage-grouse historical habitat 
in Colorado has already been converted into urban areas (Braun 1998, p. 
145). We are unaware of similar estimates for other States within the 
range of the greater sage-grouse and, therefore, cannot determine the 
effects of this factor on a rangewide basis. Rural development has 
increasingly taken the form of low-density (approximately 6 to 25 homes 
per km\2\ (6 to 25 homes per 0.4 mi\2\)) home development or exurban 
growth (Hansen et al. 2005, p. 1894). Between 1990 and 2000, 120,000 
km\2\ (46,332 mi\2\) of land were developed at exurban densities 
nationally (Theobald 2001, p. 553). However, this value includes 
development nationwide, and we are unable to report values specifically 
for sagebrush habitats. However, within the Great Basin (including 
California, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah), human populations have increased 
69 percent and uninhabited areas declined by 86 percent between 1990 
and 2004 (Leu and Hanser in press, p. 19). Similar to higher density 
urbanization, exurban development has the potential to negatively 
affect sage-grouse populations through fragmentation or other indirect 
habitat loss, increased infrastructure, and increased predation.
    In modeling sage-grouse persistence, Aldridge et al. (2008, pp. 
991-992) found that the density of humans in 1950 was the best 
predictor of sage-grouse extirpation among the human population metrics 
considered (including increasing human population growth). Sage-grouse 
extirpation was more likely in areas having a moderate human population 
density of at least 4 people per km\2\ (4 people per 0.4 mi\2\). 
Increasing human populations were not a good predictor of sage-grouse 
persistence, most likely because much of the growth occurred in areas 
that are already no longer suitable for sage-grouse. Aldridge et al. 
(2008, p. 990) also reported that, based on their models, sage-grouse 
require a minimum of 25 percent sagebrush for persistence in an area. A 
high probability of persistence required 65 percent sagebrush or more. 
This result is similar to the results by Wisdom et al. (in press, p. 
18) who reported that human density was 26 times greater in extirpated 
sage-grouse areas than in currently occupied range. Therefore, human 
population growth that results in exurban development in sagebrush 
habitats will reduce the likelihood of sage-grouse persistence in the 
area. Given the current demographic and economic trends in the Rocky 
Mountain West, we believe that rates of urbanization will continue 
increasing, resulting in further habitat fragmentation and degradation 
and decreasing the probability of long-term sage-grouse persistence.

Infrastructure in Sagebrush Habitats

    Habitat fragmentation is the separation or splitting apart of 
previously contiguous, functional habitat components of a species. 
Fragmentation can result from direct habitat losses that leave the 
remaining habitat in noncontiguous patches, or from alteration of 
habitat areas that render the altered patches unusable to a species 
(i.e., functional habitat loss). Functional habitat losses include 
disturbances that change a habitat's successional state or remove one 
or more habitat functions; physical barriers that preclude use of 
otherwise suitable areas; and activities that prevent animals from 
using suitable habitat patches due to behavioral avoidance.
    Sagebrush communities exhibit a high degree of variation in their 
resistance and resilience to change, beyond natural variation. 
Resistance (the ability to withstand disturbing forces without 
changing) and resilience (the ability to recover once altered) 
generally increase with increasing moisture and decreasing 
temperatures, and also can be linked to soil characteristics (Connelly 
et al. 2004, p. 13-6). However, most extant sagebrush habitat has been 
altered since European immigrant settlement of the West (Baker et al. 
1976, p. 168; Braun 1998, p. 140; Knick et al. 2003, p. 612; Connelly 
et al. 2004, p. 13-6), and sagebrush habitat continues to be fragmented 
and lost (Knick et al. 2003, p. 614) through the factors described 
below. The cumulative effects of habitat fragmentation have not been 
quantified over the range of sagebrush and most fragmentation cannot be 
attributed to specific land uses (Knick et al. 2003, p. 616). However, 
in large-scale analysis of the collective effect of anthropogenic 
features (or the ``human footprint'') in the western United States, Leu 
et al. (2008, p. 1130) found that 13 percent of the area was affected 
in some way by anthropogenic features (i.e., fragmentation). Areas with 
the lowest ``human footprint'' (i.e., no to slight development or use) 
experienced above-average human population growth between 1990 and 
2000. There is significant evidence these areas will experience 
increasing habitat fragmentation in the future (Leu et al. 2008, p. 
1133). Although the area covered by these estimates includes all 
western states, we believe the general points regarding effects of 
anthropogenic features apply to sage-grouse habitat.
    Fragmentation of sagebrush habitats has been cited as a primary 
cause of the decline of sage-grouse populations because the species 
requires large expanses of contiguous sagebrush (Patterson 1952, pp. 
192-193; Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 4; Braun 1998, p. 140; Johnson and 
Braun 1999, p. 78; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 975; Miller and Eddleman 
2000, p. 1; Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 29; Johnsgard 2002, p. 108; 
Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 25; Beck et al. 2003, p. 203; Pedersen et 
al. 2003, pp. 23-24; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-15; Schroeder et al. 
2004, p. 368; Leu et al. in press, p. 19). The negative effects of 
habitat fragmentation have been well documented in numerous bird 
species, including some shrub-steppe obligates (Knick and Rotenberry 
1995, pp. 1068-1069). However, prior to 2005, detailed data to assess 
how fragmentation influences specific greater sage-grouse life-history 
parameters such as productivity, density, and home range were not 
available. More recently, several studies have documented negative 
effects of fragmentation as a

[[Page 13928]]

result of oil and gas development and its associated infrastructure 
(see discussion of Energy Development below) on lek persistence, lek 
attendance, winter habitat use, recruitment, yearling annual survival 
rate, and female nest site choice (Holloran 2005, p. 49; Aldridge and 
Boyce 2007, pp. 517-523; Walker et al. 2007a, pp. 2651-2652; Doherty et 
al. 2008, p. 194). Wisdom et al. (in press, p. 18) reported that a 
variety of human developments, including roads, energy development, and 
other factors that contribute to habitat fragmentation have contributed 
to or been associated with sage-grouse extirpation. Estimating the 
impact of habitat fragmentation on sage-grouse is complicated by time 
lags in response to habitat changes (Garton et al., in press, p. 71), 
particularly since these long-lived birds will continue to return to 
altered breeding areas (leks, nesting areas, and early brood-rearing 
areas) due to strong site fidelity despite nesting or productivity 
failures (Wiens and Rotenberry 1985, p. 666).
Powerlines
    Power grids were first constructed in the United States in the late 
1800s. The public demand for electricity has grown as human population 
and industrial activities have expanded (Manville 2002, p. 5), 
resulting in more than 804,500 km (500,000 mi) of transmission lines 
(lines carrying greater than 115,000 volts (115 kilovolts (kV)) by 2002 
within the United States (Manville 2002, p. 4). A similar estimate is 
not available for distribution lines (lines carrying less than 
69,000volts (69kV)), and we are not aware of data for Canada. Within 
the SGCA, Knick et al. (in press, p. 21) showed that powerlines cover a 
minimum of 1,089km\2\ (420.5 mi).
    Due to the potential spread of invasive species and predators as a 
result of powerline construction the impact from the powerline is 
greater than the actual footprint. Knick et al. (in press, p. 111) 
estimated these impacts may influence up to 39 percent of all sagebrush 
in the SGCA. Powerlines can directly affect greater sage-grouse by 
posing a collision and electrocution hazard (Braun 1998, pp. 145-146; 
Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974), and can have indirect effects by 
decreasing lek recruitment (Braun et al. 2002, p. 10), increasing 
predation (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 13-12), fragmenting habitat (Braun 
1998, p. 146), and facilitating the invasion of exotic annual plants 
(Knick et al. 2003, p. 612; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-25). In 1939, 
three adult sage-grouse died as a result of colliding with a telegraph 
line in Utah (Borell 1939, p. 85). Both Braun (1998, p. 145) and 
Connelly et al. (2000a, p. 974) report that sage-grouse collisions with 
powerlines occur, although no specific instances were presented. There 
was also an unpublished observation reported by Aldridge and Brigham 
(2003, p. 31). In 2009, two sage-grouse died from electrocution after 
colliding with a powerline in the Mono Basin of California (Gardner 
2009, pers. comm.). We were unable to find any other documentation of 
other collisions or electrocution of sage-grouse resulting from 
powerlines.
    In areas where the vegetation is low and the terrain relatively 
flat, power poles provide an attractive hunting and roosting perch, as 
well as nesting stratum for many species of raptors and corvids 
(Steenhof et al. 1993, p. 27; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974; Manville 
2002, p. 7; Vander Haegen et al. 2002, p. 503). Power poles increase a 
raptor's range of vision, allow for greater speed during attacks on 
prey, and serve as territorial markers (Steenhof et al. 1993, p. 275; 
Manville 2002, p. 7). Raptors may actively seek out power poles where 
natural perches are limited. For example, within 1 year of construction 
of a 596-km (372.5-mi) transmission line in southern Idaho and Oregon, 
raptors and common ravens began nesting on the supporting poles 
(Steenhof et al. 1993, p. 275). Within 10 years of construction, 133 
pairs of raptors and ravens were nesting along this stretch (Steenhof 
et al. 1993, p. 275). Raven counts have increased by approximately 200 
percent along the Falcon-Gondor transmission line corridor in Nevada 
within 5 years of construction (Atamian et al. 2007, p. 2). The 
increased abundance of raptors and corvids within occupied sage-grouse 
habitats can result in increased predation. Ellis (1985, p. 10) 
reported that golden eagle (Aquila chryrsaetos) predation on sage-
grouse on leks increased from 26 to 73 percent of the total predation 
after completion of a transmission line within 200 meters (m) (220 
yards (yd)) of an active sage-grouse lek in northeastern Utah. The lek 
was eventually abandoned, and Ellis (1985, p. 10) concluded that the 
presence of the powerline resulted in changes in sage-grouse dispersal 
patterns and caused fragmentation of the habitat.
    Leks within 0.4 km (0.25 mi) of new powerlines constructed for 
coalbed methane development in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming had 
significantly lower growth rates, as measured by recruitment of new 
males onto the lek, compared to leks further from these lines, which 
were presumed to be the result of increased raptor predation (Braun et 
al. 2002, p. 10). Within the SGCA, Connelly et al. (2004, p. 7-26) 
estimated that the area potentially influenced by additional perches 
for corvids and raptors provided by powerlines, assuming a 5- to 6.9-km 
(3.1- to 4.3-mi) radius buffer around the perches based on the average 
foraging distance of these predators, was 672,644 to 837,390 km\2\ 
(259,641 to 323,317 mi\2\), or 32 to 40 percent of the SGCA. The actual 
impact on the area would depend on corvid and raptor densities within 
the area, the amount of cover to reduce predation risk at sage-grouse 
nests, and other factors (see discussion in Factor C, below).
    The presence of a powerline may fragment sage-grouse habitats even 
if raptors are not present. Braun (1998, p. 146) found that use of 
otherwise suitable habitat by sage-grouse near powerlines increased as 
distance from the powerline increased for up to 600 m (660 yd) and, 
based on that unpublished data, reported that the presence of 
powerlines may limit sage-grouse use within 1 km (0.6 mi) in otherwise 
suitable habitat. Similar results were recorded for other grouse 
species. Pruett et al. (2009, p. 6) found that lesser and greater 
prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus and T. cupido, 
respectively) avoided otherwise suitable habitat near powerlines. 
Additionally, both species also crossed powerlines less often than 
nearby roads, which suggests that powerlines are a particularly strong 
barrier to movement (Pruett et al. 2009, p. 6).
    Sage-grouse also may avoid powerlines as a result of the 
electromagnetic fields (Wisdom et al. in press, p. 19). Electromagnetic 
fields have been demonstrated to alter the behavior, physiology, 
endocrine systems, and immune function in birds, with negative 
consequences on reproduction and development (Fernie and Reynolds 2005, 
p. 135). Birds are diverse in their sensitivities to electromagnetic 
field exposures, with domestic chickens being very sensitive. Many 
raptor species are less affected (Fernie and Reynolds 2005, p. 135).
    Linear corridors through sagebrush habitats can facilitate the 
spread of invasive species, such as Bromus tectorum (Gelbard and Belnap 
2003, pp. 424-426; Knick et al. 2003, p. 620; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
1-2). However, we were unable to find any information regarding the 
amount of invasive species incursion as a result of powerline 
construction.
    Powerlines are common to nearly every type of anthropogenic habitat 
use, except perhaps some forms of agricultural development (e.g., 
livestock grazing) and fire. Although we were

[[Page 13929]]

unable to find an estimate of all future proposed powerlines within 
currently occupied sage-grouse habitats, we anticipate that powerlines 
will continue to increase into the foreseeable future, particularly 
given the increasing development of energy resources and urban areas. 
For example, up to 8,579 km (5,311 mi) of new powerlines are predicted 
for the development of the Powder River Basin coal-bed methane field in 
northeastern Wyoming (BLM 2003) in addition to the approximately 9,656 
km (6,000 mi) already constructed in that area. In November 2009, nine 
Federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding to expedite the 
building of new transmission lines on Federal lands. If these lines 
cross sage-grouse habitats, sage-grouse will likely be negatively 
affected.
Communication Towers
    Within sage-grouse habitats, 9,510 new communication towers have 
been constructed within recent years (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 13-7). 
While millions of birds are killed annually in the United States 
through collisions with communication towers and their associated 
structures (e.g., guy wires, lights) (Shire et al. 2000, p. 5; Manville 
2002, p. 10), most documented mortalities are of migratory songbirds. 
We were unable to determine if any sage-grouse mortalities occur as a 
result of collision with communication towers or their supporting 
structures, as most towers are not monitored and those that are lie 
outside the range of the species (Kerlinger 2000, p. 2; Shire et al. 
2000 p. 19). Cellular towers have the potential to cause sage-grouse 
mortality via collisions, to influence movements through avoidance of a 
tall structure (Wisdom et al. in press, p. 20), or to provide perches 
for corvids and raptors (Steenhof et al. 1993, p. 275; Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 13-7).
    In a comparison of sage-grouse locations in extirpated areas of 
their range (as determined by museum species and historical 
observations) and currently occupied habitats, the distance to cellular 
towers was nearly twice as far from grouse locations in currently 
occupied habitats than extirpated areas (Wisdom et al. in press, p. 
13). The results may have been influenced by location as many cellular 
towers are close to intensive human development. However, such 
associations with other indicators of development and cellular towers 
were low (Wisdom et al. in press, p. 20). High levels of 
electromagnetic radiation within 500 m (547 yd) of all towers have been 
linked to decreased populations and reproductive performance of some 
bird and amphibian species (Wisdom et al. in press, p. 19, and 
references therein). We do not know if greater sage-grouse are 
negatively impacted by electromagnetic radiation, or if their avoidance 
of these structures is a response to increased predation risk.
Fences
    Fences are used to delineate property boundaries and for livestock 
management (Braun 1998, p. 145; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974). The 
effects of fencing on sage-grouse include direct mortality through 
collisions, creation of predator (raptor) and corvid perch sites, the 
potential creation of predator corridors along fences (particularly if 
a road is maintained next to the fence), incursion of exotic species 
along the fencing corridor, and habitat fragmentation (Call and Maser 
1985, p. 22; Braun 1998, p. 145; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974; Beck et 
al. 2003, p. 211; Knick et al. 2003, p. 612; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
1-2).
    More than 1,000 km (625 mi) of fences were constructed annually in 
sagebrush habitats from 1996 through 2002, mostly in Montana, Nevada, 
Oregon, and Wyoming (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-34). Over 51,000 km 
(31,690 mi) of fences were constructed on BLM lands supporting sage-
grouse populations between 1962 and 1997 (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 
974). Sage-grouse frequently fly low and fast across sagebrush flats, 
and fences can create a collision hazard (Call and Maser 1985, p. 22). 
Thirty-six carcasses of sage-grouse were found near Randolph, Utah, 
along a 3.2-km (2-mi) fence within 3 months of its construction (Call 
and Maser 1985, p. 22). Twenty-one incidents of mortality through fence 
collisions near Pinedale, Wyoming, were reported in 2003 to the BLM 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 13-12). A recent study in Wyoming confirmed 
146 sage-grouse fence strike mortalities over a 31-month period along a 
7.6-km (4.6-mi) stretch of 3-wire BLM range fence (Christiansen 2009).
    Not all fences present the same mortality risk to sage-grouse. 
Mortality risk appears to be dependent on a combination of factors 
including design of fencing, landscape topography, and spatial 
relationship with seasonal habitats (Christiansen 2009, unpublished 
data). Although the effects of direct strike mortality on populations 
are not understood, fences are ubiquitous across the landscape. In many 
parts of the sage-grouse range (primarily Montana, Nevada, Oregon, 
Wyoming) fences exceed densities of more than 2 km/km\2\ (1.2 mi/0.4 
mi\2\; Knick et al. in press, p. 32). Fence collisions continue to be 
identified as a source of mortality for sage-grouse, and we expect this 
source of mortality to continue into the foreseeable future (Braun 
1998, p. 145; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974; Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, 
p. 330; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-3).
    Fence posts create perching places for raptors and corvids, which 
may increase their ability to prey on sage-grouse (Braun 1998, p. 145; 
Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, p. 330; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 13-12). We 
anticipate that the effect on sage-grouse populations through the 
creation of new raptor perches and predator corridors into sagebrush 
habitats is similar to that of powerlines discussed previously (Braun 
1998, p. 145; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-3). Fences and their 
associated roads also facilitate the spread of invasive plant species 
that replace sagebrush plants upon which sage-grouse depend (Braun 
1998, p. 145; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 973; Gelbard and Belnap 2003, 
p. 421; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-3). Greater sage-grouse avoidance of 
habitat adjacent to fences, presumably to minimize the risk of 
predation, effectively results in habitat fragmentation even if the 
actual habitat is not removed (Braun 1998, p. 145).
Roads
    Interstate highways and major paved roads cover approximately 2,500 
km\2\ (965 mi\2\) or 0.1 percent of the SGCA (Knick et al. in press, p. 
21). Based on applying a 7-km (4.3-mi) buffer to estimate the potential 
impact of secondary effects from roads, interstates and highways are 
estimated to influence 851,044 km\2\ (328,590 mi\2\) or 41 percent of 
the SGCA. Additionally, secondary paved roads are heavily distributed 
throughout most of the SGCA, existing at densities of up to greater 
than 5 km/km\2\ (3.1 mi/mi\2\). Taken together, 95 percent of all sage-
grouse habitats were within 2.5 km (1.5 mi) of a mapped road, and 
almost no area of sagebrush was greater the 6.9 km (4.3 mi) from a 
mapped road (Knick et al. in press, p. 21).
    Impacts from roads may include direct habitat loss, direct 
mortality, barriers to migration corridors or seasonal habitats, 
facilitation of predators and spread of invasive vegetative species, 
and other indirect influences such as noise (Forman and Alexander 1998, 
pp. 207-231). Sage-grouse mortality resulting from collisions with 
vehicles does occur (Patterson 1952, p. 81), but mortalities are 
typically not monitored or recorded. Therefore, we are unable to 
determine the importance of this factor on sage-grouse populations. 
Data regarding how roads affect seasonal habitat availability

[[Page 13930]]

for individual sage-grouse populations by creating barriers and the 
ability of greater sage-grouse to reach these areas were not available. 
Road development within Gunnison sage-grouse (C. minimus) habitats 
impeded movement of local populations between the resultant patches, 
with grouse road avoidance presumably being a behavioral means to limit 
exposure to predation (Oyler-McCance et al. 2001, p. 330).
    Roads can provide corridors for predators to move into previously 
unoccupied areas. For some mammalian species, dispersal along roads has 
greatly increased their distribution (Forman and Alexander 1998, p. 
212; Forman 2000, p. 33). Corvids also use linear features such as 
primary and secondary roads as travel routes, expanding their movements 
into previously unused regions (Knight and Kawashima 1993, p. 268; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 12-3). In an analysis of anthropogenic 
impacts, at least 58 percent of the SGCA had a high or medium estimated 
presence of corvids (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 12-6). Corvids are 
important sage-grouse nest predators and in a study in Nevada were 
positively identified via video recorder as responsible for more than 
50 percent of nest predations in the study area (Coates 2007, pp. 26-
30). Bui (2009, p. 31) documented ravens following roads in oil and gas 
fields during foraging. Additionally, highway rest areas provide a 
source of food and perches for corvids and raptors, and facilitate 
their movements into surrounding areas (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-25).
    The presence of roads increases human access and resulting 
disturbance effects in remote areas (Forman and Alexander 1998, p. 221; 
Forman 2000, p. 35; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-6 to 7-25). Increases 
in legal and illegal hunting activities resulting from the use of roads 
built into sagebrush habitats have been documented (Hornaday 1916, p. 
183; Patterson 1952, p. vi). However, the actual current effect of 
these increased activities on sage-grouse populations has not been 
determined. Roads also may facilitate access for rangeland habitat 
treatments, such as disking or mowing (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-25), 
resulting in subsequent direct habitat losses. New roads are being 
constructed to support development activities within the greater sage-
grouse extant range. In the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, up to 28,572 
km (17,754 mi) of roads to support coalbed methane development are 
proposed (BLM 2003).
    The expansion of road networks contributes to exotic plant 
invasions via introduced road fill, vehicle transport, and road 
maintenance activities (Forman and Alexander 1998, p. 210; Forman 2000, 
p. 32; Gelbard and Belnap 2003, p. 426; Knick et al. 2003, p. 619; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-25). Invasive species are not limited to 
roadsides, but also encroach into surrounding habitats (Forman and 
Alexander 1998, p. 210; Forman 2000, p. 33; Gelbard and Belnap 2003, p. 
427). In their study of roads on the Colorado Plateau of southern Utah, 
Gelbard and Belnap (2003, p. 426) found that improving unpaved four-
wheel drive roads to paved roads resulted in increased cover of exotic 
plant species within the interior of adjacent plant communities. This 
effect was associated with road construction and maintenance activities 
and vehicle traffic, and not with differences in site characteristics. 
The incursion of exotic plants into native sagebrush systems can 
negatively affect greater sage-grouse through habitat losses and 
conversions (see further discussion in Invasive Plants, below).
    Additional indirect effects of roads may result from birds' 
behavioral avoidance of road areas because of noise, visual 
disturbance, pollutants, and predators moving along a road. The absence 
of vegetation in arid and semiarid regions that may buffer these 
impacts further exacerbates the problem (Suter 1978, p. 6). Male sage-
grouse lek attendance was shown to decline within 3 km (1.9 mi) of a 
methane well or haul road with traffic volume exceeding one vehicle per 
day (Holloran 2005, p. 40). Male sage-grouse depend on acoustical 
signals to attract females to leks (Gibson and Bradbury 1985, p. 82; 
Gratson 1993, p. 692). If noise interferes with mating displays, and 
thereby female attendance, younger males will not be drawn to the lek 
and eventually leks will become inactive (Amstrup and Phillips 1977, p. 
26; Braun 1986, pp. 229-230).
    Dust from roads and exposed roadsides can damage vegetation through 
interference with photosynthetic activities. The actual amount of 
potential damage depends on winds, wind direction, the type of 
surrounding vegetation and topography (Forman and Alexander 1998, p. 
217). Chemicals used for road maintenance, particularly in areas with 
snowy or icy precipitation, can affect the composition of roadside 
vegetation (Forman and Alexander 1998, p. 219). We were unable to find 
any data relating these potential effects directly to impacts on sage-
grouse population parameters.
    In a study on the Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming, sage-grouse hens 
that bred on leks within 3 km (1.9 mi) of roads associated with oil and 
gas development traveled twice as far to nest as did hens bred on leks 
greater than 3 km (1.9 mi) from roads. Nest initiation rates for hens 
bred on leks close to roads also were lower (65 versus 89 percent) 
affecting population recruitment (33 versus 44 percent) (Lyon 2000, p. 
33; Lyon and Anderson 2003, pp. 489-490). Lyon and Anderson (2003, p. 
490) suggested that roads may be the primary impact of oil and gas 
development to sage-grouse, due to their persistence and continued use 
even after drilling and production have ceased. Braun et al. (2002, p. 
5) suggested that daily vehicular traffic along road networks for oil 
wells can impact sage-grouse breeding activities based on lek 
abandonment patterns.
    In a study of 804 leks within 100 km (62.5 mi) of Interstate 80 in 
southern Wyoming and northeastern Utah, Connelly et al. (2004, p. 13-
12) found that there were no leks within 2 km (1.25 mi) of the 
interstate and only 9 leks were found between 2 and 4 km (1.25 and 2.5 
mi) along this same highway. The number of active leks increased with 
increasing distance from the interstate. Lek persistence and activity 
relative to distance from the interstate also were measured. The 
distance of a lek from the interstate was a significant predictor of 
lek activity, with leks further from the interstate more likely to be 
active. An analysis of long-term changes in populations between 1970 
and 2003 showed that leks closest (within 7.5 km (4.7 mi)) to the 
interstate declined at a greater rate than those further away (Connelly 
et al. 2004, p. 13-13). Extirpated sage-grouse range was 60 percent 
closer to highways (Wisdom et al. in press, p. 18). What is not clear 
from these studies is what specific factor relative to roads (e.g., 
noise, changes in vegetation, etc.) sage-grouse are responding to. 
Connelly et al. (2004, p. 13-13) caution that they have not included 
other potential sources of indirect disturbance (e.g., powerlines) in 
their analyses.
    Aldridge et al. (2008, p. 992) did not find road density to be an 
important factor affecting sage-grouse persistence or rangewide 
patterns in sage-grouse extirpation. However, the authors did not 
consider the intensity of human use of roads in their modeling efforts. 
They also indicated that their analyses may have been influenced by 
inaccuracies in spatial road data sets, particularly for secondary 
roads (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 992). However, Wisdom et al. (in press, 
p. 18) found that extirpated range has a 25 percent higher density of 
roads than occupied range. Wisdom et al.'s (in press) rangewide 
analysis supports the findings of numerous local studies

[[Page 13931]]

showing that roads can have both direct and indirect impacts on sage-
grouse distribution and individual fitness (e.g., Lyon and Anderson 
2003, Aldridge and Boyce 2007).
Railroads
    Railroads presumably have the same potential impacts to sage-grouse 
as do roads because they create linear corridors within sagebrush 
habitats. Railways and the cattle they transport were primarily 
responsible for the initial spread of Bromus tectorum in the 
intermountain region (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-25). B. tectorum, an 
exotic species that is unsuitable as sage-grouse habitat, readily 
invaded the disturbed soils adjacent to railroads. Fires created by 
trains facilitated the spread of B. tectorum into adjacent areas. Knick 
et al. (in press, p. 109) found that railroads cover 487 km\2\ (188 
mi\2\) or less than 0.1 percent of the SGCA, but they estimated 
railroads could influence 10 percent of the SGCA based adding a 3-km 
(1.9-mi) buffer to estimate potential impacts from the exotic plants 
they can spread. Avian collisions with trains occur, although no 
estimates of mortality rates are documented in the literature (Erickson 
et al. 2001, p. 8).
Summary: Habitat Conversion for Agriculture; Urbanization; 
Infrastructure
    Large losses of sagebrush shrub-steppe habitats due to agricultural 
conversion have occurred range wide, but have been especially 
significant in the Columbia Basin of Washington (MZ VI), the Snake 
River Plain of Idaho (MZ IV), and the Great Plains (MZ I). Conversion 
of sage brush habitats to cropland continues to occur, although 
quantitative data is available only for Montana. We do not know the 
current rate of conversion, but most areas suitable for agricultural 
production were converted many years ago. The current rate of 
conversion is likely to increase in the future if incentives for crop 
production for use as biofuels continue to be offered. Urban and 
exurban development also have direct and indirect negative effects on 
sage-grouse, including direct and indirect habitat losses, disturbance, 
and introduction of new predators and invasive plant species. Given 
current trends in the Rocky Mountain west, we expect urban and exurban 
development to continue. Infrastructure such as powerlines, roads, 
communication towers, and fences continue to fragment sage-grouse 
habitat. Past and current trends lead us to believe this source of 
fragmentation will increase into the future. Fragmentation of sagebrush 
habitats through a variety of mechanisms including those listed above 
has been cited as a primary cause of the decline of sage-grouse 
populations (Patterson 1952, pp. 192-193; Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 
4; Braun 1998, p. 140; Johnson and Braun 1999, p. 78; Connelly et al. 
2000a, p. 975; Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 1; Schroeder and Baydack 
2001, p. 29; Johnsgard 2002, p. 108; Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 25; 
Beck et al. 2003, p. 203; Pedersen et al. 2003, pp. 23-24; Connelly et 
al. 2004, p. 4-15; Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 368; Leu et al. in press, 
p. 19). The negative effects of habitat fragmentation on sage-grouse 
are diverse and include reduced lek persistence, lek attendance, winter 
habitat use, recruitment, yearling annual survival, and female nest 
site choice (Holloran 2005, p. 49; Aldridge and Boyce 2007, pp. 517-
523; Walker et al. 2007a, pp. 2651-2652; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 194). 
Since fragmentation is associated with most anthropogenic activities, 
the effects are ubiquitous across the species range (Knick et al. in 
press, p. 24). We agree with the assessment that habitat fragmentation 
is a primary cause of sage-grouse decline and in some areas has already 
led to population extirpation. We also conclude that habitat 
fragmentation will continue into the foreseeable future and will 
continue to threaten the persistence of greater sage-grouse.

Fire

    Many of the native vegetative species of the sagebrush-steppe 
ecosystem are killed by wildfires, and recovery requires many years. As 
a result of this loss of habitat, fire has been identified as a primary 
factor associated with greater sage-grouse population declines (Hulet 
1983, in Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 973; Crowley and Connelly 1996, in 
Connelly et al. 2000c, p. 94; Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 232; Connelly 
et al. 2000a, p. 973; Connelly et al. 2000c, p. 93; Miller and Eddlemen 
2000, p. 24; Johnson et al., in press, p. 12; Knick and Hanser, in 
press, pp. 29-30). In nesting and wintering sites, fire causes direct 
loss of habitat due to reduced cover and forage (Call and Maser 1985, 
p. 17). For example, prescribed fires in mountain big sagebrush at Hart 
Mountain National Antelope Refuge caused a short-term increase in 
certain forbs, but reduced sagebrush cover, making habitat less 
suitable for nesting (Rowland and Wisdom 2002, p. 28). Similarly, Nelle 
et al. (2000, p. 586) and Beck et al. (2009, p. 400) reported nesting 
habitat loss from fire, creating a long-term negative impact that will 
require 25 to 150 years of sagebrush regrowth before sufficient canopy 
cover becomes available for nesting birds.
    In southeastern Idaho, sage-grouse populations were generally 
declining across the entire study area, but declines were more severe 
in post-fire years (Connelly et al. 2000c, p. 93). Further, Fischer et 
al. (1997, p. 89) concluded that habitat fragmentation caused by fire 
may influence distribution or migratory patterns in sage-grouse. Hulet 
(1983, in Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 973) documented the loss of leks 
from fire.
    Fire within 54 km (33.6 mi) of a lek is one of two primary factors 
in predicting lek extirpation (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 26). Small 
increases in the amount of burned habitat surrounding a lek had a large 
influence on the probability of lek abandonment (Knick and Hanser, in 
press, pp. 29-30). Additionally, fire had a negative effect on lek 
trends in the Snake River Plain (MZ IV) and Southern Great Basin (MZ 
III) (Johnson et al. in press, p.12). Several recent studies have 
demonstrated that sagebrush area is one of the best landscape 
predictors of greater sage-grouse persistence (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 
987; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 191; Wisdom et al., in press, p. 17). 
While there may be limited instances where burned habitat is 
beneficial, these gains are lost if sagebrush habitat is not readily 
available (Woodward 2006, p. 65).
    Herbaceous understory vegetation plays a critical role throughout 
the breeding season as a source of forage and cover for sage-grouse 
females and chicks. The response of herbaceous understory vegetation to 
fire varies with differences in species composition, pre-burn site 
condition, fire intensity, and pre- and post-fire patterns of 
precipitation. In general, when not considering the synergistic effects 
of invasive species, any short-term flush of understory grasses and 
forbs is lost after only a few years and little difference is apparent 
between burned and unburned sites (Cook et al. 1994, p. 298; Fischer et 
al. 1996, p. 196; Crawford 1999, p. 7; Wrobleski 1999, p. 31; Nelle et 
al. 2000, p. 588; Paysen et al. 2000, p. 154; Wambolt et al. 2001, p. 
250). Independent of the response of perennial grasses and forbs to 
fire, the most important and widespread sagebrush species for greater 
sage-grouse (i.e., big sagebrush) are killed by fire and require 
decades to recover. Prior to recovery, these sites are of limited to no 
use to sage-grouse (Fischer et al. 1996, p. 196; Connelly et al. 2000c, 
p. 90; Nelle et al. 2000, p. 588; Beck et al. 2009, p. 400). Therefore, 
fire results in direct, long-term habitat loss.
    In addition to altering plant community structure, fires can 
influence invertebrate food sources

[[Page 13932]]

(Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 5). Ants (Hymenoptera), grasshoppers 
(Orthoptera), and beetles (Coleoptera) are an essential component of 
juvenile greater sage-grouse diets, especially in the first 3 weeks of 
life (Johnson and Boyce 1991, p. 90). Crawford and Davis (2002, p. 56) 
reported that the abundance of arthropods did not decline following 
wildfire. Pyle (1992, p. 14) reported no apparent effect of prescribed 
burning to beetles. However, Fischer et al. (1996, p. 197) found that 
the abundance of insects was significantly lower 2-3 years post-burn. 
Additionally, grasshopper abundance declined 60 percent in burned plots 
versus unburned plots 1 year post-burn, but this difference disappeared 
the second year (Bock and Bock 1991, p. 165). Conversely, Nelle et al. 
(2000, p. 589) reported the abundance of beetles and ants was 
significantly greater in 1-year-old burns, but returned to pre-burn 
levels by years 3 to 5. The effect of fire on insect populations likely 
varies due to a host of environmental factors. Because few studies have 
been conducted and the results of those available vary, the specific 
magnitude and duration of the effects of fire on insect communities is 
still uncertain, as is the effect any changes may have on greater sage-
grouse populations.
    The few studies that have suggested fire may be beneficial for 
greater sage-grouse were primarily conducted in mesic areas used for 
brood-rearing (Klebenow 1970, p. 399; Pyle and Crawford 1996, p. 323; 
Gates 1983, in Connelly et al. 2000c, p. 90; Sime 1991, in Connelly et 
al. 2000a, p. 972). In this habitat, small fires may maintain a 
suitable habitat mosaic by reducing shrub encroachment and encouraging 
understory growth. However, without available nearby sagebrush cover, 
the utility of these sites is questionable. For example, Slater (2003, 
p. 63) reported that sage-grouse using burned areas were rarely found 
more than 60 m (200 ft) from the edge of the burn and may 
preferentially use the burned and unburned edge habitat. However, Byrne 
(2002, p. 27) reported avoidance of burned habitat by nesting, brood-
rearing, and broodless females. Both Connelly et al. (2000c, p. 90) and 
Fischer et al. (1996, p. 196) found that prescribed burns did not 
improve brood-rearing habitat in Wyoming big sagebrush, as forbs did 
not increase and insect populations declined. Hence, fires in these 
locations may negatively affect brood-rearing habitat rather than 
improve it (Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 11).
    The nature of historical fire patterns in sagebrush communities, 
particularly in Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis, is not well 
understood and a high degree of variability likely occurred (Miller and 
Eddleman 2000, p. 16; Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 154; Baker in press, p. 
16). However, as inferred by several lines of reasoning, fire in 
sagebrush systems was historically infrequent (Baker in press, pp. 15-
16). This conclusion is evidenced by the fact that most sagebrush 
species have not developed evolutionary adaptations such as re-
sprouting and heat-stimulated seed germination found in other shrub-
dominated systems, like chaparral, exposed to relatively frequent fire 
events. Baker (in press, p. 17) suggests natural fire regimes and 
landscapes were typically shaped by a few infrequent large fire events 
that occurred at intervals approaching the historical fire rotation (50 
to 350 years - see discussion below). The researcher concludes that the 
historical sagebrush systems likely consisted of extensive sagebrush 
habitat dotted by small areas of grassland and that this condition was 
maintained by long interludes of numerous small fires, accounting for 
little burned area, punctuated by large fire events that consumed large 
expanses. In general, fire extensively reduces sagebrush within burned 
areas, and big sagebrush varieties, the most widespread species of 
sagebrush, can take up to 150 years to reestablish an area (Braun 1998, 
p. 147; Cooper et al. 2007, p. 13; Lesica et al. 2007, p. 264; Baker, 
in press, pp. 15-16).
    Fire rotation, or the average amount of time it takes to burn once 
through a particular landscape, is difficult to quantify in large 
sagebrush expanses. Because sagebrush is killed by fire, it does not 
record evidence of prior burns (i.e., fire scars) as do forested 
systems. As a result, a clear picture of the complex spatial and 
temporal pattern of historical fire regimes in most sagebrush 
communities is not available. Widely variable estimates of historical 
fire rotation have been described in the literature. Depending on the 
species of sagebrush and other site-specific characteristics, fire 
return intervals from 10 to well over 300 years have been reported 
(McArthur 1994, p. 347; Peters and Bunting 1994, p. 33; Miller and Rose 
1999, p. 556; Kilpatrick 2000, p. 1; Frost 1998, in Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 7-4; Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 154; Baker in press, pp. 15-16). 
In general, mean fire return intervals in low-lying, xeric, big 
sagebrush communities range from over 100 to 350 years, and return 
intervals decrease from 50 to over 200 years in more mesic areas, at 
higher elevations, during wetter climatic periods, and in locations 
associated with grasslands (Baker 2006, p. 181; Mensing et al. 2006, p. 
75; Baker, in press, pp. 15-16; Miller et al., in press, p. 35).
    The invasion of exotic annual grasses, such as Bromus tectorum and 
Taeniatherum asperum (medusahead), has been shown to increase fire 
frequency within the sagebrush ecosystem (Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 41; 
Miller et al. in press, p. 39). B. tectorum readily invades sagebrush 
communities, especially disturbed sites, and changes historical fire 
patterns by providing an abundant and easily ignitable fuel source that 
facilitates fire spread. While sagebrush is killed by fire and is slow 
to reestablish, B. tectorum recovers within 1 to 2 years of a fire 
event (Young and Evans 1978, p. 285). This annual recovery leads to a 
readily burnable fuel source and ultimately a reoccurring fire cycle 
that prevents sagebrush reestablishment (Eiswerth et al. 2009, p. 
1324). In the Snake River Plain (MZ IV), for example, Whisenant (1990, 
p. 4) suggests fire rotation due to B. tectorum establishment is now as 
low as 3-5 years. It is difficult and usually ineffective to restore an 
area to sagebrush after annual grasses become established (Paysen et 
al. 2000, p. 154; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-44 to 7-50; Pyke, in 
press, p. 25). Habitat loss from fire and the subsequent invasion by 
nonnative annual grasses have negatively affected sage-grouse 
populations in some locations (Connelly et al. 2000c, p. 93).
    Evidence exists of a significant relationship between an increase 
in fire occurrence caused by Bromus tectorum invasion in the Snake 
River Plain and Northern Great Basin since the 1960s (Miller et al., in 
press, p. 39) and in northern Nevada and eastern Oregon since 1980 (MZs 
IV and V). The extensive distribution and highly invasive nature of B. 
tectorum poses substantial increased risk of fire and permanent loss of 
sagebrush habitat, as areas disturbed by fire are highly susceptible to 
further invasion and ultimately habitat conversion to an altered 
community state. For example, Link et al. (2006, p. 116) show that risk 
of fire increases from approximately 46 to 100 percent when ground 
cover of B. tectorum increases from 12 to 45 percent or more. In the 
Great Basin Ecoregion (defined as east-central California, most of 
Nevada, and western Utah, MZs IV and V), approximately 58 percent of 
sagebrush habitats are at moderate to high risk of B. tectorum invasion 
during the next 30 years (Suring et al. 2005, p. 138). The BLM 
estimated that approximately 11.9 million ha (29 million ac) of public

[[Page 13933]]

lands in the western distribution of the greater sage-grouse 
(Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah) were infested with weeds as 
of 2000 (BLM 2007a, p. 3-28). The most dominant invasive plants consist 
of grasses in the Bromus genus, which represent nearly 70 percent of 
the total infested area (BLM 2007a, p. 3-28).
    Conifer woodlands have expanded into sagebrush ecosystems over the 
last century (Miller et al. in press, p. 34). Woodlands can encroach 
into sagebrush communities when the interval between fires becomes long 
enough for seedlings to establish and trees to mature and dominate a 
site (Miller et al. in press, p. 36). However, historical fire rotation 
appears to have been sufficiently long to allow woodland invasion, and 
yet extensive stands of mature sagebrush were evident during settlement 
times (Vale 1975, p. 33; Baker, in press, pp. 15-16). This suggests 
that causes other than active fire suppression must largely explain 
recent tree invasions into sagebrush habitats (Baker in press, p. 21, 
24). Baker (in press, p. 24) and Miller et al. (in press, p. 37) offer 
a suite of causes, acting in concert with fire exclusion that may 
better explain the dramatic expansion of conifer woodlands over the 
last century. These causes include alterations due to domestic 
livestock grazing (such as reduced competition from native grasses and 
forbs and facilitation of tree regeneration by increased shrub cover 
and enhanced seed dispersal), climatic fluctuations favorable to tree 
regeneration, enhanced tree growth due to increased water use 
efficiency associated with carbon dioxide fertilization, and recovery 
from past disturbance (both natural and anthropogenic). Regardless of 
the cause of conifer woodland encroachment, the rate of expansion is 
increasing and is resulting in the loss and fragmentation of sagebrush 
habitats (see discussion in Pinyon-juniper section below).
    Between 1980 and 2007, the number of fires and total area burned 
increased in all MZs across the greater sage-grouse's range except the 
Snake River Plain (MZ IV) (Miller et al., in press, p. 39). 
Additionally, average fire size increased in the Southern Great Basin 
(MZ III) during this same period. However, predicting the amount of 
habitat that will burn during an ``average fire'' year is difficult due 
to the highly variable nature of fire seasons. For example, the 
approximate area burned on or adjacent to BLM-managed lands varied from 
140,000 ha (346,000 ac) in 1998 to a 6-fold increase in 1999 (814,200 
ha; 2 million ac) returning back down to approximately the 1998 level 
in 2002 (157,700 ha; 384,743 ac) before rising again 10-fold in 2006 
(1.4 million ha; 3.5 million ac) (Miller et al., in press, pp. 39-40).
    From 1980 to 2007, wildfires have burned approximately 8.7 million 
ha (21.5 million ac) of sagebrush, or approximately 18 percent of the 
estimated 47.5 million ha (117.4 million ac) of sagebrush habitat 
occurring within the delineated MZs (Baker, in press, p. 43). 
Additionally, the trend in total acreage burned since 1980 has 
primarily increased (Miller et al., in press, p. 39). Although fire 
alters sagebrush habitats throughout the greater sage-grouse's range, 
fire disproportionately affects the Great Basin (Baker et al. in press, 
p. 20) (i.e., Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and eastern Oregon; MZ III, IV, and 
V) and will likely influence the persistence of greater sage-grouse 
populations in the area. In these three MZs combined, nearly 27 percent 
of sagebrush habitat has burned since 1980 (Baker, in press, p. 43). A 
primary reason for this disproportionate influence in this region is 
due to the presence of burned sites and their subsequent susceptibility 
to invasion by exotic annual grasses.
    According to one review, range fires destroyed 30 to 40 percent of 
sage-grouse habitat in southern Idaho (MZ IV) in a 5-year period (1997-
2001) (Signe Sather-Blair, BLM, in Healy 2001). This amount included 
about 202,000 ha (500,000 ac), which burned between 1999 and 2001, 
significantly altering the largest remaining contiguous patch of 
sagebrush in the State (Signe Sather-Blair, BLM, in Healy 2001). 
Between 2003 and 2007, Idaho lost an additional 267,000 ha (660,000 ac) 
of sage-grouse habitat, or approximately 7 percent of the total 
estimated remaining habitat in the State. Over nine fire seasons in 
Nevada (1999-2007), about 1 million ha (2.5 million ac) of sagebrush 
were burned, representing approximately 12 percent of the State's 
extant sagebrush habitat (Espinosa and Phenix 2008, p. 3). Most of 
these fires occurred in northeast Nevada (MZ IV) within quality habitat 
that has traditionally supported high densities of sage-grouse, which 
also is highly susceptible to Bromus tectorum invasion.
    Baker (in press, p. 20) calculated recent fire rotation by MZ and 
compared these to estimates of historical fire rotations. Based on this 
analysis, the researcher suggests that increased fire rotations since 
1980 are presumably outside the historic range of variability and far 
shorter in floristic regions where Wyoming big sagebrush is common 
(Baker in press, p. 20). This analysis included MZs III, IV, V, and VI, 
all of which have extensive Bromus tectorum invasions.
    In addition to wildfire, land managers are using prescribed fire as 
well as mechanical and chemical treatments to obtain desired management 
objectives for a variety of wildlife species and domestic ungulates in 
sagebrush habitats throughout the range of the greater sage-grouse. 
While the efficacy of treatments in sagebrush habitats to enhance sage-
grouse populations is questionable (Peterson 1970, p. 154; Swensen et 
al. 1987, p. 128; Connelly et al. 2000c, p. 94; Nelle et al. 2000, p. 
590; WAFWA 2009, p. 12; Connelly et al. in press c, p. 8), as with 
wildland fire, an immediate and potentially long-term result is the 
loss of habitat (Beck et al. 2009, p. 400).
    Knick et al. (in press, p. 33) report that more than 370,000 ha 
(914,000 ac) of public lands were treated with prescribed fire to 
address management objectives for many different species between 1997 
and 2006, mostly in Oregon and Idaho, and an additional 124,200 ha 
(306,900 ac) were treated with mechanical means over this same time 
period, primarily in Utah and Nevada. However, these acreages represent 
all habitat types and thus overestimate negative impacts to greater 
sage-grouse. Quantifying the amount of sagebrush-specific habitat 
treatments is difficult due to the fact that centralized reporting is 
not typically categorized by habitat. However, agencies under the 
Department of the Interior (DOI) report species of special interest, 
including greater sage-grouse, which may occur in proximity to a 
prescribed treatment. Between 2003 and 2008, approximately 133,500 ha 
(330,000 ac) of greater sage-grouse habitat have been burned by land 
managers within the DOI or approximately 22,000 ha (55,000 ac) 
annually. This acreage does not reflect lands burned by agencies under 
the USDA (e.g., USFS). Although much of the land under USFS 
jurisdiction lies outside greater sage-grouse range, this agency 
manages approximately 8 percent of sagebrush habitats. Ultimately, the 
amount of sagebrush habitat treated by land managers appears to 
represent a relatively minor loss when compared to loss incurred by 
wildfire. However, in light of the significant habitat loss due to 
wildfire, and the preponderance of evidence that suggests these 
treatments are not beneficial to sage-grouse, the rationale for using 
such treatments to improve sage-grouse habitat deserves further 
scrutiny.
    Sagebrush recovery rates are highly variable, and precise estimates 
are often

[[Page 13934]]

hampered by limited data from older burns. Factors contributing to the 
rate of shrub recovery include the amount of and distance from unburned 
habitat, abundance and viability of seed in soil seed bank (depending 
on species, sagebrush seeds are typically viable for one to three 
seasons), rate of seed dispersal, and pre- and post-fire weather, which 
influences seedling germination and establishment (Young and Evans 
1989, p. 204; Maier et al. 2001, p. 701; Ziegenhagen and Miller 2009, 
p. 201). Based on a review of existing literature, Baker (in press, pp. 
14-15) reports that full recovery to pre-burn conditions in Artemisia 
tridentata ssp. vaseyana communities ranges between 25 and 100 years 
and in A. t. ssp. wyomingensis communities between 50 and 120 years. 
However, the researcher cautions that data pertaining to the latter 
community is sparse. What is known is that by 25 years post-fire, A. t. 
ssp. wyomingensis typically has less than 5 percent pre-fire canopy 
cover (Baker in press, p. 15).
    A variety of techniques have been employed to restore sagebrush 
communities following a fire event (Cadwell et al. 1996, p. 143; 
Quinney et al. 1996, p. 157; Livingston 1998, p. 41). The extent and 
efficacy of restoration efforts is variable and complicated by 
limitations in capacity (personnel, equipment, funding, seed 
availability, and limited seeding window), incomplete knowledge of 
appropriate methods, invasive plant species, and abiotic factors, such 
as weather, that are largely outside the control of land managers 
(Hemstrom et al. 2002, pp. 1250-1251; Pyke, in press, p. 29). While 
post-fire rehabilitation efforts have benefited from additional 
resources in recent years, resulting in an increase of treated acres 
from 28,100 ha (69,436 ac) in 1997 to 1.6 million ha (3.9 million ac) 
in 2002 (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-35), acreage treated annually 
remains far outpaced by acreage disturbed. For example, of the more 
than 1 million ha (2.5 million ac) of sage-grouse habitat burned during 
the 2006 and 2007 fire seasons on BLM-managed lands, about 40 percent 
or 384,000 ha (950,000 ac) had some form of active post-fire 
restoration such as reseeding. More specifically, Eiswerth et al. 
(2009, p. 1321) report that over the past 20 years within the BLM's 
Winnemucca District in Nevada, approximately 12 percent of burned areas 
have been actively reseeded.
    The main purpose of the Burned Area Emergency Stabilization and 
Rehabilitation program (BLM 2007b, pp. 1-2), designed to rehabilitate 
areas following fire, is to stabilize soils and maintain site 
productivity rather than to regain site suitability for wildlife (Pyke, 
in press, p. 24). Consequently, in areas that experience active post-
fire restoration efforts, an emphasis is often placed on introduced 
grasses that establish quickly. Only recently has a modest increase in 
the use of native species for burned area rehabilitation been reported 
(Richards et al. 1998, p. 630; Pyke, in press, p. 24). Further 
complicating our understanding of the effectiveness of these treatments 
is that most managers do not keep track of monitoring data in a routine 
or systematic fashion (GAO 2003, p. 5). Assuming complete success of 
restoration efforts on targeted areas, however unlikely, the return of 
a shrub-dominated community will still require several decades, and 
landscape restoration may require centuries or longer (Knick 1999, p. 
55; Hemstrom et al. 2002, p. 1252). Even longer periods may be required 
for greater sage-grouse to use recovered or restored landscapes (Knick 
et al., in press, p. 65).
    The loss of habitat due to wildland fire is anticipated to increase 
due to the intensifying synergistic interactions among fire, people, 
invasive species, and climate change (Miller et al., in press, p. 50). 
The recent past- and present-day fire regimes across the greater sage-
grouse distribution have changed with a demonstrated increase in the 
more arid Wyoming big sagebrush communities and a decrease across many 
mountain big sagebrush communities. Both scenarios of altered fire 
regimes have caused significant losses to greater sage-grouse habitat 
through facilitating conifer expansion at high-elevation interfaces and 
exotic weed encroachment at lower elevations (Miller et al., in press, 
p. 47). In the face of climate change, both of these scenarios are 
anticipated to worsen (Baker, in press, p. 24; Miller et al., in press, 
p. 48). Predicted changes in temperature, precipitation, and carbon 
dioxide are all anticipated to influence vegetation dynamics and alter 
fire patterns resulting in the increasing loss and conversion of 
sagebrush habitats (Neilson et al. 2005, p. 157). Further, many climate 
scientists suggest that in addition to the predicted change in climate 
toward a warmer and generally wetter Great Basin, variability of 
interannual and interdecadal wet-dry cycles will increase and likely 
act in concert with fire, disease, and invasive species to further 
stress the sagebrush ecosystem (Neilson et al. 2005, p. 152). The 
anticipated increase in suitable conditions for wildland fire will 
likely further interact with people and infrastructure. Human-caused 
fires have reportedly increased and been shown to be correlated with 
road presence (Miller et al., in press. p. 40). Given the popularity of 
off-highway vehicles (OHV) and the ready access to lands in the Great 
Basin, the increasing trend in both fire ignitions by people and loss 
of habitat will likely continue.
    While multiple factors can influence sagebrush persistence, fire is 
the primary cause of recent large-scale losses of habitat within the 
Great Basin, and this stressor is anticipated to intensify. In addition 
to loss of habitat and its influence on greater sage-grouse population 
persistence, fragmentation and isolation of populations presents a 
higher probability of extirpation in disjunct areas (Knick and Hanser, 
in press, p. 20; Wisdom et al., in press, p. 22). Knick and Hanser (in 
press, p. 31) suggest extinction is currently more probable than 
colonization for many great sage-grouse populations because of their 
low abundance and isolation coupled with fire and human influence. As 
areas become isolated through disturbances such as fire, populations 
are exposed to additional stressors and persistence may be hampered by 
the limited ability of individuals to disperse into areas that are 
otherwise not self-sustaining. Thus, while direct loss of habitat due 
to fire has been shown to be a significant factor associated with 
population persistence, the indirect effect posed by loss of 
connectivity among populations may greatly expand the influence of this 
threat beyond the physical fire perimeter.
Summary: Fire
    Fire is one of the primary factors linked to population declines of 
greater sage-grouse because of long-term loss of sagebrush and 
conversion to monocultures of exotic grasses (Connelly and Braun 1997, 
p. 7; Johnson et al., in press, p. 12; Knick and Hanser, in press, pp. 
29-30). Loss of sagebrush habitat to wildfire has been increasing in 
western areas of the greater sage-grouse range for the past three 
decades. The change in fire frequency has been strongly influenced by 
the presence of exotic annual grasses and significantly deviates from 
extrapolated historical regimes. Restoration of these communities is 
challenging, requires many years, and may, in fact, never be achieved 
in the presence of invasive grass species. Greater sage-grouse are slow 
to recolonize burned areas even if structural features of the shrub 
community may have recovered (Knick et al., in press, p. 46). While it 
is not currently possible to predict the extent or location of future 
fire events, the best

[[Page 13935]]

scientific and commercial information available indicates that fire 
frequency is likely to increase in the foreseeable future due to 
increases in cover of Bromus tectorum and the projected effects of 
climate change (see Invasive plants (annual grasses and other noxious 
weeds), below, and also Climate Change, below).
    An analysis of previously extirpated sage-grouse habitats has shown 
that the extent and abundance of sagebrush habitats, proximity to 
burned habitat, and degree of connectivity among sage-grouse groups 
strongly affects persistence (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 987; Knick and 
Hanser, in press, pp. 29-30; Wisdom et al., in press, p. 17). The loss 
of habitat caused by fire and the functional barrier burned habitat can 
pose to movement and dispersal compounds the influence this stressor 
can have on populations and population dynamics. Barring alterations to 
the current fire pattern, as well as the difficulties associated with 
restoration, the concerns presented by this threat will continue and 
likely strongly influence persistence of the greater sage-grouse, 
especially in the western half of its range within the foreseeable 
future.

Invasive Plants (Annual Grasses and Other Noxious Weeds)

    For the purposes of our analysis in this section, we consider 
invasive plants (invasives) to be any nonnative plant that negatively 
impacts sage-grouse habitat, including annual grasses and other noxious 
weeds. However, in the literature that we reviewed, the terms noxious 
weeds and invasives were not consistently defined or applied. 
Consequently, both terms are used in our discussion to reflect the 
original use in the sources we cite. In the source material, it was 
often unclear whether discussions about noxious weeds included invasive 
annual grasses (e.g., Bromus tectorum), referred solely to invasive 
forbs and invasive perennial grasses, or only referenced species that 
are listed on State and Federal noxious weed lists (many of which do 
not consider B. tectorum a noxious weed). Nonetheless, all of these can 
be categorized as nonnative plants that have a negative impact on sage-
grouse habitat and thus meet our definition of invasive plants.
    Invasives alter plant community structure and composition, 
productivity, nutrient cycling, and hydrology (Vitousek 1990, p. 7) and 
may cause declines in native plant populations through competitive 
exclusion and niche displacement, among other mechanisms (Mooney and 
Cleland 2001, p. 5446). Invasive plants reduce and, in cases where 
monocultures occur, eliminate vegetation that sage-grouse use for food 
and cover. Invasives do not provide quality sage-grouse habitat. Sage-
grouse depend on a variety of native forbs and the insects associated 
with them for chick survival, and sagebrush, which is used exclusively 
throughout the winter for food and cover. Invasives impact the entire 
range of sage-grouse, although not all given species are distributed 
across the entire range. Leu et al. (2008, pp. 1119-1139) modeled the 
risk of invasion by exotic plant species for the entire range of sage-
grouse. Areas at high risk for invasion were distributed throughout the 
range, but were especially concentrated in eastern Washington (MZ VI), 
southern Idaho (MZ IV), central Utah (MZ III), and northeast Montana 
(MZ I).
    Along with replacing or removing vegetation essential to sage-
grouse, invasives fragment existing sage-grouse habitat. They can 
create long-term changes in ecosystem processes, such as fire-cycles 
(see discussion under Fire above) and other disturbance regimes that 
persist even after an invasive plant is removed (Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 
33). A variety of nonnative annuals and perennials are invasive to 
sagebrush ecosystems (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-107 and 7-108; Zouhar 
et al. 2008, p 144). Bromus tectorum is considered most invasive in 
Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis communities, while Taeniatherum 
asperum fills a similar niche in more mesic communities with heavier 
clay soils (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 5-9). Some other problematic 
rangeland weeds include Euphorbia esula (leafy spurge), Centaurea 
solstitialis (yellow starthistle), Centaurea maculosa (spotted 
knapweed), Centaurea diffusa (diffuse knapweed), and a number of other 
Centaurea species (DiTomaso 2000, p. 255; Davies and Svejcar 2008, pp. 
623-629).
    Nonnative annual grasses (e.g., Bromus tectorum and Taeniatherum 
asperum) have caused extensive sagebrush habitat loss in the 
Intermountain West and Great Basin (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 1-2 and 
4-16). They impact sagebrush ecosystems by shortening fire intervals to 
as low as 3 to 5 years, perpetuating their own persistence and 
intensifying the role of fire (Whisenant 1990, p. 4). Connelly et al. 
(2004, p. 7-5) suggested that fire intervals are shortened to less than 
10 years. Although nonnative annual grasses occur throughout the sage-
grouse's range, they are more problematic in western States (MZs III, 
IV, V, and VI) than Rocky Mountain States (MZs I and II) (Connelly et 
al. 2004, p. 5-9).
    Quantifying the total amount of sage-grouse habitat impacted by 
invasives is problematic due to differing sampling methodologies, 
incomplete sampling, inconsistencies in species sampled, and varying 
interpretations of what constitutes an infestation (Miller et al., in 
press, p. 19). Widely variable estimates of the total acreage of weed 
infestations have been reported. BLM (1996, p. 6) estimated invasives 
(which may or may not have included Bromus tectorum in their estimate) 
covered at least 3.2 million ha (8 million ac) of BLM lands as of 1994, 
and predicted 7.7 million ha (19 million ac) would be infested by 2000. 
However, a qualitative 1991 BLM survey covering 40 million ha (98.8 
million ac) of all BLM-managed land in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, 
Nevada, and Utah (MZs III, IV, V, and VI) reported that introduced 
annual grasses were a dominant or significant presence on 7 million ha 
(17.2 million ac) of sagebrush ecosystems (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 5-
10). An additional 25.1 million ha (62 million ac) had less than 10 
percent B. tectorum in the understory, but were considered to be at 
risk of B. tectorum invasion (Zouhar 2003, p. 3, in reference to the 
same survey). More recently, BLM reported that as of 2000, noxious 
weeds and annual grasses occupied 11.9 million ha (29.4 million ac) of 
BLM lands in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah (BLM 2007a, p. 
3-28). However, when considering all States within the current range of 
sage-grouse, this number increases to 14.8 million ha (36.5 million 
ac). Although estimates of the total area infested by B. tectorum vary 
widely, it is clear that B. tectorum is a significant presence in 
western rangelands.
    The Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools Project 
(LANDFIRE) has a rangewide dataset documenting annual grass 
distribution. Based on 1999-2002 imagery, at least 885,990 ha (2.2 
million ac) of annual grasses occur within the current range of sage-
grouse (LANDFIRE 2007). Satellite data only map annual grass 
monocultures, and not areas where they occur in lower densities or even 
dominate the sagebrush understory (which is mapped as sagebrush). 
Therefore, the LANDFIRE dataset is a gross underestimate of the total 
acres of infestation. However, this dataset provides a rangewide 
comparison of annual grass monocultures and identifies the large extent 
of these monocultures in both the western and eastern part of the sage-
grouse's range.

[[Page 13936]]

    Approximately 80 percent of land in the Great Basin Ecoregion (MZs 
III, IV, and V) is susceptible to displacement by Bromus tectorum 
(including over 58 percent of sagebrush that is moderately or highly 
susceptible) within 30 years (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-17, Suring et 
al. 2005, p. 138). Due to the disproportionate abundance of B. tectorum 
in the Great Basin, suggesting an increased susceptibility to B. 
tectorum invasion than other parts of the sage-grouse's range, Connelly 
et al. (2004, p. 7-8) cautioned that a formal analysis of the risk of 
B. tectorum invasion in other areas was needed before such inferences 
are made. Also, while nonnative annual grasses are usually associated 
with lower elevations and drier climates (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 5-
5), the ecological range of B. tectorum continues to expand at low and 
high elevations (Ramakrishnan et al. 2006, pp. 61-62), both southward 
and eastward (Miller et al., in press, p. 21). Local infestations of B. 
tectorum and other annual grasses occur in Montana, Wyoming, and 
Colorado (MZs I and II) (Miller et al., in press, p. 21), and there is 
evidence that B. tectorum is impacting fire intervals in Wyoming. For 
example, 40,469 ha (100,000 ac) of sagebrush that burned in a wildfire 
southeast of Worland, Wyoming (MZ II), became infested with B. 
tectorum, accelerating the fire interval in this area (Wyoming Big Horn 
Basin Sage-grouse Local Working Group 2007, pp. 39-40).
    Noxious weeds spread about 931 ha (2,300 ac) per day on BLM land 
and 1,862 ha (4,600 ac) per day on all public land in the West (BLM 
1996, p. 1), or increase about 8 to 20 percent annually (Federal 
Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds 
1997, p. v). Invasions are often associated with ground disturbances 
caused by wildfire, grazing, infrastructure, and other anthropogenic 
activity (Rice and Mack 1990, p. 84; Gelbard and Belnap 2003, p. 420; 
Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 23), but disturbance is not required for 
invasives to spread (Young and Allen 1997, p. 531; Roundy et al. 2007, 
p. 614). Invasions also may occur sequentially, where initial invaders 
(e.g., Bromus tectorum) are replaced by new exotics (Crawford et al. 
2004, p 9; Miller et al., in press, p. 20).
    Based on data collected in the western half of the range, Bradley 
et al. (2009, pp. 1511-1521; Bradley 2009, pp. 196-208) predicted 
favorable conditions for Bromus tectorum across much of the sage-
grouse's range under current and future (2100) climate conditions. A 
strong indicator for future B. tectorum locations is the proximity to 
current locations (Bradley and Mustard 2006, p. 1146) as well as 
summer, annual, and spring precipitation, and winter temperature 
(Bradley 2009, p. 196). Bradley et al. (2009, p. 1517) predicted that 
in the future some areas will become unfavorable for B. tectorum while 
others will become favorable. Specifically, Bradley et al. (2009, p. 
1515) predicted that climatically suitable B. tectorum habitat will 
shift northwards, leading to expanded risk in Idaho, Montana, and 
Wyoming, but reduced risk in southern Nevada and Utah. Despite the 
potential for future retreat in Nevada and Utah, there will still be 
climatically suitable B. tectorum habitat in these States, well within 
the range of sage-grouse (see Figure 4b in Bradley et al. 2009, p. 
1517). Bradley et al. (2009, p. 1511) noted that changes in climatic 
suitability may create restoration opportunities in areas that are 
currently dominated by invasives. We anticipate that B. tectorum will 
eventually disappear from areas that become climatically unsuitable for 
this species, but this transition is unlikely to occur suddenly. Also, 
Bradley et al. (2009, p. 1519) cautioned that areas that become 
unfavorable to B. tectorum may become favorable to other invasives, 
such as B. rubens (red brome) in the southern Great Basin, which is 
more tolerant of higher temperatures. Therefore, areas that become 
unsuitable for B. tectorum will not necessarily be returned to pre-
invaded habitat conditions without significant effort. Bradley et al. 
(2009, p. 1519) suggested that modeling and experimental work is needed 
to assess whether native species could occupy these sites if invasives 
are reduced or eliminated by climate change.
    LANDFIRE also has a rangewide dataset documenting other exotic 
grasses and forbs, including perennial grasses and annual, perennial, 
and biennial forbs. Like annual grasses, other invasive plants are 
grossly underestimated in the LANDFIRE dataset because the dataset only 
includes monocultures of these species. Based on 1999-2002 imagery, at 
least 1.3 million ha (3.3 million ac) of other exotic plants occur 
within the current range of sage-grouse (LANDFIRE 2007). Aside from 
LANDFIRE, the only other information documenting the specific 
distribution of invasives within the sage-grouse's range is at a 
presence-absence scale at the county level. DiTomaso (2000, p. 257) 
estimated that western rangelands are infested with 2,900,000 ha 
(7,166,027 ac) of C. maculosa, 1,300,000 ha (3,212,357 ac) of C. 
diffusa, 8,000,000 ha (19,768,352 ac) of C. solstitialis, and 1,100,000 
ha (2,718,148 ac) of Euphorbia esula, but this estimate did not 
describe the distribution of invasives across the landscape. These 
estimates, combined with estimates of acres infested by Bromus 
tectorum, and the fact that LANDFIRE detected more acres of other 
noxious weeds than annual grasses, illustrate the severity of the 
invasives problem.
    Invasives that are not annual grasses impact the entire range of 
sage-grouse, although not all given species are distributed across the 
entire range. Leu et al. (2008, pp. 1119-1139) modeled the risk of 
invasion by exotic plant species (which also would include annual 
grasses), for the entire range of sage-grouse. Areas at high risk for 
invasion were distributed throughout the range, but were especially 
concentrated in eastern Washington (MZ VI), southern Idaho (MZ IV), 
central Utah (MZ III), and northeastern Montana (MZ I). Like Bromus 
tectorum, the distribution of other invasives will likely shift with 
climate change. Bradley et al. (2009, p. 1518) predicts that the range 
of C. maculosa will expand in some areas, mainly in parts of Oregon, 
Idaho, western Wyoming, and Colorado, and will contract in other areas 
(e.g., eastern Montana). She also predicts that the range of C. 
solstitialis will expand eastward (Bradley et al. 2009, p. 1514) and 
that the invasion risk of Euphorbia esula will likely decrease in 
several States, including parts of Colorado, Oregon, and Idaho (Bradley 
et al. 2009, pp. 1516-1518).
    Many efforts are ongoing to restore or rehabilitate sage-grouse 
habitat affected by invasive species. Common rehabilitation techniques 
include first reducing the density of invasives using herbicides, 
defoliation via grazing, pathogenic bacteria and other forms of 
biocontrol, or prescribed fire (Tu et al. 2001; Larson et al. 2008, p. 
250; Pyke, in press, pp. 25-26). Sites are then typically reseeded with 
grass and forb mixes, and sometimes planted with sagebrush plugs. 
Despite ongoing efforts to transform lands dominated by invasive annual 
grasses into quality sage-grouse habitat, restoration and 
rehabilitation techniques are considered to be mostly unproven and 
experimental (Pyke, in press, pp. 25-28, and see discussion on fire 
above).
    Several components of the restoration process are being 
investigated with varying success (Pyke, in press, p. 25). Some 
techniques show promise, such as use of the herbicide Imazapic to 
control Bromus tectorum. However, further analyses of the benefit of 
this method still need to be conducted (Pyke, in

[[Page 13937]]

press, p. 27). Also, it will take time for sagebrush to establish and 
mature in areas currently dominated by annual grasses. Rehabilitation 
and restoration efforts also are hindered by cost and the ability to 
procure the equipment and seed needed for projects (Pyke, in press, pp. 
29-30). Furthermore, while restoration projects for other species may 
depend on a single site or landowner, restoration of sage-grouse 
habitat requires partnerships across multiple ownerships in order to 
restore and maintain a connective network of intact vegetation (Pyke, 
in press, pp. 33-34).
    Treatment success also depends on factors which are not 
controllable, such as precipitation received at the treatment site 
(Pyke, in press, p. 30). For example, only 3.3 to 33.6 percent of 
recent vegetation treatments conducted by the BLM in annual grassland 
monocultures were reported as successful (Carlson 2008b, pers. comm.). 
Areas with established annual grasses that receive less than 22.9 cm (9 
in.) of annual precipitation are less likely to benefit from 
restoration (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-17, Carlson 2008b, pers. 
comm.). Consequently, BLM focuses most (98 percent) of their 
restoration efforts in areas receiving more than 22.9 cm (9 in.) of 
annual precipitation where there is greater chance of success. Of the 
BLM treatments in annual grasslands, only 10 percent of acres treated 
in areas receiving less than 22.9 cm (9 in.) of annual precipitation 
were considered to be effectively treated. In areas receiving between 
22.9 cm (9 in.) and 30.5 cm (12 in.) of annual precipitation, 33.6 
percent of the acres were treated effectively, and 3.3 percent of the 
acres were treated effectively in areas receiving greater than 30.5 cm 
(12 in.) of annual precipitation (Carlson 2008b, pers. comm.). Since 
the BLM treatments in annual grassland monocultures included both the 
reestablishment of native shrub and grass species and greenstripping 
efforts to reduce the frequency of fires in annual grassland 
monocultures, it is unclear how many of these successfully treated 
acres are attributed to restoration versus prevention.
    A variety of regulatory mechanisms and nonregulatory measures to 
control invasive plants exist. However, the extent to which these 
mechanisms effectively ameliorate the current rate of invasive 
expansion is unclear. If noxious weeds are spreading at a rate of 931 
ha (2,300 ac) per day on BLM lands (BLM 1996, p. 1), this amounts to 
339,815 ha (839,500 ac) per year, which includes both suitable and 
nonsuitable habitat for sage-grouse. It is unclear whether this 
estimate is limited to noxious weeds or if it includes other invasives 
(e.g., Bromus tectorum). Still, we can compare this estimate to the 
area of all invasives (excluding conifers) treated by the BLM between 
October 2005 and September 2007, which totaled 259,897 ha (642,216 ac), 
i.e., approximately 86,632 ha (214,072 ac) treated annually.
    The number of acres treated annually (86,632 ha; 214,072 ac) is not 
keeping pace with the rate of spread (339,815 ha; 839,500 ac) 
especially when considering the inability to treat the problem. We 
acknowledge that the rate of spread on BLM lands also includes areas 
that are not sage-grouse habitat. However, the rate of spread may not 
have included B. tectorum and only part of the invasive treatments 
completed by BLM (23.6 percent of treatments in annual grassland 
monocultures and 7.5 percent of treatments in sagebrush with annual 
grassland understories) were considered to be effective by the BLM 
(Carlson 2008b, pers. comm.). Also, treatments are typically considered 
to be successful based on whether native vegetation was reestablished, 
maintained, or enhanced, and not based on a positive population 
response of sage-grouse to the treatment. Therefore, the effectiveness 
of treatments for sage-grouse is likely much less than reported for 
vegetation.
    The National Invasive Species Council (2008, p. 8) acknowledges 
that there has been a significant increase in activity and awareness, 
but that much remains to be done to prevent and mitigate the problems 
caused by invasive species. As an example, the State of Montana has 
made much progress through partnerships in reducing noxious weeds in 
the State from 3.2 million ha (8 million ac) in 2000 to 3.1 million ha 
(7.6 million ac) in 2008 (Montana Weed Control Association 2008). 
However, the Montana Noxious Weed Summit Advisory Council Weed 
Management Task Force (2008, p. III) estimates that to slow weed spread 
and reduce current infestations by 5 percent annually, they require 2.6 
times the current level of funding from a variety of private, local, 
State, and Federal sources (or $55.8 million versus $21.2 million). In 
addition to funding, other factors that potentially limit ability to 
control invasives include the amount of available native seed sources, 
the time it takes to restore sagebrush to an area once it is removed 
from a site, and the existence of treatments that are known to be 
effective in the long-term. Monitoring is limited in many cases and, 
where it occurs, monitoring typically does not document the population 
response of sage-grouse to these treatments.
    Invasives are a serious rangewide threat, and one of the highest 
risk factors for sage-grouse based on the plants' ability to out-
compete sagebrush, the inability to effectively control them once they 
become established, and the synergistic interaction between them and 
other risk factors on the landscape (e.g., wildfire, infrastructure 
construction). Invasives reduce and eliminate vegetation that is 
essential for sage-grouse to use as food and cover. Their presence on 
the landscape has removed and fragmented sage-grouse habitat. Because 
invasives are widespread, have the ability to spread rapidly, occur 
near areas susceptible to invasion, and are difficult to control, we 
anticipate that invasives will continue to replace and reduce the 
quality of sage-grouse habitat across the range in the foreseeable 
future. There have been many studies addressing effective invasive 
control methods, as well as conservation actions to control invasives, 
with varied success. While some efforts appear successful at smaller 
scales, prevention (e.g., early detection and fire prevention) appears 
to be the only known effective tool to preclude or minimize large-scale 
habitat loss from invasive species in the future.

Pinyon-Juniper Encroachment

    Pinyon-juniper woodlands are a native habitat type dominated by 
pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) and various juniper species (Juniperus spp.) 
that can encroach upon, infill, and eventually replace sagebrush 
habitat. These two woodland types are often referred to collectively as 
pinyon-juniper; however, some portions of the sage-grouse's range are 
only impacted by juniper encroachment. Commons et al. (1999, p. 238) 
found that the number of male Gunnison sage-grouse (C. minimus) on leks 
in southwestern Colorado doubled after pinyon-juniper removal and 
mechanical treatment of mountain sagebrush and deciduous brush. Hence, 
we infer that some greater sage-grouse populations have been negatively 
affected by pinyon-juniper encroachment and that some populations will 
decline in the future due to projected increases in the pinyon-juniper 
type, especially in areas where pinyon-juniper encroachment is a large-
scale threat (parts of MZs III, IV, and V). Doherty et al. (2008, p. 
187) reported a strong avoidance of conifers by female greater sage-
grouse in the winter, further supporting our previous inference. Also, 
Freese's (2009, pp. 84-85, 89-90) 2-year telemetry study in central 
Oregon found that sage-grouse

[[Page 13938]]

used areas with less than 5 percent juniper cover more often in the 
breeding and summer seasons than similar habitat that had greater than 
5 percent juniper cover. Therefore, pinyon-juniper encroachment into 
occupied sage-grouse habitat reduces, and likely eventually eliminates, 
sage-grouse occupancy in these areas.
    Pinyon-juniper woodlands are often associated with sagebrush 
communities and currently occupy at least 18 million ha (44.6 million 
ac) of the Intermountain West within the sage-grouse's range (Crawford 
et al. 2004, p. 8; Miller et al. 2008, p. 1). Pinyon-juniper extent has 
increased 10-fold in the Intermountain West since European settlement 
causing the loss of many bunchgrass and sagebrush-bunchgrass 
communities (Miller and Tausch 2001, pp. 15-16). This expansion has 
been attributed to the reduced role of fire, the introduction of 
livestock grazing, increases in global carbon dioxide concentrations, 
climate change, and natural recovery from past disturbance (Miller and 
Rose 1999, pp. 555-556; Miller and Tausch 2001, p. 15; Baker, in press, 
p. 24; see also discussion under Fire above).
    Connelly et al. (2004, pp. 7-8 to 7-14) estimated that 
approximately 60 percent of sagebrush in the Great Basin was at low 
risk of displacement by pinyon-juniper in 30 years, 6 percent at 
moderate risk, and 35 percent at high risk. Mountain big sagebrush 
appears to be most at risk of pinyon-juniper displacement (Connelly et 
al. 2004, pp. 7-13). When juniper increases in mountain big sagebrush 
communities, shrub cover declines and the season of available succulent 
forbs is shortened due to soil moisture depletion (Crawford et al. 
2004, p. 8). As with Bromus tectorum, the Great Basin appears more 
susceptible to pinyon-juniper invasion than other areas of the sage-
grouse's range; however, Connelly et al. (2004, pp. 7-8) cautioned that 
a formal analysis of the risks posed in other locations was needed 
before such inferences could be made.
    Annual encroachment rates that were reported in five studies ranged 
from 0.3 to 31 trees per hectare (0.7 to 77 trees per acre) (Sankey and 
Germino 2008, p. 413). For the three studies that measured the percent 
increase in juniper cover per year, cover increased between 0.4 and 4.5 
percent annually (Sankey and Germino 2008, p. 413). Sankey and Germino 
(2008, p. 413) compared juniper encroachment rates from previous 
research to their study. Their estimate that juniper cover increased 
0.7 to 1.5 percent annually was based on a 22 to 30 percent increase in 
cover between 1985 and 2005 at their southeastern Idaho study site 
(Sankey and Germino 2008, pp. 412-413).
    Pinyon-juniper expansion into sagebrush habitats, with subsequent 
replacement of sagebrush communities, has been well documented (Miller 
et al. 2000, p. 575; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-5; Crawford et al. 
2004, p. 2; Miller et al. 2008, p. 1). However, few studies have 
documented woodland dynamics at the landscape level across different 
ecological provinces, creating some uncertainty regarding the total 
amount of expansion that has occurred in sagebrush communities (Miller 
et al. 2008, p. 1). Regardless, we know that up to 90 percent of 
existing woodlands in the sagebrush-steppe and Great Basin sagebrush 
vegetation types were previously dominated by sagebrush vegetation 
prior to the late 1800s (Miller et al., in press, pp. 23-24). Based on 
past trends and the current distribution of pinyon-juniper relative to 
sagebrush habitat, we anticipate that expansion will continue at 
varying rates across the landscape and cause further loss of sagebrush 
habitat within the western part of the sage-grouse's range, especially 
in parts of MZs III, IV, and V.
    While pinyon-juniper expansion appears less problematic in the 
eastern portion of the range (MZs I, II and VII) and silver sagebrush 
areas (primarily MZ I), woodland encroachment is a threat mentioned in 
Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado State sage-grouse conservation plans, 
indicating that this is of some concern in these States as well (Stiver 
et al. 2006, p. 2-23). Colorado's State plan mapped areas threatened by 
pinyon-juniper encroachment in northwestern Colorado, and specifically 
attributed some sage-grouse habitat loss in Colorado to pinyon-juniper 
expansion (Colorado Greater Sage-grouse Steering Committee 2008, pp. 
179, 182). Furthermore, LANDFIRE (2007) data illustrates extensive 
coverage of pinyon-juniper woodlands in parts of northwestern Colorado 
within the range of sage-grouse. These data also show limited pinyon-
juniper coverage in Montana and Wyoming; however, LANDFIRE data could 
be a major underestimate of juniper because it is difficult to classify 
pinyon-juniper woodlands with satellite imagery when the trees occur at 
low densities (Hagen 2005, p. 142).
    Recently, many conservation actions have addressed this threat 
using a variety of techniques (e.g., mechanical, herbicide, cutting, 
burning) to remove conifers in sage-grouse habitat. The effectiveness 
of these treatments varies with the technique used and proximity of the 
site to invasive plant infestations, among other factors. We are not 
aware of any study documenting a direct correlation between these 
treatments and increased greater sage-grouse productivity; however, we 
infer some level of positive response based on Commons et al.'s (1999) 
Gunnison sage-grouse study and the documented avoidance, or reduced 
use, by sage-grouse of areas where pinyon-juniper has encroached upon 
sagebrush communities (Doherty et al. 2008, p. 187; Freese 2009, pp. 
84-85, 89-90). However, since the effectiveness of treatments for sage-
grouse is usually based on a short-term, anecdotal evaluation of 
whether pinyon-juniper was successfully removed from a site, it is 
unclear whether pinyon-juniper removal has a positive long-term 
population-level impact for sage-grouse. In most cases it is still too 
early to measure a population response to these treatments (Oregon 
Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) 2008, p. 3). Consequently, we do 
not know if these efforts are effectively ameliorating the threat of 
pinyon-juniper expansion at the site-level.
    Furthermore, while many acres have been treated since 2004, 
treatments are not likely keeping pace with the current rate of pinyon-
juniper encroachment, at least in parts of the range. For example, 
while Oregon has treated approximately 8,094 ha (20,000 ac) of juniper 
to restore native sagebrush habitat between 2003 and early 2008 (about 
1,619 ha or 4,000 ac per year; ODFW 2008, p. 3), LANDFIRE data show at 
least 106,882 ha (264,110 ac) of juniper occur within 4.8 km (3 mi) of 
Oregon leks. This distance (4.8 km; 3 mi) reflects the upper estimate 
of a typical pinyon seed dispersal event, although seeds may be 
dispersed shorter distances and up to at least 10 km (6.2 mi) (Chambers 
et al. 1999, p. 12). At this rate, it would take approximately 60 years 
to remove the threat of juniper encroachment within 3 miles of sage-
grouse leks in Oregon, assuming expansion does not continue.
    Again, LANDFIRE data provides a gross underestimate of pinyon-
juniper since it misses single, large trees. This underestimate 
suggests that it will take longer than 60 years to fully address the 
threat of juniper encroachment in Oregon, if conservation actions 
continue to occur at the current rate. Furthermore, not all treatments 
are effective. Of the 38,780 ha (95,826 ac) treated by BLM in Fiscal 
Year (FY) 2006 and FY 2007, only 21,598 ha (53,369 ac), or 55.7 percent 
were considered to be effective by the BLM (Carlson 2008b, pers. 
comm.). Again, the measure of effectiveness typically refers to whether

[[Page 13939]]

vegetation was treated successfully, and not whether sage-grouse use an 
area that has been treated.
Summary: Invasive Plants and Pinyon-Juniper Encroachment
    Invasives plants negatively impact sage-grouse primarily by 
reducing or eliminating native vegetation that sage-grouse require for 
food and cover, resulting in habitat loss and fragmentation. A variety 
of nonnative annuals and perennials (e.g., Bromus tectorum, Euphorbia 
esula) and native conifers (e.g., pinyon pine, juniper species) are 
invasive to sagebrush ecosystems. Nonnative invasives, including annual 
grasses and other noxious weeds, continue to expand their range, 
facilitated by ground disturbances such as wildfire, grazing, and 
infrastructure. Pinyon and juniper and some other native conifers are 
expanding and infilling their current range mainly due to decreased 
fire return intervals, livestock grazing, and increases in global 
carbon dioxide concentrations associated with climate change, among 
other factors.
    Collectively, invasives plants impact the entire range of sage-
grouse, although they are most problematic in the Intermountain West 
and Great Basin (MZs III, IV, V, and VI). A large portion of the Great 
Basin is at risk of B. tectorum invasion or pinyon-juniper encroachment 
within the next 30 years. Approximately 80 percent of land in the Great 
Basin Ecoregion (MZs III, IV, and V) is susceptible to displacement by 
B. tectorum within 30 years (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-17, Suring et 
al. 2005, p. 138). Connelly et al. (2004, pp. 7-8 to 7-14) estimated 
that approximately 35 percent of sagebrush in the Great Basin was at 
high risk of displacement by pinyon-juniper in 30 years. Bromus 
tectorum is widespread at lower elevations and pinyon-juniper woodlands 
tend to expand into higher elevation sagebrush habitats, creating an 
elevational squeeze from both low and high elevations. Climate change 
will likely alter the range of individual invasive species, increasing 
fragmentation and habitat loss of sagebrush communities. Despite the 
potential shifting of individual species, invasive plants will persist 
and continue to spread rangewide in the foreseeable future.
    A variety of restoration and rehabilitation techniques are used to 
treat invasive plants, but they can be costly and are mostly unproven 
and experimental. The success of treatments, particularly for annual 
grassland restoration, depends on uncontrollable factors (e.g., 
precipitation). While some efforts appear successful at smaller scales, 
prevention appears to be the only known effective tool to preclude 
large-scale habitat loss from invasive annuals and perennials in the 
future. Pinyon-juniper treatments, particularly when done in the early 
stages of encroachment when sagebrush and forb understory is still 
intact, have the potential to provide an immediate benefit to sage-
grouse. However, studies have not yet documented a correlation between 
pinyon-juniper treatments and increased greater sage-grouse 
productivity.

Grazing

    Native herbivores, such as pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra 
americana), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), bison (Bison bison), and 
other ungulates were present in low numbers on the sagebrush-steppe 
region prior to European settlement of western States (Osborne 1953, p. 
267; Miller et al. 1994, p. 111), and sage-grouse co-evolved with these 
animals. However, mass extinction of the majority of large herbivores 
occurred 10,000 to 12,000 years ago (Knick et al. 2003, p. 616; Knick 
et al., in press, p. 40). From that period up until European 
settlement, many areas of sagebrush-steppe still did not support herds 
of large ungulates and grazing pressure was likely sporadic and 
localized (Miller et al. 1994, p. 113; Plew and Sundell 2000, p. 132; 
Grayson 2006, p. 921). Additionally, plants of the sagebrush-steppe 
lack traits that reflect a history of large ungulate grazing pressure 
(Mack and Thompson 1982, pp. 757). Therefore, native vegetation 
communities within the sagebrush ecosystem evolved in the absence of 
significant grazing presence (Mack and Thompson 1982, p. 768). With 
European settlement of western States (1860 to the early 1900s), 
unregulated numbers of cattle, sheep, and horses rapidly increased, 
peaking at the turn of the century (Oliphant 1968, p. vii; Young et al. 
1976, pp. 194-195, Carpenter 1981, p. 106; Donahue 1999, p. 15) with an 
estimated 19.6 million cattle and 25 million sheep in the West (BLM 
2009a, p. 1).
    Excessive grazing by domestic livestock during the late 1800s and 
early 1900s, along with severe drought, significantly impacted 
sagebrush ecosystems (Knick et al. 2003, p. 616). Long-term effects 
from this overgrazing, including changes in plant communities and 
soils, persist today (Knick et al. 2003, p.116). Currently, livestock 
grazing is the most widespread type of land use across the sagebrush 
biome (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-29); almost all sagebrush areas are 
managed for livestock grazing (Knick et al. 2003, p. 616; Knick et al., 
in press, p. 27).
    Although little direct experimental evidence links grazing 
practices to population levels of greater sage-grouse (Braun 1987, p. 
137; Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 231), the impacts of livestock grazing 
on sage-grouse habitat and on some aspects of the life cycle of the 
species have been studied. Sage-grouse need significant grass and shrub 
cover for protection from predators, particularly during nesting 
season, and females will preferentially choose nesting sites based on 
these qualities (Hagen et al. 2007, p. 46). The reduction of grass 
heights due to livestock grazing in sage-grouse nesting and brood-
rearing areas has been shown to negatively affect nesting success when 
cover is reduced below the 18 cm (7 in.) needed for predator avoidance 
(Gregg et al. 1994, p. 165). Based on measurements of cattle foraging 
rates on bunchgrasses both between and under sagebrush canopies, the 
probability of foraging on under-canopy bunchgrasses depends on 
sagebrush morphology, and consequently, the effects of grazing on 
nesting habitats might be site specific (France et al. 2008, pp. 392-
393).
    Several authors have noted that grazing by livestock could reduce 
the suitability of breeding and brood-rearing habitat, negatively 
affecting sage-grouse populations (Braun 1987, p. 137; Dobkin 1995, p. 
18; Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 231; Beck and Mitchell 2000, pp. 998-
1000). Exclosure studies have demonstrated that domestic livestock 
grazing reduces water infiltration rates and cover of herbaceous plants 
and litter, as well as compacting soils and increasing soil erosion 
(Braun 1998, p. 147; Dobkin et al. 1998, p. 213). These impacts result 
in a change in the proportion of shrub, grass, and forb components in 
the affected area, and an increased invasion of exotic plant species 
that do not provide suitable habitat for sage-grouse (Mack and Thompson 
1982, p. 761; Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 19; Knick et al., in press, 
p. 41).
    Livestock also may compete directly with sage-grouse for rangeland 
resources. Cattle are grazers, feeding mostly on grasses, but they will 
make seasonal use of forbs and shrub species like sagebrush (Vallentine 
1990, p. 226). Domestic sheep are intermediate feeders making high use 
of forbs, but also using a large volume of grass and shrub species like 
sagebrush (Vallentine 1990, pp. 240-241). Sheep consume rangeland forbs 
in occupied sage-grouse habitat (Pederson et al. 2003, p. 43) and, in 
general, forb consumption may reduce food availability for sage-grouse. 
This

[[Page 13940]]

impact is particularly important for pre-laying hens, as forbs provide 
essential calcium, phosphorus, and protein (Barnett and Crawford 1994, 
p. 117). A hen's nutritional condition affects nest initiation rate, 
clutch size, and subsequent reproductive success (Barnett and Crawford 
1994, p.117; Coggins 1998, p. 30).
    Other effects of direct competition between livestock and sage-
grouse depend on condition of the habitat and the grazing practices. 
Thus, the effects vary across the range of the greater sage-grouse. For 
example, Aldridge and Brigham (2003, p. 30) suggest that poor livestock 
management in mesic sites, which are considered limited habitats for 
sage-grouse in Alberta (Aldridge and Brigham 2002, p. 441), results in 
a reduction of forbs and grasses available to sage-grouse chicks, 
thereby affecting chick survival.
    Other consequences of grazing include several related to livestock 
trampling of grouse and habitat. Although the effect of trampling at a 
population level is unknown, outright nest destruction has been 
documented and the presence of livestock can cause sage-grouse to 
abandon their nests (Rasmussen and Griner 1938, p. 863; Patterson 1952, 
p. 111; Call and Maser 1985, p. 17; Holloran and Anderson 2003, p. 309; 
Coates 2007, p.28). Coates (2007, p. 28) documented nest abandonment 
following partial nest depredation by a cow. In general all recorded 
encounters between livestock and grouse nests resulted in hens flushing 
from nests, which could expose the eggs to predation; there is strong 
evidence that visual predators like ravens use hen movements to locate 
sage-grouse nests (Coates 2007, p.33). Livestock also may trample 
sagebrush seedlings, thereby removing a source of future sage-grouse 
food and cover (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-31). Trampling of soil by 
livestock can reduce or eliminate biological soil crusts making these 
areas susceptible to Bromus tectorum invasion (Mack 1981 as cited in 
Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 21; Young and Allen 1997, p. 531).
    Some livestock grazing effects may have positive consequences for 
sage-grouse. Evans (1986, p. 67) found that sage-grouse used grazed 
meadows significantly more during late summer than ungrazed meadows 
because grazing had stimulated the regrowth of forbs. Klebenow (1981, 
p. 121) noted that sage-grouse sought out and used openings in meadows 
created by cattle grazing in northern Nevada. Also, both sheep and 
goats have been used to control invasive weeds (Mosley 1996 as cited in 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-49; Merritt et al. 2001, p. 4; Olsen and 
Wallander 2001, p. 30) and woody plant encroachment (Riggs and Urness 
1989, p. 358) in sage-grouse habitat.
    Sagebrush plant communities are not adapted to domestic grazing 
disturbance. Grazing changed the functioning of systems into less 
resilient, and in some cases, altered communities (Knick et al., in 
press, p. 39). The ability to restore or rehabilitate areas depends on 
the condition of the area relative to its site potential (Knick et al., 
in press, p. 39). For example, if an area has a balanced mix of shrubs 
and native understory vegetation, a change in grazing management can 
restore the habitat to its potential vigor (Pyke, in press, p. 11). 
Wambolt and Payne (1986, p. 318) found that rest from grazing had a 
better perennial grass response than other treatments. Active 
restoration would be required where native understory vegetation is 
much reduced (Pyke, in press, p. 15). But, if an area has soil loss 
and/or invasive species, returning the site to the native historical 
plant community may be impossible (Daubenmire 1970, p. 82; Knick et 
al., in press, p. 39; Pyke, in press, p. 17). Aldridge et al. (2008, p. 
990) did not find any relationship between sage-grouse persistence and 
livestock densities. However, the authors noted that livestock numbers 
do not necessarily correlate with range condition. They concluded that 
the intensity, duration, and distribution of livestock grazing are more 
influential on rangeland condition than the livestock density values 
used in their modeling efforts (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 990).
    Extensive rangeland treatment has been conducted by federal 
agencies and private landowners to improve conditions for livestock in 
the sagebrush-steppe region (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7- 28; Knick et 
al., in press, p. 28). By the 1970s, over 2 million ha (5 million ac) 
of sagebrush are estimated to have been mechanically treated, sprayed 
with herbicide, or burned in an effort to remove sagebrush and increase 
herbaceous forage and grasses (Crawford et al. 2004, p. 12). The BLM 
treated over 1,800,000 ha (4,447,897 ac) from 1940 to 1994, with 62 
percent of the treatment occurring during the 1960s (Miller and 
Eddleman 2000, p. 20). Braun (1998, p. 146) concluded that, since 
European settlement of western North America, all sagebrush habitats 
used by greater sage-grouse have been treated in some way to reduce 
shrub cover. The use of chemicals to control sagebrush was initiated in 
the 1940s and intensified in the 1960s and early 1970s (Braun 1987, p. 
138). Crawford et al. (2004, p. 12) hypothesized that reductions in 
sage-grouse habitat quality (and possibly sage-grouse numbers) in the 
1970s may have been associated with extensive rangeland treatments to 
increase forage for domestic livestock.
    Greater sage-grouse response to herbicide treatments depends on the 
extent to which forbs and sagebrush are killed. Chemical control of 
sagebrush has resulted in declines of sage-grouse breeding populations 
through the loss of live sagebrush cover (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 
972). Herbicide treatment also can result in sage-grouse emigration 
from affected areas (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 973), and has been 
documented to have a negative effect on nesting, brood carrying 
capacity (Klebenow 1970, p. 399), and winter shrub cover essential for 
food and thermal cover (Pyrah 1972 and Higby 1969 as cited in Connelly 
et al. 2000a, p. 973). Conversely, small treatments interspersed with 
nontreated sagebrush habitats did not affect sage-grouse use, 
presumably due to minimal effects on food or cover (Braun 1998, p. 
147). Also, application of herbicides in early spring to reduce 
sagebrush cover may enhance some brood-rearing habitats by increasing 
the coverage of herbaceous plant foods (Autenrieth 1981, p. 65).
    Mechanical treatments are designed to either remove the aboveground 
portion of the sagebrush plant (mowing, roller chopping, and roto-
beating), or to uproot the plant from the soil (grubbing, bulldozing, 
anchor chaining, cabling, railing, raking, and plowing; Connelly et al. 
2004, p. l7-47). These treatments were begun in the 1930s and continued 
at relatively low levels to the late 1990s (Braun 1998, p. 147). 
Mechanical treatments, if carefully designed and executed, can be 
beneficial to sage-grouse by improving herbaceous cover, forb 
production, and sagebrush resprouting (Braun 1998, p. 147). However, 
adverse effects also have been documented (Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 
973). For example, in Montana, the number of breeding males declined by 
73 percent after 16 percent of the 202-km\2\ (78- mi\2\) study area was 
plowed (Swenson et al. 1987, p. 128). Mechanical treatments in blocks 
greater than 100 ha (247 ac), or of any size seeded with exotic 
grasses, degrade sage-grouse habitat by altering the structure and 
composition of the vegetative community (Braun 1998, p. 147).
    The current extent to which mechanical, chemical, and prescribed 
fire methods are used to remove or control sagebrush is not known, 
particularly with regard to private lands. However, BLM has stated that 
with rare exceptions, they no longer are involved

[[Page 13941]]

in actions that convert sagebrush to other habitat types, and that 
mechanical or chemical treatments in sagebrush habitat on BLM lands 
currently focus on improving the diversity of the native plant 
community, reducing conifer encroachment, or reducing the risk of a 
large wildfire (see discussion of Fire above; BLM 2004, p. 15).
    Historically, the elimination of sagebrush followed with rangeland 
seedings was encouraged to improve forage for livestock grazing 
operations (Blaisdell 1949, p. 519). Large expanses of sagebrush 
removed via chemical and mechanical methods have been reseeded with 
nonnative grasses, such as crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), to 
increase forage production on public lands (Pechanec et al. 1965 as 
cited in Connelly et al. 2004, p.7-28). These treatments reduced or 
eliminated many native grasses and forbs present prior to the seedings 
(Hull 1974, p. 217). Sage-grouse are affected indirectly through the 
loss of native forbs that serve as food and loss of native grasses that 
provide concealment or hiding cover (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-4).
    Water developments for the benefit of livestock and wild ungulates 
on public lands are common (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-35). Development 
of springs and other water sources to support livestock in upland 
shrub-steppe habitats can artificially concentrate domestic and wild 
ungulates in important sage-grouse habitats, thereby exacerbating 
grazing impacts in those areas such as heavy grazing and vegetation 
trampling (Braun 1998, p. 147; Knick et al., in press, p. 42). 
Diverting the water sources has the secondary effect of changing the 
habitat present at the water source before diversion. This impact could 
result in the loss of either riparian or wet meadow habitat important 
to sage-grouse as sources of forbs or insects. Water developments for 
livestock and wild ungulates also could be used as mosquito breeding 
habitat, and thus have the potential to facilitate the spread of West 
Nile virus (see discussion under Factor C: Disease and Predation).
    Another indirect negative impact to sage-grouse from livestock 
grazing occurs due to the placement of thousands of miles of fences for 
livestock management purposes (see discussion above under 
Infrastructure). Fences cause direct mortality through collision and 
indirect mortality through the creation of predator perch sites, the 
potential creation of predator corridors along fences (particularly if 
a road is maintained next to the fence), incursion of exotic species 
along the fencing corridor, and habitat fragmentation (Call and Maser 
1985, p. 22; Braun 1998, p. 145; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 974; Beck et 
al. 2003, p. 211; Knick et al. 2003, p. 612; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 
1-2).
    The impacts of livestock operations on sage-grouse depend upon 
stocking levels, season of use, and utilization levels. Cattle and 
sheep Animal Unit Months (AUMs) (the amount of forage required to feed 
one cow with calf, one horse, five sheep, or five goats for 1 month) on 
all Federal land have declined since the early 1900s (Laycock et al. 
1996, p. 3). By the 1940s, AUMs on all Federal lands (not just areas 
occupied by sage-grouse) were estimated to be 14.6 million, increasing 
to 16.5 million in the 1950s, and gradually declining to 10.2 million 
by the 1990s (Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 19). Although AUMs have 
decreased over time, we cannot assume that the net impact of grazing 
has decreased because the productivity of those lands has decreased 
(Knick et al., in press, p. 42). As of 2007, the number of permitted 
AUMs for BLM lands in States where sage-grouse occur totaled 7,118,989 
(Beever and Aldridge, in press, p. 19-20). We estimate that those 
permitted AUMs occur in approximately 18,783 BLM grazing allotments in 
sage-grouse habitat (Stoner 2008). Since 2005, 644 (3.4 percent) of 
those allotments have decreased the permitted AUMs (Service 2008a). 
However, BLM tracks the number of AUMs permitted rather than the number 
of AUMs actually used. The number permitted typically is higher than 
what is used, thus we do not know how the decrease on paper corresponds 
to the actual number of AUMs for the last four years.
Wild Horse and Burro Grazing
    Free-roaming horses and burros have been a component of sagebrush 
and other arid communities since they were brought to North America at 
the end of the 16th century (Wagner 1983, p. 116; Beever 2003, p. 887). 
About 31,000 wild horses occur in 10 western States (including 2 states 
outside the range of the greater sage-grouse), with herd sizes being 
largest in Nevada, Wyoming, and Oregon, which are the States with the 
most extensive sagebrush cover (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-37). Of 
about 5,000 burros occur in five western States approximately 700 occur 
within the SGCA (Connelly et al. 2004, p.7-37). Beever and Aldridge 
(2009, in press, p. 7) estimate that about 12 percent (78, 389 km\2\, 
30,266 mi\2\) of sage-grouse habitat is managed for free-roaming horses 
and burros. However, the extent to which the equids use land outside of 
designated management areas is difficult to quantify but may be 
considerable.
    We are unaware of any studies that directly address the impact of 
wild horses or burros on sagebrush and sage-grouse. However, some 
authors have suggested that wild horses could negatively impact 
important meadow and spring brood-rearing habitats used by sage-grouse 
(Crawford et al. 2004, p. 11; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-37). Horses 
are generalists, but seasonally their diets can be almost wholly 
comprised of grasses (Wagner 1983, pp. 119-120). A comparison of areas 
with and without horse grazing showed 1.9 to 2.9 times more grass cover 
and higher grass density in areas without horse grazing (Beever et al. 
2008 as cited Beever and Aldridge in press, p. 11). Additionally, sites 
with horse grazing had less shrub cover and more fragmented shrub 
canopies (Beever and Aldridge in press, p. 12). As noted above, sage-
grouse need significant grass and shrub cover for protection from 
predators particularly during nesting season, and females will 
preferentially choose nesting sites based on these qualities (Hagen et 
al. 2007, p. 46). Sites with grazing also generally showed less plant 
diversity, altered soil characteristics, and 1.6 to 2.6 times greater 
abundance of nonnative Bromus tectorum (Beever et al. 2008 as cited in 
Beever and Aldridge 2009, in press, p. 13). These impacts combined 
indicate that horse grazing has the potential to result in an overall 
decrease in the quality and quantity of sage-grouse habitat in areas 
where such grazing occurs.
    Currently, free-roaming equids consume an estimated 315,000 to 
433,000 AUMs as compared to over 7 million AUMs for domestic livestock 
within the range of greater sage-grouse (Beever and Aldridge, in press, 
p. 21). Cattle typically outnumber horses by a large degree in areas 
where both occur; however, locally ratios of 2:1 (horse:cow) have been 
reported (Wagner 1983, p.126). The local effects of ungulate grazing 
depend on a host of abiotic and biotic factors (e.g., elevation, 
season, soil composition, plant productivity, and composition). 
Additional significant biological and behavioral differences influence 
the impact of horses as compared to cattle grazing on habitat (Beever 
2003, pp. 888-890). For example, due to physiological differences, a 
horse must forage longer and consumes 20 to 65 percent more forage than 
would a cow of equivalent body mass (Wagner 1983, p. 121; Menard et al. 
2002, p.127). Unlike cattle and other ungulates, horses can crop 
vegetation close to the ground, potentially limiting or delaying

[[Page 13942]]

recovery of plants (Menard et al. 2002, p.127). In addition, horses 
seasonally move to higher elevations, spend less time at water, and 
range farther from water sources than cattle (Beever and Aldridge in 
press, pp. 20, 21). Given these differences, along with the confounding 
factor of past range use, it is difficult to assess the overall 
magnitude of the impact of horses on the landscape in general, or on 
sage-grouse habitat in particular. In areas grazed by both horses and 
cattle, whether the impacts are synergistic or additive is currently 
unknown (Beever and Aldridge, in press, p. 21).
Wild Ungulate Herbivory
    Native herbivores, such as elk (Cervus elaphus), mule deer, and 
pronghorn antelope coexist with sage-grouse in sagebrush ecosystems 
(Miller et al. 1994, p. 111). These ungulates are present in sagebrush 
ecosystems during various seasons based on dietary needs and forage 
availability (Kufeld 1973, p. 106-107; Kufeld et al. 1973 as cited in 
Wallmo and Regelin 1981, p. 387-396; Allen et al. 1984, p. 1). Elk 
primarily consume grasses but are highly versatile in consumption of 
forbs and shrubs when grasses are not available (Kufeld 1973, pp. 106-
107; Vallentine 1990, p. 235). In the winter, heavy snow forces elk to 
lower-elevation sagebrush areas where they forage heavily on sagebrush 
(Wambolt and Sherwood 1999, p. 225). Mule deer utilize forbs, shrubs, 
and grasses throughout the year dependent upon availability and 
preference (Kufeld et al. 1973 as cited in Wallmo and Regelin 1981, pp. 
389-396). Pronghorn antelope, most commonly associated with grasslands 
and sagebrush, consume a wide variety of available shrubs and forbs and 
consume new spring grass growth (Allen et al. 1984, p. 1; Vallentine 
1990, p. 236).
    We are unaware of studies evaluating the effects of native ungulate 
herbivory on sage-grouse and sage-grouse habitat. However, concentrated 
native ungulate herbivory may impact vegetation in sage-grouse habitat 
on a localized scale. Native ungulate winter browsing can have 
substantial, localized impacts on sagebrush vigor, resulting in 
decreased shrub cover or sagebrush mortality (Wambolt 1996, p. 502; 
Wambolt and Hoffman 2004, p. 195). Additionally, despite decreased 
habitat availability, elk and mule deer populations are currently 
higher than pre-European estimates (Wasley 2004, p. 3; Young and Sparks 
1985, pp. 67-68). As a result, some States started small-scale 
supplemental feeding programs for deer and elk. In those localized 
areas, vegetation is heavily utilized from the concentration of animals 
(Doman and Rasmussen 1944, p. 319; Smith 2001, pp. 179-181). Unlike 
domestic ungulates, wild ungulates are not confined to the same area, 
at the same time each year. Therefore, the impacts from wild ungulates 
are spread more diffusely across the landscape, resulting in minimal 
long-term impacts to the vegetation community.
Summary: Grazing
    Livestock management and domestic grazing can seriously degrade 
sage-grouse habitat. Grazing can adversely impact nesting and brood-
rearing habitat by decreasing vegetation concealment from predators. 
Grazing also has been shown to compact soils, decrease herbaceous 
abundance, increase erosion, and increase the probability of invasion 
of exotic plant species. Once plant communities have an invasive annual 
grass understory dominance, successful restoration or rehabilitation 
techniques are largely unproven and experimental (Pyke, in press, p. 
25). Massive systems of fencing constructed to manage domestic 
livestock cause direct mortality to sage-grouse in addition to 
degrading and fragmenting habitats. Livestock management also can 
involve water developments that can degrade important brood-rearing 
habitat and or facilitate the spread of WNv. Additionally, some 
research suggests there may be direct competition between sage-grouse 
and livestock for plant resources. However, although there are obvious 
negative impacts, some research suggests that under very specific 
conditions grazing can benefit sage-grouse.
    Similar to domestic grazing, wild horses and burros have the 
potential to negatively affect sage-grouse habitats in areas where they 
occur by decreasing grass cover, fragmenting shrub canopies, altering 
soil characteristics, decreasing plant diversity, and increasing the 
abundance of invasive Bromus tectorum.
    Native ungulates have coexisted with sage-grouse in sagebrush 
ecosystems. Elk and mule deer browse sagebrush during the winter and 
can cause mortality to small patches of sagebrush from heavy winter 
use. Pronghorn antelope, largely overlapping with sage-grouse habitat 
year around, consume grasses and forbs during the summer and browse on 
sagebrush in the winter. We are not aware of research analyzing impacts 
from these native ungulates on sage-grouse or sage-grouse habitat.
    Currently there is little direct evidence linking grazing practices 
to population levels of greater sage-grouse. However, testing for 
impacts of grazing at landscape scales important to sage-grouse is 
confounded by the fact that almost all sage-grouse habitat has at one 
time been grazed and thus no non-grazed, baseline areas currently exist 
with which to compare (Knick et al. in press, p. 43). Although we 
cannot examine grazing at large spatial scales, we do know that grazing 
can have negative impacts to sagebrush and consequently to sage-grouse 
at local scales. However, how these impacts operate at large spatial 
scales and thus on population levels is currently unknown. Given the 
widespread nature of grazing, the potential for population-level 
impacts cannot be ignored.

Energy Development

    Greater sage-grouse populations are negatively affected by energy 
development activities (primarily oil, gas, and coal-bed methane), 
especially those that degrade important sagebrush habitat, even when 
mitigative measures are implemented (Braun 1998, p. 144; Lyon 2000, pp. 
25-28; Holloran 2005, pp. 56-57; Naugle et al. 2006, pp. 8-9; Walker et 
al. 2007a, p. 2651; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 192; Harju et al. in press, 
p. 22). Impacts can result from direct habitat loss, fragmentation of 
important habitats by roads, pipelines, and powerlines (Kaiser 2006, p. 
3; Holloran et al. 2007, p. 16), noise (Holloran 2005, p. 56), and 
direct human disturbance (Lyon and Anderson 2003, p. 489). The negative 
effects of energy development often add to the impacts from other human 
development and activities and result in sage-grouse population 
declines (Harju et al. in press, p. 22; Naugle et al., in press, p. 1). 
For example, 12 years of coal-bed methane gas development in the Powder 
River Basin of Wyoming has coincided with 79 percent decline in the 
sage-grouse population (Emmerich 2009, pers. comm.). Population 
declines associated with energy development result from the abandonment 
of leks (Braun et al. 2002, p. 5; Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2649; Clark 
et al. 2008, pp. 14, 16), decreased attendance at the leks that persist 
(Holloran 2005, pp. 38-39, 50; Kaiser 2006, p. 23; Walker et al. 2007a, 
p. 2648; Harju et al. in press, p. 22), lower nest initiation (Lyon 
2000, p. 109; Lyon and Anderson 2003, p. 5), poor nest success and 
chick survival (Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 517), decreased yearling 
survival (Holloran et al., in press, p. 6), and avoidance of energy 
infrastructure in important wintering habitat (Doherty et al. 2008, pp. 
192-193).

[[Page 13943]]

Nonrenewable Energy Sources
    Nonrenewable fossil fuel energy development (e.g., petroleum 
products, coal) has been occurring in sage-grouse habitats since the 
late 1800s (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-28). Interest in developing oil 
and gas resources in North America has been cyclic based on demand and 
market conditions (Braun et al. 2002, p. 2). Between 2004 and 2008, the 
exploration and development of fossil fuels in sagebrush habitats 
increased rapidly as prices and demand were spurred by geopolitical 
uncertainties and legislative mandates (National Petroleum Council 
2007, pp. 5-7). Legislative mandates that were used to effect an 
increase in energy development include those of the Energy Policy and 
Conservation Act (EPCA) of 1975 (42 United States Code (U.S.C.) 6201 et 
seq.) to secure energy supplies and increase the availability of fossil 
fuels. Reauthorization and amendments to the EPCA have occurred through 
subsequent legislation including the Energy Policy Act of 2000 (Public 
Law (P.L.) 106-469) that mandates the inventory of Federal nonrenewable 
resources (42 U.S.C. 6217). The 2005 Energy Policy Act requires 
identification and resolution of impediments to timely granting of 
Federal leases and post-leasing development (42 U.S.C. 15851). In 
addition, the 2005 Energy Policy Act mandated the designation of 
corridors on Federal lands for energy transport (42 U.S.C. 15926), 
ordered the identification of renewable energy sources (e.g., wind, 
geothermal), and provided incentives for development of renewable 
energy sources (42 U.S.C. 15851).
    Global recession starting in 2008 resulted in decreased energy 
demand and subsequently slowed rate of energy development (Energy 
Information Administration (EIA) 2009b, p. 2). However, the production 
of fossil fuels is predicted to regain and surpass the early 2008 
levels starting in 2010 (EIA 2009b, p. 109). Forecasts to the year 2030 
predict fossil fuels to continue to provide for the United States' 
energy needs while not necessarily in conventional forms or from 
present extraction techniques (EIA 2009b, pp. 2-4, 109). Recent 
concerns about curbing greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil 
fuel use are being addressed through government policy, legislation, 
and advanced technologies and are likely to effect a transition in fuel 
form (EIA 2009b, pp. 2-3, 78).
    The decline in use of conventional fossil fuels for power 
generation in the future is expected to be supplemented with biomass, 
unconventional oil and gas, and renewable sources--all of which are 
existing or potentially available in current sage-grouse habitats (U.S. 
Department of Energy (DOE) 2006, p. 3; National Petroleum Council 2007, 
p. 6; BLM 2005a, p. 2-4; National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) 
2008a, entire; Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory 
2003, entire; EIA 2009b, pp. 2-4). For example, oil shale and tar sands 
are unconventional fossil fuel liquids predicted for increased 
development in the sage-grouse range. Shale sources providing 2 million 
barrels per day in 2007 are expected to contribute 5.6-6.1 million 
barrels by 2030 (EIA 2009b, p. 30). Extraction of this resource 
involves removal of habitat and disturbance similar to oil and gas 
development (see discussion below). National reserves of oil shale lie 
primarily in the Uinta-Piceance area of Colorado and Utah (MZs II, III, 
and VII), and the Green River and Washakie areas of southwestern 
Wyoming (MZ II). These 1.4 million ha (3.5 million ac) of Federal lands 
contain an estimated 1.23 trillion barrels of oil--more than 50 times 
the United States' proven conventional oil reserves (BLM 2008a, p. 2).
    Available EPCA inventories detail energy resources in 11 geological 
basins (DOI et al. 2008, entire) in the greater sage-grouse 
conservation assessment area identified in the 2006 Conservation 
Strategy (Stiver et al. 2006, p. 1-11). Extensive oil and gas reserves 
are identified in the Williston Basin of western North Dakota, 
northwestern South Dakota, and eastern Montana; Montana Thrust Belt in 
west-central Montana; Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming and 
southeastern Montana; Wyoming Thrust Belt of extreme southwestern 
Wyoming, northern Utah, and southeastern Idaho; Southwest Wyoming Basin 
including portions of southwestern and central Wyoming, northeastern 
Utah, and northwestern Colorado; Uinta-Piceance Basin of west-central 
Colorado and east-central Utah; Eastern Great Basin in eastern Nevada, 
western Utah, and southern Idaho; and Paradox Basin in south-central 
and southeastern Utah. Although all these geological basins have some 
component of sage habitats, the Southwestern Wyoming Basin as defined 
by EPCA (DOI et al. 2008, p. 3-11) is highest in sagebrush-dominated 
landscapes (Knick et al. 2003, pp. 613, 615) and is located in MZ II as 
described in Stiver et al. 2006 (pp. 1-11).
    Oil and gas development has occurred in the past, with historical 
well locations concentrated in MZs I, II, III, and VII of Wyoming, 
eastern Montana, western Colorado, and eastern Utah (IHS Incorporated 
2006). Currently, oil, conventional gas, or coal-bed methane 
development occur across the eastern component of the SGCA. Four 
geological basins are most affected by a concentration of development--
Powder River (MZ I), Williston (MZ I), Southwestern Wyoming (MZ II), 
and the Uinta-Piceance (MZs II, III, VII) coinciding with the highest 
proportion of high-density areas of sage-grouse, the greatest number of 
leks, and the highest male sage-grouse attendance at leks compared with 
any other area in the eastern part of the range (Doherty et al. in 
press, p. 11). The Powder River Basin in northeastern Wyoming and 
southeastern Montana is home to an important regional population of the 
larger Wyoming Basin populations, which represents 25 percent of the 
sage-grouse in the species' range (Connelly et al. 2004, p. A4-37). The 
Powder River Basin serves as a link to peripheral populations in 
eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota and between the Wyoming Basin 
and central Montana. The Pinedale Anticline Project is in the Greater 
Green River area of the Southwest Wyoming Basin where the subpopulation 
in southwestern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado has been a stronghold 
for sage-grouse with some of the highest estimated densities of males 
per square kilometer anywhere in the remaining range of the species 
(Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 6-62, A5-23). The southwestern Wyoming-
northwestern Colorado subpopulation has historically supported more 
than 800 leks (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-62). The preservation of 
large contiguous blocks or interconnected patches of habitats that 
exist in southwestern Wyoming is considered a conservation priority for 
sage-grouse (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 31).
    Extensive development and operations are occurring in sage-grouse 
habitats where the number of producing wells has tripled in the past 30 
years (Naugle et al., in press, p. 17). More than 8 percent of the 
distribution of sagebrush habitats is directly or indirectly affected 
by oil and gas development and associated pipelines (Knick et al. in 
press, p. 48). Forty-four percent of the 16-million-ha (39-million-ac) 
Federal mineral estate in MZs I and II is leased and authorized for 
exploration and development (Naugle et al. in press, pp. 17-18). 
Wyoming contains the highest percentage of the Federal mineral estate 
with 10.6 million ha (26.2 million ac); 52 percent of it is authorized 
for development (Naugle et

[[Page 13944]]

al., in press, pp. 17-18). Other Federal mineral estates in the eastern 
portion of the sage-grouse conservation assessment area that are 
authorized for development include at least 27 percent of Montana's 3.7 
million ha (9.1 million ac), 50 percent of 915,000 ha (2.3 million ac) 
in Colorado, 25 percent of 405,000 ha (1.0 million ac) in Utah, and 14 
percent of North and South Dakota's combined 365,000 ha (902,000 ac) 
(Naugle et al. in press, p. 38).
    The Great Plains MZ (MZ I) contains all or portions of the 20.9-
million-ha (51.7-million-ac) Powder River and Williston geological 
basins identified as significant oil and gas resources. The resource 
areas include 7.2 million ha (18.2 million ac) of sagebrush habitats. 
Oil and gas infrastructure and planned development occupies less than 1 
percent of the land area in MZ I; however, the ecological effect is 
greater than 20 percent of the sagebrush habitat, based on applying a 
buffer zone to estimate the potential the distance of sage-grouse 
response to infrastructure (Lyon and Anderson 2003, p. 489; Knick et 
al., in press, p. 133). Energy development is concentrated in the 
Powder River geologic basin in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern 
Montana. Coal-bed natural gas extraction is the most recent development 
in the Powder River Basin, which also is the largest actively producing 
coal basin in the United States (Wyoming Mining Association 2008, p. 
2).
    In 2002, the BLM in Wyoming proposed development of 39,367 coal-bed 
methane wells and 3,200 conventional oil or gas wells in the Powder 
River Basin in addition to an existing 12,024 coal-bed methane wells 
drilled or permitted (BLM 2002, pp. 2-3). Wells would be developed over 
a 10-year period with production lasting until 2019 (BLM 2002, p. 3). 
The BLM estimated 82,073 ha (202,808 ac) of surface disturbance from 
all activities such as well pads, pipelines, roads, compressor 
stations, and water handling facilities over a 3.2-million-ha (8-
million-ac) project area (BLM 2002, p. 2). Roads and water handling 
facilities were expected to be long-term disturbances encompassing 
approximately 38,501 ha (95,140 ac) (BLM 2002, p. 3). Reclamation of 
well sites was expected to be complete by 2022 (BLM 2002, p. 3). It is 
not clear if this 2022 date takes into consideration the length of time 
necessary to achieve suitable habitat conditions for sage-grouse or if 
restoration of sage-grouse habitat is possible.
    Between 1997 and 2007, approximately 35,000 producing wells were in 
place on Federal, State, and private holdings in the Powder River Basin 
area (Naugle et al., in press, p. 7). In 2008, the BLM in Montana 
completed a supplement to the 2003 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) 
and Record of Decision (ROD) to allow for 5,800-16,500 new coal bed 
methane wells in the Montana portion of the Powder River Basin over the 
pursuant 20 years (BLM 2008b, pp. 4.2, 4.4-4.5). The BLM estimated a 
direct impact of 0.8-1.3 ha (2-3.4 ac) per well site (BLM 2008b, p. 
4.11). In addition to the well footprint, each additional group of 2-10 
wells has been shown to increase the number of new roads, power lines, 
and other infrastructure (Naugle et al. in press, p. 7). Ranching, 
tillage agriculture, and energy development are the primary land uses 
in the Powder River Basin. The presence of human features and road 
densities are high in areas where all three activities coincide to the 
level that every 0.8 ha (0.5 mi) could be bounded by a road and 
bisected by a power line (Naugle et al. in press, p. 9).
    The Powder River Basin serves as a link to peripheral sage-grouse 
populations in eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota and between the 
Wyoming basin and central Montana. This connectivity is expected to be 
lost in the near future because of the intensity of development in the 
region. Sage-grouse populations have declined in the Powder River Basin 
by 79 percent since the development of coal-bed methane resources 
(Emmerich 2009, pers. comm.). In the Powder River Basin between 2001 
and 2005, sage-grouse lek-count indices declined by 82 percent inside 
gas fields compared to 12 percent outside development (Walker et al. 
2007a, p. 2648). By 2004-2005, fewer leks remained active (38 percent) 
inside gas fields compared to leks outside fields (84 percent) (Walker 
et al. 2007a, p. 2648). Sage-grouse are less likely to use suitable 
wintering habitat with abundant sagebrush when coal-bed methane 
development is present (Doherty et al. 2008, p. 192). At current 
maximum permitted well density (12 wells per 359 ha (888 ac)), planned 
full-field development will impact the remaining wintering habitat in 
the basin (Doherty et al. 2008, pp. 192, 194) and lead to extirpation.
    Energy development in the Powder River Basin is predicted to 
continue to actively reduce sage-grouse populations and sagebrush 
habitats over the next 20 years based on the length of development and 
production projects described in existing project and management plans. 
The BLM concluded that sage-grouse habitats would not be restored to 
pre-disturbance conditions for an extended time (BLM 2003, p. 4-268). 
Sagebrush restoration after development is difficult to achieve, and 
successful restoration is not assured as described above (Habitat 
Description and Characteristics).
    The 9.6-million-ha (23.9-million-ac) Williston Basin underlies the 
northeastern corner of the current sage-grouse range in Montana, North 
and South Dakota. It is another energy resource area experiencing 
concentrated oil and gas development in MZ I. Oil production has 
occurred in the Williston Basin for at least 80 years with oil 
production peaking in the 1980s (Advanced Resources International 2006, 
p. 3-3). Advances in technology including directional drilling and 
coal-bed methane technology have boosted development of oil and gas in 
the basin (Advanced Resources International 2006, p. 3.2; Zander 2008, 
p. 1). Large, developed fields are concentrated in the Bowdoin Dome 
area of north-central Montana and the 193-km (120-mi) long Cedar Creek 
Anticline area of southeastern Montana, southwestern North Dakota, and 
northwestern South Dakota. Extensive energy development in the Cedar 
Creek Anticline area could be isolating the very small North Dakota 
population from sage-grouse populations in central Montana and the 
northern Powder River Basin.
    One hundred and thirty-six wells were put into production in 2008-
2009 in major oil and gas fields of the Williston Basin north of the 
Missouri River in the range of the Northern Montana sage-grouse 
population (Montana Department of Natural Resources 2009, entire) 
including the Bowdoin Dome area. The Bowdoin Dome area is populated by 
more than 1,500 gas wells with associated infrastructure, and an 
additional 1,200 new or replacement wells were approved in the 
remaining occupied active sage-grouse habitat (BLM 2008c, pp. 1, 3-127 
to 3-129). Active drilling operations are expected to occur over 10-15 
years, and gas production is expected to extend the project life 30-50 
additional years (BLM 2008c, p. 1). The BLM's project description does 
not take into consideration the time period necessary to restore native 
sagebrush communities to suitability for sage-grouse. Energy 
extraction, ranching, and tillage agriculture coincide in this area of 
the State described by Leu and Hanser (in press, p. 44) as experiencing 
high-intensity human activity that is consistent with lek loss and 
population decline (Wisdom et al., in press, p. 23). Energy development 
in Montana has contributed to post-settlement sage-

[[Page 13945]]

grouse range contraction and possibly the geographic separation of the 
existing subpopulations in northern Montana and Canada. Foreseeable 
development is expected to further reduce the remaining sage-grouse 
habitat within developed oil and gas fields, and contribute to future 
range and population reductions (Copeland et al. 2009, p. 5).
    Southwestern and central Wyoming and northwestern Colorado in MZ II 
has been considered a stronghold for sage-grouse with some of the 
highest estimated densities of males anywhere in the remaining range of 
the species (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 6-62, A5-23). Wisdom et al. (in 
press, p. 23) identified this high-density sagebrush area as one of the 
highest priorities for conservation consideration as it comprises one 
of two remaining areas of contiguous range essential for the long-term 
persistence of the species. The Southwestern Wyoming geological basin 
also is experiencing significant growth in energy development which, 
based on the conclusions of recent investigations on the effects of oil 
and gas development, is expected over time to reduce sage-grouse 
habitat, increase fragmentation, and decrease and isolate sage-grouse 
populations leading to extirpations.
    Oil, gas, and coal-bed methane development is occurring across MZ 
II, and development is concentrated in some areas. Intensive 
development and production is occurring in the Greater Green River area 
in southwestern Wyoming and northern Colorado and northeastern Utah. 
The BLM published a ROD in 2000 for the Pinedale Anticline Project Area 
in southwestern Wyoming (BLM 2000, entire). The project description 
included up to 900 drill pads, including dry holes, over a 10- to 15-
year development period (BLM 2008d, p. 4-4). By the end of 2005, 
approximately 457 wells on 322 well pads were under production (BLM 
2008d, p. 6). In 2008, the BLM amended the project to accommodate an 
accelerated rate of development exceeding that in the 2002 project 
description (BLM 2008d, p. 4). Approximately 250 new well pads are 
proposed in addition to pipelines and other facilities (BLM 2008d, p. 
36). Total initial direct disturbance acres for the entire Pinedale 
project are approximately 10,400 ha (25,800 ac) with more than 7,200 ha 
(18,000 ac) in sagebrush land cover type (BLM 2008d, p. 4-52).
    The Jonah Gas Infill Project also is underway in the Pinedale 
Anticline area of the Southwest Wyoming Basin that expands on the Jonah 
Project started in 2000. In 2006, the BLM issued a ROD and EIS to 
extend the existing project to an additional 3,100 wells and up to 
6,556 ha (16,200 ac) of new surface disturbance (BLM 2006, p. 2-4). In 
addition, at least 64 well pads would be situated per 259 ha (640 ac), 
and up to 761 km (473 mi) of pipeline and roads, 56 ha (140 ac) of 
additional disturbance for ancillary facilities (p. 2-5) also would 
occur. The project life of 76 years includes 13 years of development 
and 63 years of production (BLM 2006, p. 2-15). The project description 
requires reclamation of disturbed sites and establishment of 
stabilizing vegetation by 1 year post-reclamation (BLM 2006, p. 2-24) 
and standard lease stipulations to protect sage-grouse. This project is 
located in high-density sage-grouse habitat, but it is not clear from 
the project description if suitable sage-grouse habitat is the 
reclamation goal. Therefore, sagebrush habitats, and the associated 
sage-grouse are likely to be lost.
    Knick et al. (in press, pp. 49, 128) reviewed BLM documents for the 
Greater Green River Basin area, which includes the Pinedale and Jonah 
projects, and reported that 6,185 wells have been drilled, and there 
are agency plans for more than 9,300 wells and associated 
infrastructure. Existing and planned energy development influences over 
20 percent of the sagebrush area in the Wyoming Basin (MZ II) (Knick et 
al., in press, p. 133). Drilling, gas production, and traffic on main 
haul roads have all been shown to affect lek attendance and lek 
persistence when it coincides with breeding habitat within 3.2 km (2 
mi) (Holloran 2005, p. 40; Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2651). Using 2006 
well point data and, therefore, a conservative estimate as oil 
exploration and development experienced significant growth between 2006 
and 2008, we calculated that 21 to 35 percent of active breeding 
habitat for subpopulations in the Southwest Wyoming geological basin 
may be negatively impacted by the proximity of energy development 
(Service 2008b).
    In the Greater Green River Basin area, yearling male sage-grouse 
reared near gas field infrastructure had lower survival rates and were 
less likely to establish breeding territories than males with less 
exposure to energy development; yearling female sage-grouse avoided 
nesting within 950 m (0.6 mi) of natural gas infrastructure (Holloran 
et al., in press, p. 6). The fidelity of sage-grouse to natal sites may 
result in birds staying in areas with development but they do not breed 
(Lyon and Anderson 2003, p. 49; Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2651; Holloran 
et al., in press, p. 6). The effect of energy development on sage-
grouse population numbers may then take 4 to 5 years to appear (Walker 
et al. 2007a, p. 2651). Copeland et al. (2009, p. 5) depicted an 
extensive development scenario for southwest Wyoming, northern 
Colorado, and northeastern Utah based on known reserves and existing 
project plans that indicates an intersection between future oil and gas 
development and high-density sage-grouse core areas that could result 
in 6.3 to 24.1 percent decrease in sage-grouse numbers over the next 20 
years in MZ II (Copeland 2010, pers. comm.).
    The Greater Green River area of southwest Wyoming and the Uintah-
Piceance basin (discussed below) also are, in addition to oil and gas, 
important reserves of oil shale and tar sands that are expected to 
supply more of the nation's resource needs in the future (EIA 2009b, p. 
30). The Uintah-Piceance geologic basin includes the Colorado Plateau 
(MZ VII) and overlaps into the southern edge of the Wyoming Basin (MZ 
II). Sage-grouse in this part of the range are reduced to four small, 
isolated populations, a likely consequence of urban and agricultural 
development (Knick et al., in press, pp. 106-107; Leu and Hanser, in 
press, p. 15). All four populations are threatened by environmental, 
demographic, and genetic stochasticity due to their small population 
sizes as well as housing and energy development, predation, disease, 
and conifer invasion (Garton et al., in press, p. 7; Petch 2009, pers. 
comm.; Maxfield 2009, pers. comm.) although population data are limited 
for most of this area (Garton et al., in press, p. 63).
    Based on applying a 3 km (1.9 mi) buffer to construction areas, 
Knick et al. (in press, p. 133) estimate existing energy development 
affects over 30 percent of sagebrush habitats in this area. In the past 
4 years, the number of oil and gas wells increased in sage-grouse 
habitats of northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah by 325 and 870 
wells, respectively (Service 2008c). More than 1,370 wells were 
completed in Uintah (location of the two Utah populations) and Duchesne 
Counties of northeast Utah between July 2008 and August 2009 (Utah Oil 
and Gas Program 2009, entire), and approximately 7,700 wells are active 
in the counties (Utah DNRC 2009, entire). We expect that the 
development of energy resources will continue based on available 
reserves and recent development history (Copeland et al. 2009, p. 5), 
and development will further stress the persistence of these small 
populations at the southern edge of the sage-grouse range.

[[Page 13946]]

    Using GIS analysis, we calculated that 70 percent of the sage-
grouse breeding habitat is potentially impacted by oil and gas 
development in the Powder River Basin (Service 2008b). The 70 percent 
figure was derived from well point data supplied by the BLM, buffered 
by 3.2 km (2 mi), and intersecting these areas with known lek locations 
buffered to 6.4 km (4 mi). The 70 percent figure is conservative 
because the most comprehensive well point data set available was 2 
years old and did not reflect the rapid development that occurred in 
2008. Breeding habitat is defined as a 6.4-km (4-mi) radius around 
known lek points and includes the range of the average distances 
between nests and nearest lek (Autenrieth 1981, p. 18; Wakkinen et al. 
1992, p. 2).
    The effects of oil and gas development, as described in detail 
later in this section, are likely to continue for decades even with the 
current protective or mitigative measures in place. Based on a review 
of project EISs, Connelly et al. (2004, p. 7-41) concluded that the 
economic life of a coal-bed methane well averages 12-18 years and 20-
100 years for deep oil and gas wells. A recent review of energy 
projects in development, primarily gas and coal-bed methane, supports 
these timeframes (BLM 2008b, p. 4-2; 2008c, p. 2; 2009b, p. 2). In 
addition, many energy projects are tiered to the 20-year land use plans 
developed by individual BLM field offices or districts to guide 
development and other activities.
    The BLM is the primary Federal agency managing the United States' 
energy resources and has the legal authority to regulate and condition 
oil and gas leases and permits. Although the restrictive stipulations 
that BLM applies to permits and leases are variable, a 0.4-km (0.25-mi) 
radius around sage-grouse leks is generally restricted to no surface 
occupancy (NSO) during the breeding season, and noise and development 
activities are often limited during the breeding season within a 0.8- 
to 3.2-km (0.5 to 2-mi) radius of sage-grouse leks. As stated above, 
the BLM's NSO buffer stipulation is ineffective in protecting sage-
grouse (Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2651), and it is not applied or 
applicable to all development sites (see discussion under Factor D). We 
estimated the sage-grouse breeding habitat impacted within 0.4 km (0.25 
mi) of a producing well or drilling site with an approved BLM permit 
using 2006 well-site locations (the most comprehensive data available 
to us). Figures derived from the 2006 data are conservative because the 
rapid pace of development in 2007 and 2008 is not reflected. Within 
16.2 million ha (38 million ac) of sage-grouse breeding habitat in MZs 
I and II (where 65 percent of all sage-grouse reside), approximately 
1.7 million ha (4.2 million ac) or 10 percent are within 0.4 km (0.25 
mi) of a producing well, drilling operation or site (Service 2008d). 
Walker et al. (2007a, p. 2651) reported negative impacts on lek 
attendance of coal-bed methane development within 0.8 km (0.5 mi) and 
3.2 km (2 mi) of a lek, and Holloran (2005, pp. 57-60) observed that 
the influence of producing well sites and mail haul roads on lek 
attendance extended to at least 3 km (2 mi). Expanding our analysis 
area from 0.4 km (0.25 mi) to include breeding habitat within 3 km (2 
mi) of producing well or drilling sites with an approved BLM permit, we 
determined that 40 percent of the sage-grouse breeding habitat in MZs I 
and II is potentially affected by oil or gas development (Service 
2008b).
    In some cases, localized areas are experiencing higher levels of 
effects. Seventy percent of the sage-grouse breeding habitat is within 
3 km (2 mi) of development in the Powder River Basin of northeastern 
Wyoming and southeastern Montana (Service 2008b), where Walker et al. 
(2007, p. 2651) concluded that full-field development would reduce the 
probability of lek persistence from 87 to 5 percent. Our analyses show 
that subpopulations of sage-grouse in MZ II have up to 35 percent of 
breeding habitat within 3.2 km (2 mi) of development, and where data 
are available for populations in the Uintah-Piceance Basin of Colorado 
and Utah, 100 percent of the breeding habitat is affected by oil and 
gas development (Service 2008b). Additionally these calculations do not 
take into account the added effects of loss of habitat or habitat 
effectiveness resulting from the increasing level of renewable energy 
development or other anthropogenic factors occurring in concert with 
oil and gas development, such as agricultural tillage, urban expansion, 
or predation, fire, and invasives (see discussions under those 
headings).
    Energy development impacts sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats 
through direct habitat loss from well pad, access construction, seismic 
surveys, roads, powerlines, and pipeline corridors; indirectly from 
noise, gaseous emissions, changes in water availability and quality, 
and human presence; and the interaction and intensity of effects could 
cumulatively or individually lead to fragmentation (Suter 1978, pp. 6-
13; Aldridge 1998, p. 12; Braun 1998, pp. 144-148; Aldridge and Brigham 
2003, p. 31; Knick et al. 2003, pp. 612, 619; Lyon and Anderson 2003, 
pp. 489-490; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-40 to 7-41; Holloran 2005, pp. 
56-57; Holloran 2007, pp. 18-19; Aldridge and Boyce 2007, pp. 521-522; 
Walker et al. 2007a, pp. 2652-2653; Zou et al. 2006, pp. 1039-1040; 
Doherty et al. 2008, p. 193; Leu and Hanser, in press, p. 28).
    The development of oil and gas resources requires surveys for 
economically recoverable reserves, construction of well pads and access 
roads, subsequent drilling and extraction, and transport of oil and 
gas, typically through pipelines. Ancillary facilities can include 
compressor stations, pumping stations, electrical generators, and 
powerlines (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-39; BLM 2007c, p. 2-110). 
Surveys for recoverable resources occur primarily through seismic 
activities, using vibroesis buggies (thumpers) or shothole explosives. 
Well pads vary in size from 0.10 ha (0.25 ac) for coal-bed natural gas 
wells in areas of level topography to greater than 7 ha (17.3 ac) for 
deep gas wells and multiwell pads (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-39; BLM 
2007c, p. 2-123). Pads for compressor stations require 5-7 ha (12.4-
17.3 ac) (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-39).
    Well densities and spacing are typically designed to maximize 
recovery of the resource and are administered by State oil and gas 
agencies and the BLM, the Federal agency charged with administering the 
nation's Federal mineral estate (Connelly et al. 2004 pp. 7-39 to 7-
40). Well density on BLM-administered lands is incorporated in land use 
plans and often based on the spacing decision of individual State oil 
and gas boards. Each geologic basin has a standard spacing, but 
exemptions are granted. Density of wells for current major developments 
in the sage-grouse range vary from 1 well per 2 ha (5ac) to 1 well per 
64 ha (158 ac) (Knick et al., in press, pp. 128). Greater sage-grouse 
respond to the density and distribution of infrastructure on the 
landscape. Holloran (2005, pp. 38-39, 50) reported that male sage-
grouse attendance at leks decreased over 23 percent in gas fields where 
well density was 5 or more within 3 km (1.9 mi). Sage-grouse are less 
likely to occupy areas with wells at a 32 ha (80 ac) spacing than a 400 
ha (988 ac) spacing (Doherty et al. 2008, p. 193).
    Direct habitat loss from the human footprint contributes to 
decreased population numbers and distribution of the greater sage-
grouse (Knick et al. 2003, p. 1; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-40; 
Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 983; Copeland et al. 2009, p. 6; Knick et al., 
in press, p. 60; Leu and Hanser, in press, p. 5).

[[Page 13947]]

The footprint of energy development contributes to direct habitat loss 
from construction of well pads, roads, pipelines, powerlines, and 
through the crushing of vegetation during seismic surveys. The amount 
of direct habitat loss within an area is ultimately determined by well 
densities and the associated loss from ancillary facilities.
    The ecological footprint is the extended effect of the 
infrastructure or activity beyond its physical footprint and determined 
by a physical or behavioral response of the sage-grouse. The physical 
footprint of oil and gas infrastructure including pipelines is 
estimated to be 5 million ha (1.2 million ac) and less than 1 percent 
of the SGCA (Knick et al., in press, p. 133). However, the estimated 
ecological footprint is more than 13.8 million ha (34.2 million ac) or 
6.7 percent of the SGCA (Knick et al., in press, p. 133) based on 
applying a buffer zone to estimate potential avoidance, increased 
mortality risk, and lowered fecundity in the vicinity of development 
(Lyon and Anderson 2003, p. 459; Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2651; Holloran 
et al. in press, p. 6). Based on their method, Knick et al. (in press, 
p. 133) estimated more than 8 percent of sagebrush habitats within the 
SGCA are affected by energy development. The MZs with concentrations of 
oil and gas development have a higher estimated percentage of sagebrush 
habitats affected: 20 percent of the Great Plains (MZ I), 20 percent of 
the Wyoming Basin (MZ II), and 29 percent of the Colorado Plateau (MZ 
VII) (Knick et al, in press, p. 133). Copeland et al. (2009, p. 6) 
predict a scenario with a minimum of 2.3 million additional ha (5.7 
million ac) directly impacted by oil and gas development by the year 
2030. The corresponding ecological footprint is likely much larger. The 
projected increase in oil and gas energy development within the sage-
grouse range could reduce the population by 7 to 19 percent from 
today's numbers (Copeland et al. 2009, p. 6). This projection does not 
reflect the effects of the increased development of renewable energy 
sources.
    Roads associated with oil and gas development were suggested to be 
the primary impact to greater sage-grouse due to their persistence and 
continued use even after drilling and production ceased (Lyon and 
Anderson 2003, p. 489). Declines in male lek attendance were reported 
within 3 km (1.9 mi) of a well or haul road with a traffic volume 
exceeding one vehicle per day (Holloran 2005, p. 40; Walker et al. 
2008a, p. 2651). Sage-grouse also may be at increased risk for 
collision with vehicles simply due to the increased traffic associated 
with oil and gas activities (Aldridge 1998, p. 14; BLM 2003, p. 4-222).
    Habitat fragmentation resulting from oil and gas development 
infrastructure, including access roads, may have effects on sage-grouse 
greater than the associated direct habitat losses. The Powder River 
Basin infrastructure footprint is relatively small (typically 6-8 ha 
per 2.6 km\2\ (15-20 ac per section)). Considering the mostly 
contiguous nature of the project area, the density of facilities could 
affect sage-grouse habitats on over 2.4 million ha (5.9 million ac). 
Energy development and associated infrastructure works cumulatively 
with other human activity or development to decrease available habitat 
and increase fragmentation. Walker et al. (2007, p. 2652) determined 
that leks had the lowest probability of persisting (40-50 percent) in a 
landscape with less than 30 percent sagebrush within 6.4 km (4 mi) of 
the lek. These probabilities were even less in landscapes where energy 
development also was a factor.
    Noise can drive away wildlife, cause physiological stress, and 
interfere with auditory cues and intraspecific communication. Aldridge 
and Brigham (2003, p. 32) reported that, in the absence of stipulations 
to minimize the effects of noise, mechanical activities at well sites 
may disrupt sage-grouse breeding and nesting activities. Hens bred on 
leks within 3 km (1.9 mi) of oil and gas development in the upper Green 
River Basin of Wyoming selected nest sites with higher total shrub 
canopy cover and average live sagebrush height than hens nesting away 
from disturbance (Lyon 2000, p. 109). The author hypothesized that 
exposure to road noise associated with oil and gas drilling may have 
been one cause for the difference in habitat selection. However, noise 
could not be separated from the potential effects of increased 
predation resulting from the presence of a new road. In the Pinedale 
Anticline area of southwest Wyoming, lek attendance declined most 
noticeably downwind from a drilling rig indicating that noise likely 
affected male presence (Holloran 2005, p. 49).
    Above-ground noise is typically not regulated to mitigate effects 
to sage-grouse or other wildlife (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-40). 
Ground shock from seismic activities may affect sage-grouse if it 
occurs during the lekking or nesting seasons (Moore and Mills 1977, p. 
137). We are unaware of any research on the impact of ground shock to 
sage-grouse.
    Water quality and quantity may be affected by oil and gas 
development. In many large field developments, the contamination threat 
is minimized by storing water produced by the gas dehydration process 
in tanks. Water also may be depleted from natural sources for drilling 
or dust suppression purposes. Concentrating wildlife and domestic 
livestock may increase habitat degradation at remaining water sources. 
Negative effects of changes in water quality, availability, and 
distribution are a reduction in habitat quality (e.g., trampling of 
vegetation, changes in water filtration rates), and habitat degradation 
(e.g., poor vegetation growth), which could result in brood habitat 
loss. However, we have no data to suggest that this, by itself, is a 
limiting factor to sage-grouse.
    Water produced by coal-bed methane drilling may benefit sage-grouse 
through expansion of existing riparian areas and creation of new areas 
(BLM 2003, p. 4-223). These habitats could provide additional brood 
rearing and summering habitats for sage-grouse. However, the increased 
surface-water on the landscape may negatively impact sage-grouse 
populations by providing an environment for disease vectors (Walker and 
Naugle in press, p. 13). Based on the 2002 discovery of WNv in the 
Powder River Basin, and the resulting mortalities of sage-grouse 
(Naugle et al. 2004, p. 705), there is concern that produced water 
could have a negative impact if it creates suitable breeding reservoirs 
for the mosquito vector of this disease (see also discussion in Factor 
C, Disease and Predation). Produced water also could result in direct 
habitat loss through prolonged flooding of sagebrush areas, or if the 
discharged water is of poor quality because of high salt or other 
mineral content, either of which could result in the loss of sagebrush 
or grasses and forbs necessary for foraging broods (BLM 2003, p. 4-
223).
    Air quality could be affected where combustion engine emissions, 
fugitive dust from road use and wind erosion, natural gas-flaring, 
fugitive emissions from production site equipment, and other activities 
(BLM 2008d, p. 4-74) occur in sage-grouse habitats. Presumably, as with 
surface mining, these emissions are quickly dispersed in the windy, 
open conditions of sagebrush habitats (Moore and Mills 1977, p. 109), 
minimizing the potential effects on sage-grouse. However, high-density 
development could produce airborne pollutants that reach or exceed 
quality standards in localized areas for short periods of time (BLM 
2008d, pp. 4-82 to 4-88). Walker (2008, entire) characterized emissions 
from well flaring in the Pinedale Anticline area of Sublette County, 
Wyoming. The

[[Page 13948]]

investigator suggested a comprehensive study be conducted by regulatory 
agencies of the potential health effects of alkali elements in 
combusted well-plume material (Walker 2008, entire). No information is 
available regarding the effects to sage-grouse of gaseous emissions 
produced by oil and gas development.
    Increased human presence resulting from oil and gas development can 
impact sage-grouse either through avoidance of suitable habitat, 
disruption of breeding activities, or increased hunting and poaching 
pressure (Braun et al. 2002, pp. 4-5; Aldridge and Brigham 2003, pp. 
30-31; Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 518; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 194). 
Sage-grouse also may be at increased risk for collision with vehicles 
simply due to the increased traffic associated with oil and gas 
activities (BLM 2003, p. 4-216).
    Negative effects of direct habitat disturbance can be offset by 
successful reclamation. Reclamation of areas disturbed by oil and gas 
development can be concurrent with field development or conducted after 
the shut-in or abandonment of the well or field. Sage-grouse may 
repopulate the area as disturbed areas are reclaimed. However, there is 
no evidence that populations will attain their previous size, and 
reestablishment may take 20 to 30 years (Braun 1998, p. 144). For most 
developments, return to pre-disturbance population levels is not 
expected due to a net loss and fragmentation of habitat (Braun et al. 
2002, p. 150). After 20 years, sage-grouse have not recovered to pre-
development numbers in Alberta, even though well pads in these areas 
have been reclaimed (Braun et al. 2002, pp. 4-5). In some reclaimed 
areas, sage-grouse have not returned (Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 
31).
Mining
    Mining began in the range of the sage-grouse before 1900 (State of 
Wyoming, 1898; U.S. Census 1913, p. 187) and continues today. 
Currently, surface and subsurface mining activities for numerous 
resources are conducted in all 11 States across the sage-grouse range. 
We do not have comprehensive information on the number or surface 
extent of mines across the range, but the development of mineral 
resources is occurring in sage-grouse habitats and is important to the 
economies of a few of the States. Nevada (MZs III, IV, and V) is ranked 
second in the United States in terms of value of overall nonfuel 
mineral production in 2006 (USGS 2006, p. 10). Wyoming (MZs I and II) 
is the largest coal producer in the United States, and the top ten 
producing mines in the country are located in Wyoming's Powder River 
Basin (MZ I) (Wyoming Mining Association 2008, p. 2). A preliminary 
estimate of at least 9.9 km\2\ (3.8 mi\2\) of occupied sage-grouse 
habitat will be directly impacted by new or expanded mining operations, 
currently in the planning phase, for coal in Montana (MZ I) and Utah 
(MZ III), for phosphate in Idaho (MZ IV), and uranium in Nevada (MZ IV) 
and Wyoming (MZs I and II) (Service 2008b).
    Uranium mining and milling has occurred in Wyoming, Utah, and 
Colorado, and Nevada within the greater sage-grouse conservation area; 
however, recent production has been very limited with only one 
operation in production in Wyoming (EIA 2009c, entire). Tax credits 
indicated in the 2005 Energy Policy Act and concerns for green-house 
gas emissions associated with fossil-fuel electricity generation are 
expected to increase nuclear power generation (EIA 2009b, p. 73) and 
stimulate the demand for uranium. Electricity supplied by nuclear 
plants is expected to increase 2-55 percent by 2030; the increase is 
dependent on variables such as construction costs and regulatory 
mandates (EIA 2009b, p. 52), which are difficult to predict. In 2009, 
industry announced the intent to pursue development (Peninsula Minerals 
2009, entire), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the 
review of numerous new uranium facilities in Wyoming (74 FR 41174, 
Uaugust 14, 2009; 74 FR 45656, September 3, 2009). Areas in central 
Wyoming and Wyoming's Powder River Basin are considered major reserves 
of uranium coinciding with areas of high sage-grouse population 
densities (Finch 1996, pp. 19-20; Wyoming State Governor's Sage-grouse 
Implementation Team 2008, entire).
    Bentonite mining has been conducted on over 85 km\2\ (33 mi\2\) in 
the Bighorn Basin of north-central Wyoming (EDAW, Inc. and BLM 2008, p. 
1). Bentonite is a primary component of oil and gas drilling muds. The 
loss of sagebrush associated with bentonite mining has been intensive 
on a localized level and has contributed to altering 12 percent of the 
sagebrush habitats in the 2,173 km\2\ (839 mi\2\) Bighorn Basin (EDAW 
Inc., and BLM 2008, p. 2). Restoration efforts at mine sites have been 
mostly unsuccessful (EDAW, Inc. and BLM 2008, p. 1). The BLM foresees 
up to 89 additional km\2\ (34 mi\2\) to be disturbed by bentonite 
mining in the area through 2024, in addition to possible oil and gas 
and energy transmission disturbances (EDAW, Inc. and BLM 2008, p. 2; 
BLM 2009c, p. 5).
    Between 2006 and 2007, surface coal production decreased 9 percent 
in Colorado while increasing by 1.6 and 4.4 percent in Wyoming (MZ I) 
and Montana (MZ I), respectively (EIA 2008a, entire). The number of 
Wyoming coal mines increased from 19 in 2005 to 23 in 2008 (Wyoming 
Mining Association 2005, p. 5). All of Wyoming's 23 coal mines are in 
sagebrush and in the SGCA. Sixteen of these mines are located in the 
Powder River Basin (MZ I) where oil and gas development is extensive 
(Wyoming Mining Association 2008, p. 2).
    Coal mining in Montana is focused in the Powder River Basin just 
north of the Wyoming border, in sagebrush habitat. In Wyoming and 
Montana, an estimated 558 km\2\ (215 mi\2\) of sagebrush habitats have 
been disturbed by coal mines and associated facilities; disturbance 
increased approximately 170 km\2\ (66 mi\2\) between 2005 and 2007 
(Service 2005, p. 75; Service 2008c; Wyoming Mining Association 2008, 
p. 7). Wyoming estimates that 275 km\2\ ha (106 mi\2\) of mine-
disturbed land has been reclaimed (Wyoming Mining Association 2008, p. 
7), but we have no knowledge of the effectiveness of these reclamation 
projects in providing functional sage-grouse habitat.
    While western coal production has grown steadily since 1970, growth 
is predicted to increase through 2030, but at a much slower rate than 
in the past (EIA 2009b, p. 83). Coal production is projected to 
increase with the development of technology to reduce sulfur emissions 
and most of the future output of coal is expected from low-sulfur coal 
mines in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota (EIA 2009b, p. 83). We do 
not have information to quantify the footprint of future coal 
production; however, additional losses and deterioration of sage-grouse 
habitats are expected where mining activity occurs (described later in 
this section). The use of coal may be reduced if limitations on green-
house gas emissions are enacted in the future. A transition would 
require development of lower emission sources, such as wind, solar, or 
nuclear, that may have their own impacts on sage-grouse environments.
    Surface and subsurface mining for mineral resources (coal, uranium, 
copper, phosphate, aggregate, and others) results in direct loss of 
habitat if occurring in sagebrush habitats. The direct impact from 
surface mining is usually greater than it is from subsurface activity. 
Habitat loss from both types of mining can be exacerbated by the 
storage of overburden (soil removed to reach subsurface resource)

[[Page 13949]]

in otherwise undisturbed habitat. If the construction of mining 
infrastructure is necessary, additional direct loss of habitat could 
result from structures, staging areas, roads, railroad tracks, and 
powerlines. Sage-grouse and nests could be directly affected by 
trampling or vehicle collision. Sage-grouse also will likely be 
impacted indirectly from an increase in human presence, land use 
practices, ground shock, noise, dust, reduced air quality, degradation 
of water quality and quantity, and changes in vegetation and topography 
(Moore and Mills 1977, entire; Brown and Clayton 2004, p. 2).
    An increase in human presence increases collision risk with 
vehicles and potentially exposes sage-grouse and other wildlife to 
pathogens introduced from septic systems and waste disposal (Moore and 
Mills 1977, pp. 114-116, 135). Water contamination also could occur 
from leaching of waste rock and overburden and nutrients from blasting 
chemicals and fertilizer (Moore and Mills 1977, pp. 115, 133). Altering 
of water regimes could lead to decreased surface water and eventual 
habitat degradation from wildlife or livestock concentrating at 
remaining sources. Sage-grouse do not require water other than what 
they obtain from plant resources (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 6); 
therefore, local water quality deterioration or dewatering is not 
expected to have population-level impacts. Degradation of riparian 
areas could result in a loss of brood habitat.
    Mining and associated activities creates an opportunity for 
invasion of exotic and noxious weed species that alter suitability for 
sage-grouse (Moore and Mills 1977, pp. 125, 129). Reclamation is 
required by State and Federal laws, but laws generally allow for a 
change in post-mining land use. Restoration of sagebrush is difficult 
to achieve and disturbed sites may never return to suitability for 
sage-grouse (refer to Habitat Description and Characteristics section).
    Heavy equipment operations and use of unpaved roads produces dust 
that can interfere with plant photosynthesis and insect populations. 
Most large surface mines are required to control dust. Gaseous 
emissions generated from heavy equipment operation are quickly 
dispersed in open, windy areas typical of sagebrush (Moore and Mills 
1977, p.109). Blasting, to remove overburden or the target mineral, 
produces noise and ground shock. The full effect of ground shock on 
wildlife is unknown. Repeated use of explosives during lekking activity 
could potentially result in lek or nest abandonment (Moore and Mills 
1977, p. 137). Noise from mining activity could mask vocalizations 
resulting in reduced female attendance and yearling recruitment as seen 
in sharp-tailed grouse (Pedioecetes phasianellus) (Amstrup and Phillips 
1977, pp. 23, 25-27). In this study, the authors found that the mining 
noise in the study area was continuous across days and seasons and did 
not diminish as it traveled from its source. The mechanism of how noise 
affects sage-grouse is not known, but it is known that sage-grouse 
depend on acoustical signals to attract females to leks (Gibson and 
Bradbury 1985, pp. 81-82; Gratson 1993, pp. 693-694). Noise associated 
with oil and gas development may have played a factor in habitat 
selection and a decrease in lek attendance by sage-grouse (Holloran 
2005, pp. 49, 56).
    A few scientific studies specifically examine the effects of coal 
mining on greater sage-grouse. In a study in North Park, Colorado, 
overall sage-grouse population numbers were not reduced, but there was 
a reduction in the number of males attending leks within 2 km (0.8 mi) 
of three coal mines, and existing leks failed to recruit yearling males 
(Braun 1986, pp. 229-230; Remington and Braun 1991, pp. 131-132). New 
leks formed farther from mining disturbance (Remington and Braun 1991, 
p. 131). Additionally, some leks that were abandoned adjacent to mine 
areas were reestablished when mining activities ceased, suggesting 
disturbance rather than habitat loss was the limiting factor (Remington 
and Braun 1991, p.132). Hen survival did not decline in a population of 
sage-grouse near large surface coal mines in northeast Wyoming, and 
nest success appeared not to be affected by adjacent mining activity 
(Brown and Clayton 2004, p. 1). However, the authors concluded that 
continued mining would result in fragmentation and eventually impact 
sage-grouse persistence if adequate reclamation was not employed (Brown 
and Clayton 2004, p.16).
    Surface coal mining and associated activities have negative short-
term impacts on sage-grouse numbers and habitats near mines (Braun 
1998, p. 143). Sage-grouse will reestablish on mined areas once mining 
has ceased, but there is no evidence that population levels will reach 
their previous size, and any population reestablishment could take 20 
to 30 years based on observations of disturbance in oil and gas fields 
(Braun 1998, p. 144). Local sage-grouse populations could decline if 
several leks are affected by coal mining, but the loss of one or two 
leks in a regional area was likely not limiting to local populations in 
the Caballo Rojo Mine in northeastern Wyoming based on the presence of 
viable habitat elsewhere in the region (Hayden-Wing Associates 1983, p. 
81).
    As described above, mining directly removes habitat, may interfere 
with auditory clues important to mate selection, and results in a 
decrease of males and inhibits yearling recruitment at leks in 
proximity to mining activity. Sage-grouse habitat reestablishment and 
recovery of population numbers in an area post-disturbance is 
uncertain. Similar avoidance of disturbance has been noted in recent 
investigations of oil and gas development in Wyoming and discussed in 
detail in the Nonrenewable Energy section. The studies recounted here 
were conducted on a local scale that provides limited insight into 
impacts at a larger landscape perspective. In Wyoming specifically, the 
cumulative impacts of surface coal mine disturbance, concurrent 
increases in oil and gas development, increased development of 
renewable energy resources (discussed in the following section), and 
transmission infrastructure development could have significant impacts 
on sage-grouse in the Powder River Basin. The Powder River Basin is 
home to an important regional population of the larger Wyoming Basin 
populations covering most of Wyoming, northwestern Colorado, and 
northeastern Utah (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 6-62 to 6-63).
Renewable Energy Sources
    The demand for electricity from renewable energy sources is 
increasing. Electricity production from renewable sources increased 
from 6.4 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2005 to 6.9 
quadrillion Btu in 2006. Production was down slightly in 2007, but 
energy production by renewables reached 7.3 quadrillion Btu by the end 
of 2008 (EIA 2009d, entire). Wind, geothermal, solar and biomass are 
renewable energy sources developable in sage-grouse habitats. Large-
scale hydropower generation occurs in the sage-grouse range in parts of 
Washington State. Conventional hydropower electrical generation has 
actually decreased over the past 10 years (EIA 2009d, entire). In 
general, growth of the renewable energy industry is predictable based 
on legislated mandates to achieve target levels of renewable-produced 
electricity in many States within the sage-grouse range.
Wind
    Areas of commercially viable wind generation have been identified 
by the NREL (2008b, entire) and BLM (2005, p.

[[Page 13950]]

2.4) in all 11 States in the greater sage-grouse range.
    MZs III through VII each have approximately 1 to 14 percent of 
sagebrush habitats that are commercially developable for wind energy 
(Service 2008e, entire). Wind harvesting potentials are more 
concentrated and geographically extensive in sage-grouse MZs I and II 
that include parts of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota; 
areas of highest commercial potential include 59 percent of the 
available sagebrush habitats in these four States. Over 30 percent of 
the sagebrush lands in the sage-grouse range have high potential for 
wind power (Table 8).

     Table 8--Area of sagebrush habitat with wind energy development
        potential, by Management Zone. (Data from Service 2008e)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                               Area of Sagebrush with Developable Wind
                                              Potential
       SAGE-GROUSE MZ       --------------------------------------------
                                 km\2\          mi\2\      Percent of MZ
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        I         137,733         53,179          76.02
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       II          46,835         18,083          42.16
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                      III           3,028          1,169           3.23
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       IV          12,952          5,001           9.05
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        V           5,532          2,136           8.27
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       VI           2,660          1,027          14.44
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                      VII             199             77           1.10
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    TOTAL         208,939         80,672          33.02
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Commercial viability is based on wind intensity and consistency, 
available markets and access to transmission facilities. Consequently, 
current development is focused in areas with existing power 
transmission infrastructure associated with urban development, 
preexisting conventional energy resource development (e.g., coal and 
natural gas) and power generation. Growth of wind power development is 
expected to continue even in the current economic climate (EIA 2009b, 
p. 3), spurred by statutory mandates or financial incentives to use 
renewable energy sources in all 11 States in the range (Association of 
Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) and Service 2007, pp. 7, 8, 14, 28, 
30, 36, 39, 43, 46, 49, 52; State of Oregon 2008, entire).
    Wind generating facilities have increased in size and number, 
outpacing development of other renewable sources in the sage-grouse 
range. The BLM, the major land manager in the sage-grouse range, 
developed programmatic guidance to facilitate the use of BLM land for 
wind development (BLM 2005a, entire). The BLM wind policy permits 
granting private right-of-ways and leasing of public land for 3-year 
monitoring and testing facilities and long-term (30 to 35 years) 
commercial generating facilities (American Wind Energy Association 
(AWEA) 2008, p. 4-24). Active leases for wind energy development on BLM 
lands increased from 9.7 km\2\ (3.7 mi\2\) in 2002 to 5,113 km\2\ 
(1,973 mi\2\) in 2008, and an additional 5,381 km\2\ (2,077 mi\2\) of 
lease requests were pending approval in the sage-grouse range (Knick et 
al., in press, p. 136).
    A recent increase in wind energy development is most notable within 
the range of the south-central Wyoming subpopulation of greater sage-
grouse in MZ II where 1,387 km\2\ (535 mi\2\) have active wind leases 
and an additional 2,828 km\2\ (1,092 mi\2\) are pending (Knick et al., 
in press, p. 136). The south-central Wyoming subpopulation has a loose 
association with adjacent populations where there is accelerated oil, 
gas, and coal development in the State - the Powder River Basin (MZ I) 
to the northeast and Pinedale-Jonah Gas Fields in the southwest Wyoming 
Basin (MZ II) (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-62). As stated previously, 
the Powder River Basin is home to an important regional population of 
the larger Wyoming Basin populations (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-62). 
The subpopulation in southwest Wyoming and northwest Colorado is a 
stronghold for sage-grouse with some of the highest estimated densities 
of males anywhere in the remaining range of the species (Connelly et 
al. 2004, pp. 6-62, A5-23). The south-central Wyoming wind potential 
corridor is not only a geographical bridge between two important 
population areas but is home to a large population of sage-grouse 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. A5-22) and core areas identified 
preliminarily as high density breeding areas for sage-grouse by the 
Wyoming State Governor's Executive Order (State of Wyoming 2008, 
entire). Although regulatory mechanisms are being developed for 
Wyoming's core areas (see regulatory mechanisms section below), they 
are still largely subject to the impacts of both conventional and 
renewable energy development. Twenty-one percent of Wyoming core areas 
have high wind development potential, and 51 percent are subject to 
either wind or authorized development of oil and gas leases (Doherty et 
al., in press, p. 31).
    In addition to Wyoming, southeastern Oregon is a focus area for 
potential commercial-scale wind development. Currently, south-central 
and southeastern Oregon have large areas of relatively unfragmented 
sage-dominated landscapes which are important for maintaining long-term 
connectivity between the sage-grouse populations (Knick and Hanser, in 
press, pp. 1-2.). Historically, central Oregon's population provided 
connectivity with the Columbia Basin area through narrow habitat 
corridors (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-13). These connections have now 
been lost, resulting in the isolation of the northern extant population 
in Washington. The Northern Great Basin ranks lowest of the MZs in the 
intensity of the human footprint and consequent effects (Leu and 
Hanser, in press, p. 25; Wisdom et al., in press, p. 16), and this 
could be contributing to the substantial connectivity that still exists 
between the Northern Great Basin, Snake River Plain, and the Southern 
Great Basin

[[Page 13951]]

Region populations (Knick and Hanser, in press, p. 1). The BLM is the 
major land manager in this part of the southeastern Oregon, with 
jurisdiction over 49,000 km\2\ (18,900 mi\2\) (BLM 2009d, entire) that 
include much of the scantily vegetated ridge tops prone to high and 
sustained wind. At this time, most of the development activity is in 
the initial phase of meteorological site investigation and involves 
little infrastructure (AWEA 2009, entire; BLM 2009e). Many of these 
monitoring sites could be developed, considering the projected demand 
for renewable energy, contributing to fragmentation of this relatively 
intact sagebrush landscape.
    Most published reports of the effects of wind development on birds 
focus on the risks of collision with towers or turbine blades. No 
published research is specific to the effects of wind farms on the 
greater sage-grouse. However, the avoidance of human-made structures 
such as powerlines and roads by sage-grouse and other prairie grouse is 
documented (Holloran 2005, p. 1; Pruett et al, in press, p. 6). 
Renewable energy facilities, including wind power, typically require 
many of the same features for construction and operation as do 
nonrenewable energy resources. Therefore, we anticipate that potential 
impacts from direct habitat losses, habitat fragmentation through roads 
and powerlines, noise, and increased human presence (Connelly et al. 
2004, pp. 7-40 to 7-41) will generally be similar to those already 
discussed for nonrenewable energy development.
    Wind farm development begins with site monitoring and collection of 
meteorological data to accurately characterize the wind regime. 
Turbines are installed after the meteorological data indicate the 
appropriate siting and spacing. Roads are necessary to access the 
turbine sites for installation and maintenance. Each turbine unit has 
an estimated footprint of 0.4 to 1.2 ha (1 to 3 ac) (BLM 2005a, pp. 
3.1-3.4). One or more substations may be constructed depending on the 
size of the farm. Substation footprints are 2 ha (5 ac) or less in size 
(BLM 2005a, p. 3.7).
    The average footprint of a turbine unit is relatively small from a 
landscape perspective. Turbines require careful placement within a 
field to avoid loss of output from interference with neighboring 
turbines. Spacing improves efficiency but expands the overall footprint 
of the field. Sage-grouse populations are impacted by the direct loss 
of habitat, primarily from construction of access roads as well as 
indirect loss of habitat due to avoidance. Sage-grouse could be killed 
by flying into turbine rotors or towers (Erickson et al. 2001, entire) 
although reported collision mortalities have been few. One sage-grouse 
was found dead within 45 m (148 ft) of a turbine on the Foote Creek Rim 
wind facility in south-central Wyoming, presumably from flying into a 
turbine (Young et al. 2003, Appendix C, p. 61). This is the only known 
sage-grouse mortality at this facility during three years of 
monitoring. Sage-grouse hens with broods have been observed under 
turbines at Foote Creek Rim (Young 2004, pers. comm.). We have no 
recent reports of sage-grouse mortality due to collision with a wind 
turbine; however, many facilities may not be monitored. No deaths of 
gallinaceous birds were reported in a comprehensive review of avian 
collisions and wind farms in the United States; the authors 
hypothesized that the average tower height and flight height of grouse, 
and diurnal migration habitats of some birds minimized the risk of 
collision (Johnson et al. 2000, pp. ii-iii; Erickson et al. 2001, pp. 
8, 11, 14, 15).
    Noise is produced by wind turbine mechanical operation (gear boxes, 
cooling fans) and airfoil interaction with the atmosphere. No published 
studies have focused specifically on the effects of wind power noise 
and greater sage-grouse. In studies conducted in oil and gas fields, 
noise may have played a factor in habitat selection and decrease in lek 
attendance (Holloran 2005, pp. 49, 56). However, comparison between 
wind turbine and oil and gas operations is difficult based on the 
character of sound. Adjusting for manufacturer type and atmospheric 
conditions, the audible operating sound of a single wind turbine has 
been calculated as the same level as conversational speech at 1 m (3 
ft) at a distance of 600 m (2,000 ft) from the turbine. This level is 
typical of background levels of a rural environment (BLM 2005a, p. 5-
24). However, commercial wind farms do not have a single turbine, and 
multiple turbines over a large area would likely have a much larger 
noise print. Low-frequency vibrations created by rotating blades 
produce annoyance responses in humans (van den Berg 2003, p. 1), but 
the specific effect on birds is not documented.
    Moving blades of turbines cast moving shadows that cause a 
flickering effect producing a phenomenon called ``shadow flicker'' 
(AWEA 2008, p. 5-33). Hypothetically, shadow flicker could mimic 
predator shadows and elicit an avoidance response in birds during 
daylight hours, but this potential effect has not been investigated.
    Since 2005, states have required an increasing amount of energy to 
come from renewable sources. For example, Colorado law requires 
incremental increases of renewable generation from 3 percent in 2007 to 
20 percent by 2020 (AFWA and Service 2007, p. 8). Financial incentives, 
including grants and tax breaks, encourage private development of 
renewable sources. Although development of renewables is encouraged at 
a State level, siting authority for wind varies from State to State 
(AFWA and Service 2007, pp. 7, 8, 14, 28, 30, 36, 39, 43, 46, 49, 52; 
State of Oregon 2008, entire). For example, the State of Idaho provides 
tax incentives and loan programs for renewable energy development, but 
wind power is currently unregulated at any level of government (AFWA 
and Service 2007, p. 14). The North Dakota Public Service Commission 
regulates siting of wind power facilities over 100 megawatts using the 
Service's interim voluntary guidelines (Service 2003, entire).
    Wyoming does not have a requirement for increased reliance on 
renewable energy sources and no specific wind siting authority. 
However, large construction projects in the State are subject to 
approval by an Industrial Siting Council (ISC) of the State Department 
of Environmental Quality, with the WGFD providing recommendations for 
mitigating impacts to wildlife associated with development considered 
by the ISC. The ISC's review and approval of projects is subject to the 
Wyoming Governor's executive order (State of Wyoming 2008, entire) that 
is intended to prevent harmful effects to sage-grouse from development 
or new land uses in designated core areas. Wind developers in Wyoming 
understand that most proposed wind developments regardless of locale 
must be approved by the ISC and that development proposed in core areas 
is unlikely to be permitted by the ISC due to the Governor's Executive 
Order (see discussion in Factor D below).
    The BLM manages more land areas of high wind resource potential 
than any other land management agency. In 2005, the BLM completed the 
Wind Energy Final Programmatic EIS that provides an overarching 
guidance for wind project development on BLM-administered lands (BLM 
2005a, entire). Best management practices (BMPs) are prescribed to 
minimize impacts of all phases of construction and operation of a wind 
production facility. The BMPs guide future project planning and do not 
guarantee protections specific to sage-grouse. We do not have 
information on how or where the EIS guidance has been applied since 
2005 and cannot evaluate its effectiveness. The footprint of wind 
energy developments is reported to be

[[Page 13952]]

small (BLM 2005a, p. 5-2). The BLM indicates that approximately 600 
km\2\ (232 mi\2\) of BLM-administered lands are likely to be developed 
in nine States within the sage-grouse's range before 2025 (BLM 2005a, 
pp. ES-8, 5-2). It is estimated that only 5 to 10 percent of a 
development will have a long-term disturbance that remains on the 
landscape for at least as long as the generating facility is viable 
(i.e., roads, foundations, substation, fencing) (BLM 2005a, p. 5-2). 
However, this estimate does not account for sage-grouse avoidance of 
developed areas and could be an underestimation of indirect effects. 
Based on what we know of oil and gas development (previously 
described), the impact of structures, noise and human activity can 
reach far beyond the point of origin and contribute cumulatively to 
other human-made and natural disturbances that fragment and decrease 
the quality of sage-grouse habitats. The BLM's determination of the 
quantity of lands potentially impacted by wind energy development could 
be extremely conservative considering the interest in reducing green-
house emissions and the institution of State renewable energy mandates 
and incentives that have occurred since 2005.
    Wind development is guided by policy at BLM national and State 
levels that generally offers only guidance to avoid impacts to sage-
grouse and habitats. A 2008 BLM Instruction Memo IM 2009-43 (BLM 2008e, 
p. 2) emphasizes the use of the Service's 2003 interim guidelines as 
voluntary and to be used only on a general basis in siting, design, and 
monitoring decisions. The BLM's Oregon State Office Instruction 
Memorandum OR-2008-014 (BLM 2007d, entire) is explicit in the placement 
of meteorological test towers to avoid active leks, seasonal 
concentrations, and collision; IM OR-2009-038 (BLM 2009f, entire) 
reduces the ODFW's recommended buffer distance for wind farms and 
applies only guidelines for avoidance of sage-grouse leks and seasonal 
habitats.
    Wind energy resources are found throughout the range of the greater 
sage-grouse, and growth of wind power development is expected to 
continue. The DOE predicts that wind may provide a significant portion 
of the nation's energy needs by the year 2030, and substantial growth 
of wind developments will be required (DOE 2008, p. 1). In mid-2009, 
wind energy production facilities in the sage-grouse range in operation 
or under construction had a capacity of 11.93 gigawatts (AWEA 2009, 
entire) (Table 9). To achieve predicted levels of 49 to greater than 90 
gigawatts capacity (DOE 2008, p. 10), the generation capacity will need 
to increase by 400 to 800 percent by 2030. Existing commercial wind 
turbines range from 1-2 megawatt generating capacity (AWEA 2009, 
entire). The forecasted increase in production would require 
approximately 37,000 to 78,000 or more turbines based on the existing 
technology and equipment in use. Assuming a generation capacity of 5 
megawatts per km\2\ (0.4 mi\2\) density, Copeland et al. (2009, p. 1) 
estimated an additional 50,000 km\2\ (19,305 mi\2\) of land in the 
sage-grouse range would be required to meet the predicted level of 
wind-generated electricity by 2030.

                                     Table 9-- Wind energy development in the greater sage-grouse range, 2009-2030.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
               STATE                         MZ                 Existing Capacity 2009* (gigawatts)          Forecasted Capacity in 2030 (gigawatts)**
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Dakota                        I                                                               1.2                                          1 to 5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
South Dakota                        I                                                              0.31                                         5 to 10
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Montana                             I                                                              0.17                                         5 to 10
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Wyoming                             I, II                                                           1.3                                         10 plus
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Utah                                II, III, IV, VII                                                0.4                                          1 to 5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Idaho                               IV                                                             0.15                                          1 to 5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Nevada                              III, IV, V                                                        0                                         5 to 10
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
California                          III, V                                                          2.8                                         10 plus
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Oregon                              IV, V                                                           2.2                                         5 to 10
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Washington                          VI                                                              2.2                                         5 to 10
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Colorado                            II, VII                                                         1.2                                          1 to 5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total                                                                                             11.93                                   49 to 90 plus
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*Includes completed and under construction, Source: American Wind Energy Assn. (2009, entire).
** Source: DOE (2008, p. 10).
(1000 megawatt = 1 gigawatt)

    States such as Nevada and Montana that have not been tapped for 
extensive wind power development are likely to experience significant 
new energy development within the next 20 years (Table 9). In Wyoming, 
where wind development is advancing and predicted to increase by 10 
fold or more (Table 9), the effects of both conventional and 
nonconventional renewable sources may claim a substantial toll on sage-
grouse habitats and geographic areas that were in the past considered 
refugia for the species. As with oil and gas development, the average 
footprint of a turbine unit is relatively small from a landscape 
perspective, but the effects of large-scale developments have the 
potential to reduce the size of sagebrush habitats directly, degrade 
habitats with invasive species, provide pathways for synanthropic 
predators (i.e., predators that live near and benefit from an 
association with humans), and cumulatively contribute to habitat 
fragmentation.

[[Page 13953]]

Other Renewable Energy Sources
    Hydropower development can cause direct habitat losses and possibly 
an increase in human recreational activity. Reservoirs created 
concurrently with power generation structures inundated large areas of 
riparian habitats used by sage-grouse broods (Braun 1998, p. 144). 
Reservoirs and the availability of irrigation water precipitated 
conversion of large expanses of upland shrub-steppe habitat in the 
Columbia Basin adjacent to the rivers (65 FR 51578, August 24, 2000). 
We were unable to find any information regarding the amount of sage-
grouse habitat affected by hydropower projects in other areas of the 
species' range beyond the Columbia Basin. No new large-scale facilities 
have been constructed and hydropower electricity generation has 
decreased steadily over the past 10 years (EIA 2009d, entire). We do 
not anticipate that future dam construction will result in large losses 
of sagebrush habitats.
    Solar-powered electricity generation is increasing. Between 2005 
and the end of 2008, solar electricity generation increased from the 
equivalent of 66 trillion Btu to 83 trillion Btu (EIA 2009d, entire). 
Solar-generating systems have been used on a small scale to power 
individual buildings, small complexes, remote facilities, and signs. 
Solar energy infrastructure is often ancillary to other development, 
and large-scale solar-generating systems have not contributed to any 
calculable direct habitat loss for sage-grouse, but this may change as 
more systems come on line for commercial electricity generation. Solar 
energy systems require, depending on local conditions, 1.6 ha (4 ac) to 
produce 1 megawatt of electricity. For example, the 162-ha (400-ac) 
Nevada Solar One, the third largest solar electricity producer in the 
world, has a maximum potential of 75 megawatts from a 121-ha (300-ac) 
solar field (nevadasolarone.com 2008, entire).
    No commercial solar plants are operating in sage-grouse habitats at 
this time. Southern and eastern Nevada, the Pinedale area of Wyoming, 
and east-central Utah are the areas of the sage-grouse range with good 
potential for commercial solar development (EIA 2009e, entire). There 
are a total of 196 ha (484 ac) of active solar leases on BLM property 
in northern California (MZ IV) and central Wyoming (MZ II) (BLM 2009g, 
map) in sagebrush habitats within the current sage-grouse range and 
these leases will likely be developed. The BLM is developing a 
programmatic EIS for leasing and development of solar energy on BLM 
lands. The EIS planning period has been extended to analyze the effects 
of concentrating large-scale development in selected geographic areas 
including sage-grouse habitats in east-central Nevada and southern Utah 
(BLM 2009h, entire) because of the considerable administrative and 
public interest in developing public lands for solar-generated 
electricity (BLM 2009i, entire). At this time, we do not have enough 
information available to evaluate the scale of future impacts of solar 
power generation in sage-grouse habitats. We will continue to evaluate 
and monitor the impacts of solar power development in sage-grouse 
habitats as more information becomes available. We are not aware of any 
investigations reporting the impacts of solar generating facilities on 
sage-grouse or other gallinaceous birds. Commercial solar generation 
could produce direct habitat loss (i.e., solar fields completely 
eliminate habitat), fragmentation, roads, powerlines, increased human 
presence, and disturbance during facility construction with similar 
effects to sage-grouse as reported with oil and gas development.
    Geothermal energy production has remained steady since 2005 (EIA 
2009d, entire). Geothermal facilities are within the sage-grouse range 
in California (3 plants, MZ III), Nevada (5 plants, MZs III and V), 
Utah (2 plants, MZ III), and Idaho (1 plant, MZ IV). Since 2005, two 
additional plants were constructed is in current sage-grouse range - 
one in Idaho and one in Utah (Geothermal Energy Association 2008, pp. 
2-7). One existing geothermal plant in southern Utah is in the vicinity 
of sage-grouse habitat in an area where wind power is being considered 
for development (First Wind-Milford 2009, entire), which will result in 
cumulative impacts. Geothermal potential occurs across the sage-grouse 
range in States with existing development and southeast Oregon, west-
central Wyoming, and north-central Colorado (EIA 2009e, entire).
    Geothermal energy production is similar to oil and gas development 
such that it requires surface exploration, exploratory drilling, field 
development, and plant construction and operation. Wells are drilled to 
access the thermal source and could take from 3 weeks to 2 months of 
continuous drilling (Suter 1978, p. 3), which may cause disturbance to 
sage-grouse. The ultimate number of wells, and therefore potential loss 
of habitat, depends on the thermal output of the well and expected 
production of the plant (Suter 1978, p. 3). Pipelines are needed to 
carry steam or superheated liquids to the generating plant which is 
similar in size to a coal- or gas-fired plant, resulting in further 
habitat and indirect disturbance. Direct habitat loss occurs from well 
pads, structures, roads, pipelines and transmission lines, and impacts 
would be similar to those described previously for oil and gas 
development.
    The development of geothermal energy requires intensive human 
activity during field development and operation. Geothermal plants 
could be in remote areas necessitating housing construction, 
transportation, and utility infrastructure for employees and their 
families (Suter 1978, p. 12). Geothermal development could cause toxic 
gas release; the type and effect of these gases depends on the 
geological formation in which drilling occurs (Suter 1978, pp. 7-9). 
The amount of water necessary for drilling and condenser cooling may be 
high. Local water depletions may be a concern if such depletions result 
in the loss of brood-rearing habitat.
    The BLM has the authority to lease geothermal resources in 11 
western States. A programmatic EIS for geothermal leasing and 
operations was completed in 2008 (BLM and USFS 2008a, entire). Best 
management practices for minimizing the effects of geothermal 
development and operations on sage-grouse are guidance only and are 
general in nature (BLM and USFS 2008a, pp. 4.82-4.83). The EIS' 
reasonably foreseeable development scenario predicts that Nevada will 
experience the greatest increase in geothermal growth-doubling the 
production of electricity from geothermal sources by 2025 (BLM and USFS 
2008, p. 2-35). Currently, approximately 1,800 km\2\ (694 mi\2\) of 
active geothermal leases exist on public lands primarily in the 
Southern (MZ IV) and Northern Great Basin (MZ III) and 1,138 km\2\ (439 
mi\2\) of leases are pending (Knick et al., in press, p. 138).
    Energy production from biomass sources has increased every year 
since 2005 (EIA 2009d, entire). Wood has been a primary biomass source, 
but corn ethanol and biofuels produced from cultivated crops are on the 
increase (EIA 2008b, entire). Currently, wood products and corn 
production do not occur in the range of the sage-grouse in significant 
quantities (Curtis 2008, p. 7). The National Renewable Energy 
Laboratory cites potentials for agricultural biomass resources in 
northern Montana (MZ I), southern Idaho (MZ IV), eastern Washington (MZ 
VI), eastern Oregon MZ IV), northwest Nevada (MZ V), and southeast 
Wyoming (MZ II) (NREL 2005, entire). Conversion from native sod to 
agriculture for the purpose of biomass production could result in a 
loss of sage-grouse habitat on

[[Page 13954]]

private lands. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandated 
incremental production and use through the year 2022 of advanced 
biofuel, cellulosic biofuel, and biomass-based diesel (P.L. 110-140, 
section 203) and could provide an incentive to convert native sod or 
expired CRP lands to biomass crops. The effects on sage-grouse will 
depend on amount and location of sagebrush habitats developed. The 
effects of agriculture are discussed in habitat conversion section 
above.
Transmission Corridors
    Section 368(a) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 15926) 
directs Federal land management agencies to designate corridors on 
Federal land in 11 western States for oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines 
and electricity transmission and distribution facilities (energy 
transport corridors). The agencies completed a programmatic EIS (DOE et 
al. 2008, entire) to address the environmental impacts of corridors on 
Federal lands. The proposed action calls for designating more than 
9,600 km (6,000 mi) with an average width of 1 km (0.6 mi) of energy 
corridors across the western United States (DOE et al. 2008, p. S-17). 
The designated corridors on Federal lands will tie in to corridors on 
private lands and lands in other governmental jurisdictions. Some of 
the areas proposed for designation are currently used for transmission. 
Federal lands newly incorporated into transportation or utility rights-
of-way are mostly BLM lands in California (185 km, 115 mi), Colorado 
(97 km, 60 mi), Idaho (303 km, 188 mi), Montana (254 km, 158 mi), 
Nevada (810 km, 503 mi), Oregon (418 km, 260 mi), Washington (no 
additional land), Utah (356 km, 221 mi), and Wyoming (198 km, 123 mi) 
(DOE et al. 2008, p. S-18).
    It is uncertain how much of the proposed corridors are in sagebrush 
habitat within the distribution area of sage-grouse, but based on the 
proposed location, habitat in Wyoming (MZ II), Idaho (MZ IV), Utah (MZ 
III), Nevada (MZ III) and Oregon (MZs III and IV) would be most 
affected. The purpose of the corridor designation is to serve a role in 
expediting applications to construct or modify oil, gas, and hydrogen 
pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution. These 
designated areas will likely facilitate the development of novel 
renewable and nonrenewable electricity generating facilities on public 
and private lands. Sage-grouse could be impacted through a direct loss 
of habitat, human activity (especially during construction periods), 
increased predation, habitat deterioration through the introduction of 
nonnative plant species, and additional fragmentation of habitat.
Summary: Energy Development
    Energy development is a significant risk to the greater sage-grouse 
in the eastern portion of its range (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and 
northeastern Utah - MZs I, II, VII and the northeastern part of MZ 
III), with the primary concern being the direct effects of energy 
development on the long-term viability of greater sage-grouse by 
eliminating habitat, leks, and whole populations and fragmenting some 
of the last remaining large expanses of habitat necessary for the 
species' persistence. The intensity of energy development is cyclic and 
based on many factors including energy demand, market prices, and 
geopolitical uncertainties. However, continued exploration and 
development of traditional and nonconventional fossil fuel sources in 
the eastern portion of the greater sage-grouse range is predicted to 
continue to increase over the next 20 years (EIA 2009b, p. 109). 
Greater sage-grouse populations are predicted to decline 7 to 19 
percent over the next 20 years due to the effects of oil and gas 
development in the eastern part of the range (Copeland et al. 2009, p. 
4); this decline is in addition to the 45 to 80 percent decline that is 
estimated to have already occurred range wide (Copeland et al. 2009, p. 
4).
    Development of commercially viable renewable energy--wind, solar, 
geothermal, biomass--is increasing across the range with focus in some 
areas already experiencing traditional energy development (EIA 2009b, 
pp. 3-4; AWEA 2009a, entire). In Wyoming, where wind development is 
advancing and predicted to increase by 10-fold (DOE 2008, p. 10), the 
effects of both conventional and nonconventional and renewable sources 
may claim a substantial toll on sage-grouse habitats and geographic 
areas that were in the past considered refugia for the species. 
Renewable energy resources are likely to be developed in areas 
previously untouched by traditional energy development. Wind energy 
resources are being investigated in south-central and southeastern 
Oregon where large areas of relatively unfragmented sage-dominated 
landscapes are important for maintaining long-term connectivity within 
the sage-grouse populations (Knick and Hanser in press, pp. 1-2.).
    Greater sage-grouse populations are negatively affected by energy 
development activities, even when mitigative measures are implemented 
(Holloran 2005, pp. 57-60; Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2651). Energy 
development, particularly high density development, will continue to 
threaten sage-grouse populations, specifically in the MZs I and II, 
which contain the greatest numbers of birds throughout their range.
    Development of commercially viable renewable energy-wind, solar, 
geothermal, biomass-is rapidly increasing rangewide with a focus in 
some areas already experiencing significant traditional energy 
development (e.g., MZs I and II). The effects of renewable energy 
development are likely similar to those of nonrenewable energy as 
similar types of infrastructure are required. Based on our review of 
the literature, we anticipate the impacts of these developments will 
negatively affect the ability of greater sage-grouse to persist in 
those areas in the foreseeable future.

Climate Change

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded 
that warming of the climate is unequivocal, and that continued 
greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates will cause further 
warming (IPCC 2007, p. 30). Eleven of the 12 years from 1995 through 
2006 rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of 
global surface temperature since 1850 (ISAB 2007). Climate-change 
scenarios estimate that the mean air temperature could increase by over 
3[deg]C (5.4[deg]F) by 2100 (IPCC 2007, p. 46). The IPCC also projects 
that there will very likely be regional increases in the frequency of 
hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation (IPCC 2007, p. 46), 
as well as increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (IPCC 2007, p. 36).
    We recognize that there are scientific differences of opinion on 
many aspects of climate change, including the role of natural 
variability in climate. In our analysis, we rely primarily on synthesis 
documents (e.g., IPCC 2007; Global Climate Change Impacts in the United 
States 2009) that present the consensus view of a very large number of 
experts on climate change from around the world. We have found that 
these synthesis reports, as well as the scientific papers used in those 
reports or resulting from those reports, represent the best available 
scientific information we can use to inform our decision and have 
relied upon them and provided citation within our analysis. In 
addition, where possible we have used projections specific to the 
region of interest, the western United States and southern Canada, 
which includes the range of the greater sage-grouse. We also use 
projections of the effects of climate

[[Page 13955]]

change to sagebrush where appropriate, while acknowledging that the 
uncertainty of climate change effects increases as one applies those 
potential effects to a habitat variable like sagebrush, and then 
increases again when the impacts to the habitat variable are applied to 
the species.
    Projected climate change and its associated consequences have the 
potential to affect greater sage-grouse and may increase its risk of 
extinction, as the impacts of climate change interact with other 
stressors such as disease, and habitat degradation and loss that are 
already affecting the species (Walker and Naugle, in press, entire; 
Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States 2009, p. 81; Miller 
et al. in press, pp. 46-50). In the Pacific Northwest, regionally 
averaged temperatures have risen 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees 
Fahrenheit) over the last century (as much as 2 degrees Celsius (4 
degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas), and are projected to increase by 
another 1.5 to 5.5 degrees Celsius (3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit) over 
the next 100 years (Mote et al. 2003, p. 54; Global Climate Change 
Impacts in the United States 2009, p. 135). Arid regions such as the 
Great Basin where greater sage-grouse occurs are likely to become 
hotter and drier; fire frequency is expected to accelerate, and fires 
may become larger and more severe (Brown et al. 2004, pp. 382-383; 
Neilson et al. 2005, p. 150; Chambers and Pellant 2008, p. 31; Global 
Climate Change Impacts in the United States 2009, p. 83).
    Climate changes such as shifts in timing and amount of 
precipitation, and changes in seasonal high and low temperatures, as 
well as average temperatures, may alter distributions of individual 
species and ecosystems significantly (Bachelet et al. 2001, p174). 
Under projected future temperature conditions, the cover of sagebrush 
within the distribution of sage-grouse is anticipated to be reduced 
(Neilson et al. 2005, p. 154; Miller et al. in press, p. 45). Warmer 
temperatures and greater concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide 
create conditions favorable to Bromus tectorum, as described above, 
thus continuing the positive feedback cycle between the invasive annual 
grass and fire frequency that poses a significant threat to greater 
sage-grouse (Chambers and Pellant 2008, p. 32; Global Climate Change 
Impacts in the United States 2009, p. 83). Fewer frost-free days also 
may favor frost-sensitive woodland vegetation of Sonoran and Chihuahuan 
deserts, which may expand, potentially encroaching on the sagebrush 
biome in the southern Great Basin where sage-grouse populations 
currently exist (Miller et al. in press, p. 44). Such encroachment of 
woody vegetation degrades sage-grouse habitat (see Factor A, Invasive 
plants).
    Temperature and precipitation both directly influence potential for 
West Nile virus (WNv) transmission (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 12). 
In sage-grouse, WNv outbreaks appear to be most severe in years with 
higher summer temperatures (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 13) and 
under drought conditions (Epstein and Defilippo, p. 105). This 
relationship is due to the breeding cycle of the WNv vector, Culex 
tarsalis being highly dependent on warm water temperature for mosquito 
activity and virus amplification (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 12; 
see discussion under Disease and Predation below). Therefore, the 
higher summer temperatures and more frequent or severe drought or both, 
that are likely under current climate change projections, make more 
severe WNv outbreaks likely in low-elevation sage-grouse habitats where 
WNv is already endemic, and also make WNv outbreaks possible in higher 
elevation sage-grouse habitats that to date have been WNv-free due to 
relatively cold conditions.
    Emissions of carbon dioxide, considered to be the most important 
anthropogenic greenhouse gas, increased by approximately 80 percent 
between 1970 and 2004 due to human activities (IPCC 2007, p. 36). 
Future carbon dioxide emissions from energy use are projected to 
increase by 40 to 110 percent over the next few decades, between 2000 
and 2030 (IPCC 2007, p. 44). An increase in the atmospheric 
concentration of carbon dioxide has important implications for greater 
sage-grouse, beyond those associated with warming temperatures, because 
higher concentrations of carbon dioxide are favorable for the growth 
and productivity of Bromus tectorum (Smith et al. 1987, p. 142; Smith 
et al. 2000, p. 81). Although most plants respond positively to 
increased carbon dioxide levels, many invasive nonnative plants respond 
with greater growth rates than native plants, including B. tectorum 
(Smith et al. 1987, p. 142; Smith et al. 2000, p. 81; Global Climate 
Change Impacts in the United States 2009, p. 83). Laboratory research 
results illustrated that B. tectorum grown at carbon dioxide levels 
representative of current climatic conditions matured more quickly, 
produced more seed and greater biomass, and produced significantly more 
heat per unit biomass when burned than B. tectorum grown at ``pre-
industrial'' carbon dioxide levels (Blank et al. 2006, pp. 231, 234). 
These responses to increasing carbon dioxide may have increased the 
flammability in B. tectorum communities during the past century (Ziska 
et al. 2005, as cited in Zouhar et al. 2008, p. 30; Blank et al. 2006, 
p. 234).
    Field studies likewise demonstrate that Bromus species demonstrate 
significantly higher plant density, biomass, and seed rain (dispersed 
seeds) at elevated carbon dioxide levels relative to native annuals 
(Smith et al. 2000, pp. 79-81). The researchers conclude that ``the 
results from this study confirm experimentally in an intact ecosystem 
that elevated carbon dioxide may enhance the invasive success of Bromus 
spp. in arid ecosystems,'' and suggest that this enhanced success will 
then expose these areas to accelerated fire cycles (Smith et al. 2000, 
p. 81). Chambers and Pellant (2008, p. 32) also suggest that higher 
carbon dioxide levels are likely increasing B. tectorum fuel loads due 
to increased productivity, with a resulting increase in fire frequency 
and extent. Based on the best available information, we expect the 
current and predicted atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to increase the 
threat posed to greater sage-grouse by B. tectorum and from more 
frequent, expansive, both in sage-grouse habitat degradation 
(functional fragmentation) and severe wildfires (Smith et al. 1987, p. 
143; Smith et al. 2000, p. 81; Brown et al. 2004, p. 384; Neilson et 
al. 2005, pp. 150, 156; Chambers and Pellant 2008, pp. 31-32). 
Therefore, beyond the potential changes associated with temperature and 
precipitation, increases in carbon dioxide concentrations represent a 
threat to the sagebrush biome and an indirect threat to sage-grouse 
through habitat degradation and loss (Miller et al. in press, p. 45), 
with the combined effects of higher temperatures and carbon dioxide 
concentrations leading to a loss of 12 percent of the current area of 
sagebrush per degree Celsius of temperature increase, or from 34 to 80 
percent of sagebrush distribution depending on the emissions scenario 
used (Nielson et al. 2005, p. 6, 10; Miller et al. in press, p. 45).
    Bradley (2009, pp. 196-208) and Bradley et al. (2009, pp. 1-11) 
predict that nonnative invasive species in the sagebrush-steppe 
ecosystem may either expand or contract under climate change, depending 
on the current and projected future range of a particular invasive 
plant species. They developed a bioclimatic model for B. tectorum based 
on maps of invaded range derived from remote sensing. The best 
predictors of B. tectorum occurrence

[[Page 13956]]

were summer, annual, and spring precipitation, followed by winter 
temperature (Bradley et al., 2009, p. 5). Depending primarily on future 
precipitation conditions, the model predicts B. tectorum is likely to 
shift northwards, leading to expanded risk of B. tectorum invasion in 
Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, but reduced risk of invasion in southern 
Nevada and Utah, which currently have large areas dominated by this 
nonnative grass (Bradley et al., 2009, p. 5). Therefore, the threat 
posed to greater sage-grouse by the greater frequency and geographic 
extent of wildfires and other associated negative impacts from the 
presence of B. tectorum is expected to continue into the foreseeable 
future. Bradley (2009, pp. 205) stated that the bioclimatic model she 
used is an initial step in assessing the potential geographic extent of 
B. tectorum, because climate conditions only affect invasion on the 
broadest regional scale. Other factors relating to land use, soils, 
competition, or topography may affect suitability of a given location. 
Bradley (2009, entire) concludes that the potential for climate to 
shift away from suitability for B. tectorum in the future may offer an 
opportunity for restoration of the sagebrush biome in this area. We 
anticipate that areas that become unsuitable for B. tectorum, may 
transition to other vegetation over time. However, it is not known if 
transition back to sagebrush as a dominant landcover or to other native 
or nonnative vegetation is more likely.
    In a study that modeled potential impacts to big sagebrush (A. 
tridentata ssp.) due to climate change, Shafer et al. (2001, pp. 200-
215) used response surfaces to describe the relationship between 
bioclimatic variables and the distribution of tree and shrub taxa in 
western North America. Species distributions were simulated using 
scenarios generated by three general circulation models - HADCM2, 
CGCM1, and CSIRO. Each scenario produced similar results, simulating 
future bioclimatic conditions that would reduce the size of the overall 
range of sagebrush and change where sagebrush may occur. These 
simulated changes were the result of increases in the mean temperature 
of the coldest month which the authors speculated may interact with 
soil moisture levels to produce the simulated impact. Each model 
predicted that climate suitability for big sagebrush would shift north 
into Canada. Areas in the current range would become less suitable 
climatically, and would potentially cause significant contraction. The 
authors also point out that increases in fire frequency under the 
simulated climate projections would leave big sagebrush more vulnerable 
to fire impacts.
    Shafer et al. (2001, pp. 213) explicitly state that their approach 
should not be used to predict the future range of a species, and that 
the underlying assumptions of the models they used are ``unsatisfying'' 
because they presume a direct causal relationship between the 
distribution of a species and particular environmental variables. 
Shafer et al. (2001, pp. 207, 213) identify cautions similar to Bradley 
et al. (in press, pp. 205) regarding their models. A variety of factors 
are not included in climate space models, including: the effect of 
elevated CO2 on the species' water-use efficiency, what really is the 
physiological effect of exceeding the assumed (modeled) bioclimatic 
limit on the species, the life stage at which the limit affects the 
species (seedling versus adult), the life span of the species, and the 
movement of other organisms into the species range (Shafer et al., 
2001, pp. 207). These variables would likely help determine how climate 
change would affect species distributions. Shafer et al. (2001, pp. 
213) concludes that while more empirical studies are needed on what 
determines a species and multi-species distributions, those data are 
often lacking; in their absence climatic space models can play an 
important role in characterizing the types of changes that may occur so 
that the potential impacts on natural systems can be assessed.
    Schrag et al. (submitted MS, 2009, pp. 1-42) developed a 
bioclimatic envelope model for big sagebrush and silver sagebrush in 
the States of Montana, Wyoming, and North and South Dakotas. This 
analysis suggests that large displacement and reduction of sagebrush 
habitats will occur under climate change as early as 2030 for both 
species of sagebrush examined. At the time of this finding, the Schrag 
et al. analysis has not been peer reviewed, and we have significant 
reservations about using analyses of this level of complexity in making 
management decisions, without it having gone through a review process 
where experts in the fields of climate change, bioclimatic modeling, 
and sagebrush ecology can all assess the validity of the reported 
results. Other models projecting the affect of climate change on 
sagebrush habitat discussed more below, identify uncertainty associated 
with projecting climatic habitat conditions into the future given the 
unknown influence of other factors that such models do not incorporate 
(e.g., local physiographic conditions, life stage of the plant, 
generation time of the plant and its reaction to changing CO2 levels).
    In some cases, effects of climate change can be demonstrated (e.g., 
McLaughlin et al. 2002) and where it can be, we rely on that empirical 
evidence, such as increased stream temperatures (see Rio Grande 
cutthroat trout, 73 FR 27900), or loss of sea ice (see polar bear, 73 
FR 28212), and treat it as a threat that can be analyzed. However, we 
have no such data relating to greater sage-grouse. Application of 
continental scale climate change models to regional landscapes, and 
even more local or ``step-down'' models projecting habitat potential 
based on climatic factors, while informative, contain a high level of 
uncertainty due to a variety of factors including: regional weather 
patterns, local physiographic conditions, life stages of individual 
species, generation time of species, and species reactions to changing 
CO2 levels. The models summarized above are limited by these types of 
factors; therefore, their usefulness in assessing the threat of climate 
change on greater sage-grouse also is limited.
Summary: Climate Change
    The direct, long-term impact from climate change to greater sage-
grouse is yet to be determined. However, as described above, the 
invasion of Bromus tectorum and the associated changes in fire regime 
currently pose one of the significant threats to greater sage-grouse 
and the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem. Under current climate-change 
projections, we anticipate that future climatic conditions will favor 
further invasion by B. tectorum, as well as woody invasive species that 
affect habitat suitability, and that fire frequency will continue to 
increase, and the extent and severity of fires may increase as well. 
Climate warming is also likely to increase the severity of WNv 
outbreaks and to expand the area susceptible to outbreaks into areas 
that are now too cold for the WNv vector. Therefore, the consequences 
of climate change, if current projections are realized, are likely to 
exacerbate the existing primary threats to greater sage-grouse of 
frequent wildfire and invasive nonnative plants, particularly B. 
tectorum as well as the threat posed by disease. As the IPCC projects 
that the changes to the global climate system in the 21st century will 
likely be greater than those observed in the 20th century (IPCC 2007, 
p. 45), we anticipate that these effects will continue and likely 
increase into the foreseeable future. As there is some degree of 
uncertainty regarding the potential effects of climate

[[Page 13957]]

change on greater sage-grouse specifically, climate change in and of 
itself was not considered a significant factor in our determination 
whether greater sage-grouse is warranted for listing. However, we 
expect the severity and scope of two of the significant threats to 
greater sage-grouse, frequent wildfire and B. tectorum colonization and 
establishment; as well as epidemic WNv, to magnify within the 
foreseeable future due the effects of climate change already underway 
(i.e., increased temperature and carbon dioxide). Thus, currently we 
consider climate change as playing a potentially important indirect 
role in intensifying some of the current significant threats to the 
species.

Analysis of Habitat Fragmentation in the Context of Factor A

    Greater sage-grouse are a landscape-scale species requiring large, 
contiguous areas of sagebrush for long-term persistence. Large-scale 
characteristics within surrounding landscapes influence habitat 
selection, and adult sage-grouse exhibit a high fidelity to all 
seasonal habitats, resulting in little adaptability to changes. 
Fragmentation of sagebrush habitats has been cited as a primary cause 
of the decline of sage-grouse populations (Patterson 1952, pp. 192-193; 
Connelly and Braun 1997, p. 4; Braun 1998, p. 140; Johnson and Braun 
1999, p. 78; Connelly et al. 2000a, p. 975; Miller and Eddleman 2000, 
p. 1; Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 29; Johnsgard 2002, p. 108; 
Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 25; Beck et al. 2003, p. 203; Pedersen et 
al. 2003, pp. 23-24; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 4-15; Schroeder et al. 
2004, p. 368; Leu et al. in press, p. 19). Documented negative effects 
of fragmentation include reduced lek persistence, lek attendance, 
population recruitment, yearling and adult annual survival, female nest 
site selection, nest initiation, and loss of leks and winter habitat 
(Holloran 2005, p. 49; Aldridge and Boyce 2007, pp. 517-523; Walker et 
al. 2007a, pp. 2651-2652; Doherty et al. 2008, p. 194). Functional 
habitat loss also contributes to habitat fragmentation as greater sage-
grouse avoid areas due to human activities, including noise, even 
though sagebrush remains intact. In an analysis of population 
connectivity, Knick and Hanser (in press, p. 31) demonstrated that in 
some areas of the sage-grouse range, populations are already isolated 
and at risk for extirpation due to genetic, demographic, and 
environmental stochasticity. Habitat loss and fragmentation contribute 
to this population isolation and increased risk of extirpation.
    We examined several factors that result in habitat loss and 
fragmentation. Historically, large losses of sagebrush habitats 
occurred due to conversion for agricultural croplands. This conversion 
is continuing today, and may increase due to the promotion of biofuel 
production and new technologies to provide irrigation to arid lands. 
Indirect effects of agricultural activities, such as linear corridors 
created by irrigation ditches, also contribute to habitat fragmentation 
by allowing the incursion of nonnative plants. Direct habitat loss and 
fragmentation also has occurred as the result of expanding human 
populations in the western United States, and the resulting urban 
development in sagebrush habitats.
    Fire is one of the primary factors linked to population declines of 
greater sage-grouse because of long-term loss of sagebrush and 
conversion to nonnative grasses. Loss of sagebrush habitat to wildfire 
has been increasing in the western portion of the greater sage-grouse 
range due to an increase in fire frequency and size. This change is the 
result of incursion of nonnative annual grasses, primarily Bromus 
tectorum, into sagebrush ecosystems. The positive feedback loop between 
B. tectorum and fires facilitates future fires and precludes the 
opportunity for sagebrush, which is killed by fire, to become re-
established. B. tectorum and other invasive plants also alter habitat 
suitability for sage-grouse by reducing or eliminating native forbs and 
grasses essential for food and cover. Annual grasses and noxious 
perennials continue to expand their range, facilitated by ground 
disturbances, including wildfire, grazing, agriculture, and 
infrastructure associated with energy development and urbanization. 
Concern with habitat loss and fragmentation due to fire and invasive 
plants has mostly been focused in the western portion of the species' 
range. However, climate change may alter the range of invasive plants, 
potentially expanding this threat into other areas of the species' 
range. The establishment of these plants will then contribute to 
increased fire frequency in those areas, further compounding habitat 
loss and fragmentation. Functional habitat loss is occurring from the 
expansion of native conifers, mainly due to decreased fire return 
intervals, livestock grazing, increases in global carbon dioxide 
concentrations, and climate change.
    Sage-grouse populations are significantly reduced, including local 
extirpation, by nonrenewable energy development activities, even when 
mitigative measures are implemented (Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2651). The 
persistent and increasing demand for energy resources is resulting in 
their continued development within sage-grouse range, and will only act 
to increase habitat fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation due to energy 
development results not only from the actual footprint of energy 
development and its appurtenant facilities (e.g., powerlines, roads), 
but also from functional habitat loss (e.g., noise, presence of 
overhead structures).
    Livestock management and domestic livestock and wild horse grazing 
have the potential to seriously degrade sage-grouse habitat at local 
scales through loss of nesting cover, decreasing native vegetation, and 
successional stage and, therefore, vegetative resiliency, and 
increasing the probability of incursion of invasive plants. Fencing 
constructed to manage domestic livestock causes direct mortality, 
degradation, and fragmentation of habitats, and increased predator 
populations. There is little direct evidence linking grazing practices 
to population levels of greater sage-grouse. However, testing for 
impacts of grazing at landscape scales important to sage-grouse is 
confounded by the fact that almost all sage-grouse habitat has at one 
time been grazed, and thus no non-grazed areas currently exist with 
which to compare. While some rangeland treatments to remove sagebrush 
for livestock forage production can temporarily increase sage-grouse 
foraging areas, the predominant effect is habitat loss and 
fragmentation, although those losses cannot be quantified or spatially 
analyzed due to lack of data collection.
    Restoration of sagebrush habitat is challenging, and restoring 
habitat function may not be possible because alteration of vegetation, 
nutrient cycles, topsoil, and cryptobiotic crusts have exceeded 
recovery thresholds. Even if possible, restoration will require decades 
and will be cost-prohibitive. To provide habitat for sage-grouse, 
restoration must include all seasonal habitats and occur on a large 
scale (4,047 ha (10,000 ac) or more) to provide all necessary habitat 
components. Restoration may never be achieved in the presence of 
invasive grass species.
    The WAFWA identified a goal of ``no net loss'' of birds and habitat 
in their Greater Sage-grouse Comprehensive Conservation Strategy 
(Stiver et al. 2006, p. 1-7). Knick and Hanser (in press, p. 32) have 
concluded that this strategy may no longer be possible due to natural 
and anthropogenic threats that are degrading the remaining sagebrush 
habitats. They recommend focusing conservation on areas critical to 
range-wide persistence of this species (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 
31). Wisdom et al. (in press, pp. 24-25) and

[[Page 13958]]

Knick and Hanser (in press, p. 17) identified two strongholds of 
contiguous sagebrush habitat essential for the long-term persistence of 
greater sage-grouse (the southwest Wyoming Basin and the Great Basin 
area straddling the States of Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho). Other areas 
within the greater sage-grouse range had a high uncertainty for 
continued population persistence (Wisdom et al., in press, p. 25) due 
to fragmentation from anthropogenic impacts. However, our analyses of 
fragmentation in the two stronghold areas showed that habitats in these 
areas are becoming fragmented due to wildfire, invasive species, and 
energy development. Therefore, we are concerned that the level of 
fragmentation in these areas may already be limiting sage-grouse 
populations and further reducing connectivity between populations. 
These threats have intensified over the last two decades, and we 
anticipate that they will continue to accelerate due to the positive 
feedback loop between fire and invasives and the persistent and 
increasing demand for energy resources.

Population Trends in Relation to Habitat Loss and Fragmentation

    In order to assess the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on 
greater sage-grouse populations and persistence, we examined a variety 
of data to understand how population trends reflected the changing 
habitat condition. Patterns of sage-grouse extirpation were identified 
by Aldridge et al. 2008 (entire) Johnson et al. (in press, entire), 
Wisdom et al. (in press, entire), Knick and Hanser (in press, entire), 
and others, and discussed in detail above. Examples include 
fragmentation of populations and their isolation as a result of habitat 
loss from fire (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 20; Wisdom et al. in 
press, p. 22), an increase in the probability of extirpation as a 
result of fire (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 31) and agricultural 
activities and human densities (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 990; Wisdom et 
al. in press, p. 4), and sage-grouse population declines as a result of 
energy development (Doherty et al. 2008, p. 193; Johnson et al. in 
press, p. 13; Leu and Hanser, in press, p. 28). Therefore, where these 
habitat factors, and others identified above, are occurring, we 
anticipate that sage-grouse population trends will continue to decline.
    Lek count data are the only data available to estimate sage-grouse 
population trends, and are the data WAFWA collects (WAFWA 2008, p. 3). 
The use of lek count data as an index of trends involves various types 
of uncertainty (such as measurement error, count methods, statistical 
and other types of assumptions; e.g. see Connelly et al., 2004, pp. 6-
18 to 6-20; and WAFWA 2008, pp. 7-8). Nevertheless, these data have 
been collected for 50 years in most locations and therefore do have 
utility in examining long-term trends (Gerrodette 1987, p. 1370; 
Connelly et al. 2004, p. A3-3; Stiver et al. 2009, p. 3-5; WAFWA 2008, 
p. 3), and in evaluating differences in trends across the species' 
range. Therefore, we are considering the results of researchers whose 
work relies on lek data (e.g., Garton et al. (in press), Wisdom et al. 
(in press), Connelly et al. (2004, p. 6-18 to 6-59; WAFWA 2008, entire) 
to help inform our overall analyses.
    Population trends (average number of males per lek) in MZs I and 
II, the areas with the highest concentration of nonrenewable energy 
development, decreased by 17 and 30 percent from 1965 to 2007, 
respectively (Garton et al. in press, pp. 28, 35). Individual 
population trends within each MZ varied. However, in areas of intensive 
energy development, trends were negative as habitat continued to be 
fragmented. For example, in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, sage-
grouse populations have declined by 79 percent in the 12 years since 
coal-bed methane development was initiated there (Emmerich 2009, pers. 
comm.). In MZs affected by Bromus tectorum and fire, (primarily MZs IV 
(Snake River Plain) and V (Northern Great Basin)), population trends 
from 1995 to 2007 also were negative (Table 6). These results are 
consistent with the analyses conducted by Wisdom et al. (in press, p. 
24) that demonstrate that fragmentation as a result of disturbance 
results in reduced population numbers and population isolation.
    In some populations within the species' range, population trends 
(number of males counted on leks) since the early 1990s appear to be 
stable, and in some cases increasing (Garton et al. in press, Figs.2-8, 
pp.188-219). However, simply looking at total number of males counted 
does not accurately reflect habitat conditions, as leks, and by 
inference the associated breeding habitats, could have been lost. 
Additionally, as discussed above, sage-grouse will continue to attend 
leks even after habitat suitability is diminished simply due to site 
fidelity (Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2651). Therefore, the counts of males 
on these leks may artificially minimize the declines seen in trend 
analyses, as little productivity results from them. Because the 
analyses were truncated in 2007 to be comparable to other analyses of 
population trends (i.e. Connelly et al. 2004 and WAFWA 2008, see 
discussion under population size above), delays in population response 
to habitat loss and fragmentation events within the past 2 to 3 years 
may not have been captured. Also, some significant events that have 
resulted in habitat loss occurred after the 2007 lekking season. For 
example, the Murphy complex fire in Idaho and Nevada burned 264,260 ha 
(653,000 ac), resulting in the loss of 75 of 102 leks, and the 
associated nesting habitats in the area. Population-level effects of 
this fire would not be reflected by any of the three population trend 
analyses (Connelly et al., 2004; WAFWA 2008; Garton et al. in press) 
simply because it occurred after the time period analyzed.

Projections of Future Populations

    As described above, our analysis of habitat trends, and those 
provided in the published literature show that population extirpation 
and declines have, and are likely to continue to track habitat loss or 
environmental changes (e.g., Walker et al., 2005, Aldridge et al. 2008; 
Knick and Hanser in press; Wisdom et al. in press). Estimation of how 
these trends may affect future population numbers and habitat carrying 
capacity was conducted by Garton et al. (in press, entire). We realize 
population viability analyses are based on assumptions that may or may 
not be realistic given the species analyzed. Additionally, lek counts 
are not the best data for use in these kinds of analyses as variability 
in lek attendance, observer bias, and the unknown relationship between 
males counted to actual population sizes limit unbiased estimation of 
future population numbers (see also discussion under population sizes 
above, and in Garton et al., in press, pp. 8, 66). At the request of 
the Colorado Division of Wildlife, three individuals (Conroy 2009, 
entire; Noon 2009, entire; Runge 2009, entire) reviewed Garton et al. 
outside the established peer review process and noted similar 
limitations of these data. We received these reviews and have reviewed 
them in the context of all other data we received in preparation of 
this finding. Their primary concern was about the applicability of 
analyzing and presenting future population projections in the manner 
done by Garton et al. in press, based on the limitations of the data, 
the assumptions required, and uncertainty in the estimates of the model 
parameters (see also discussion above).
    Garton et al., (in press, pp. 6-8, 64-67) acknowledged these 
concerns, as several of the reviewers pointed out, and their analyses 
underwent peer review via the

[[Page 13959]]

normal scientific process prior to acceptance for publication. 
Population viability analyses can provide useful information in 
examining the potential future status of a species as long as the 
assumptions of the model, and violations thereof, are clearly 
identified and considered in the interpretation of the results. 
Therefore, we present the analyses conducted by Garton et al. (in 
press, entire) here in relation to our conclusion of how existing and 
continued habitat fragmentation may impact the greater sage-grouse 
within the foreseeable future. The projections reported by Garton et 
al. (in press, entire; see discussion below) are generally consistent 
with what we expect given the causes of sage-grouse declines and 
extirpation documented in the literature (see above) and where those 
threats occur in the species range, despite the concerns of the authors 
and others about the limitations of lek data and prospective analysis. 
We are unaware of any other prospective rangewide population viability 
analyses for this species.
    Garton et al. (in press, entire) projected population and habitat 
carrying capacity trends (the modeled estimate where population growth 
rate is 0) at 30 (2037) and 100 (2107) years into the future. Growth 
rates were analogous to rates from 1987 to 2007, and quasi-extinction 
thresholds (artificial thresholds below which the long-term persistence 
and viability of a species is questionable due to stochastic variables, 
such as small populations or genetic inbreeding) corresponded to 
minimum counts of 20 and 200 males at leks (Garton et al. in press, p. 
19). The thresholds were established to correspond to populations of 50 
and 500 breeding birds, numbers generally accepted for adequate 
effective population sizes to avoid negative genetic effects from 
inbreeding (Garton et al. in press, p. 19). Therefore, population 
projections that fell below 50 breeding adults (males and females) were 
identified as being at short-term risk of extinction, and those that 
fell below 500 breeding adults (males and females) were identified as 
being at long-term risk for extinction. However, recent work by Bush 
(2009, p. 106) suggests that a higher proportion of male sage-grouse 
are breeding than previously identified. Therefore, Garton et al. (in 
press, p. 20) state that their resulting projections are likely 
underestimates of actual impacts as more birds are necessary than they 
assumed for population productivity. Additionally, Traill et al. (2010, 
p. 32) argue that a minimum effective population size must be 5,000 
individuals to maintain evolutionary minimal viable populations of 
wildlife (retention of sufficient genetic material to avoid effect of 
inbreeding depression or deleterious mutations). We examined the 
projected population trends for 30 years to minimize the risk of error 
associated with the 100 year projections simply due to using lek data.
    One assumption made by Garton et al. (in press, p. 19) is that 
future population growth would be analogous to what occurred from 1987 
to 2007. We anticipate adverse habitat impacts (see discussion of 
foreseeable future below) and synergism between these impacts (e.g. 
fire and invasive species expansion) to increase habitat loss; 
therefore, Garton et al.'s (in press) likely over-estimate the 
resulting future habitat carrying capacity and population numbers.
    In all MZs, the analyses by Garton et al. (in press) predict that 
populations will continue to decline. In MZ I, Garton et al. (in press, 
p. 29) project a population decline of 59 percent between 2007 and 2037 
if current population and habitat trends continue (Table 10). In the 
Powder River Basin area, where significant gas development is 
occurring, population trends were projected an almost 90 percent 
decline by 2037 (Garton et al. in press, p. 26). This projection is 
consistent with Walker et al. (2007, p. 2651) estimate that lek 
persistence would decline to 5 percent in the Powder River Basin with 
full field development over a similar time frame. Also, Johnson (in 
press, p. 13) found that lek counts were reduced from 1997 to 2007 in 
areas of oil and gas development, and our GIS analyses found that a 
minimum of 70 percent of breeding habitats is affected by energy 
development activities in this area (Service 2008b; see discussion 
under Energy Development). Declines in the Powder River Basin within 
the past 12 years of development have reached 79 percent (Emmerich 
2009, pers. comm.). Populations in MZ I that do not experience the same 
levels of energy development are not projected to decline as 
significantly, with the exception of the Yellowstone watershed 
population (Table 10). This population is projected to be extirpated 
within 30 years (Garton et al. in press, p. 46). This area is highly 
fragmented by agricultural and energy development, factors identified 
by Aldridge et al. (2008, p. 991) and Wisdom et al. (in press, p. 23) 
with sage-grouse extirpation. Wisdom et al. (in press, p. 23) also 
predicted extirpation in this area due to the continuing loss of 
sagebrush. Loss of the Yellowstone watershed population will result in 
a gap in the species' range, isolating sage-grouse north of the 
Missouri River from the rest of the species.

    Table 10--Projected changes in carrying capacities of Management Zones and populations from 2007 to 2037.
    Carrying capacities are reflected as the average number of males per lek, and were calculated by dividing
 population projections for 2037 by the population estimate in 2007. Data from Garton et al. (in press, pp. 22-
                                                   63, 95-97).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                               Change in Carrying Capacity from
               Management Zone                          Population                     2007 to 2037 (%)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              I (Great Plains)                                                               -59
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Yellowstone watershed                                         -100
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Powder River                                                   -90
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Northern Montana                                               -11
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Dakotas                                                        -62
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              ..................................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                             II (Wyoming Basin)                                                              -66
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 13960]]

 
                                              Eagle - S. Routt                                        extirpated
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Jackson Hole                                                    --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Middle Park                                                     --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Wyoming Basin                                                  -64
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              ..................................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                         III (Southern Great Basin)                                                          -55
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Bi-State NV/CA                                                  -7
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              S. Mono Lake                                                    --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              NE Interior UT                                                +211
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              San Pete County UT                                              --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              S. central UT                                                  -36
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Summit-Morgan UT                                               -14
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Toole-Juab UT                                                  -27
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Southern Great Basin                                           -61
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              ..................................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                           IV (Snake River Plain)                                                            -55
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Baker, OR                                                No change
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Bannack, MT                                                     -9
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Red Rocks, MT                                                  -18
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Wisdom, MT                                                      --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              E. central ID                                                   --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Snake, Salmon, Beaverhead, ID                                  -18
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Northern Great Basin                                           -73
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              ..................................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                          V (Northern Great Basin)                                                           -74
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Central OR                                                     -67
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Klamath, OR                                                     --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              NW Interior NV                                                  --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Western Great Basin                                            -59
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              ..................................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                             VI (Columbia Basin)                                                             -46
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Moses Coulee                                                   -74
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Yakima                                                          --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              ..................................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 13961]]

 
                           VII (Colorado Plateau)*                                                            --
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
-- Data insufficient to model
* Although the model projects population increases, habitat is limited in the area, likely limiting actual
  population growth.

    Garton et al. (in press, p. 36) projected populations will decline 
in MZ II by 66 percent between 2007 and 2037 if current population 
trends and habitat activities continue (Table 10). The Wyoming Basin 
area, where significant oil, gas and renewable energy development is 
occurring, is projected to decline by 64 percent (Garton et al. in 
press, p. 34). Population persistence for the Eagle-South Routt 
population, an area also experiencing significant energy development 
activities, could not be estimated due to data sampling concerns. 
However, the population is unlikely to persist for 20 years (Braun, as 
cited in Garton et al. in press, p 30), where 100 percent of the 
breeding habitat is affected by energy development (Service 2008b). 
Johnson (in press, p. 13) found that declines in lek attendance was 
strongly, negatively associated with the presence of wells in these 
areas once the total number of wells in this MZ exceeded 250. Wells in 
both of these populations currently exceed that threshold. Therefore, 
the results of Garton et al.'s (in press) analyses are not unexpected.
    Garton et al. (in press, p. 46) projected populations in MZ III 
will decline by 53 percent between 2007 and 2037 if current population 
trends and habitat activities continue (Table 10). Most populations in 
this area are already isolated by topographic features and experience 
high native conifer incursions. Bromus tectorum also is of significant 
concern in the Southern Great Basin population. Large losses of 
sagebrush in this MZ have resulted from B. tectorum incursion and the 
resulting altered fire cycle (Johnson in press, p. 23). Fire within 54 
km (33.5 mi) of a lek was identified by Knick and Hanser (in press, p. 
29) as one of the most important factors negatively affecting sage-
grouse persistence on the landscape. Assuming the current rate of 
habitat loss continues in this MZ, carrying capacity is projected to 
decline by 45 percent by 2037 (Garton et al. in press, p. 46).
    In MZ IV, Garton et al. (in press, p. 53) populations are projected 
to decline by 55 percent between 2007 and 2037 if current population 
trends and habitat activities continue (Table 10). The Northern Great 
Basin population is projected to have the greatest drop in carrying 
capacity, and is the area currently most affected by reduced fire 
cycles as a result of Bromus tectorum incursions. As discussed above, 
fire within 54 km (33.5 mi) of a lek was identified by as one of the 
most important factors negatively affecting sage-grouse persistence on 
the landscape (Knick and Hanser in press, p. 29). The associated 
incursion of B. tectorum has resulted in large losses of habitat in 
this MZ (Johnson in press, p. 23). Carrying capacities in other 
populations in this MZ are not projected to decline as much, but these 
populations do not have significant fire and B. tectorum incursions.
    In MZ V, Garton et al. (in press, p. 58) projected populations will 
decline by 74 percent between 2007 and 2037 if current population 
trends and habitat activities continue (Table 10). Nearly all 
populations within this MZ are affected by reduced fire frequencies and 
Bromus tectorum incursions (see discussion above). In MZ VI, Garton et 
al. (in press, p. 62) projected populations will decline by 46 percent 
between 2007 and 2037 if current population trends and habitat 
activities continue (Table 10). The two populations in this MZ are 
already isolated from the rest of the range, and actively managed by 
the State of Washington to maintain birds (e.g., translocations, active 
habitat enhancement). In addition to impacts from agricultural 
activities and human development (Johnson in press, p. 27), these 
populations are affected by the loss of CRP lands and military 
activities, neither of which were quantified by Garton et al. (in 
press, entire). Therefore, the projections provided in the population 
viability analysis are likely underestimated.
    Carrying capacity projections could not be estimated for MZ VII due 
to insufficient data. Energy development activities occur within most 
populations in this area, and Johnson (in press, p. 13) reported that 
lek attendance was lower around producing wells in this MZ. We believe 
that based on habitat impacts, if birds are retained in this area, the 
populations will be reduced in size and further isolated.
    The projections from Garton et al. (in press, entire), which are 
consistent with results reported by Wisdom et al. (in press, entire), 
our own analyses, and others examining the effects of habitat loss and 
degradation on population trends, reflect that by 2037 sage-grouse 
populations and connectivity between them will be further reduced 
across the species range. This is consistent with other literature that 
has documented patterns of decline and extirpation as a result of the 
ongoing habitat losses and fragmentation (for example, see Johnson in 
press, Knick et al. in press and Wisdom et al. in press). We are 
cautious in using a single projection for determining future population 
status based on the limitation of lek data and the lack of any other 
comparable rangewide population viability analyses. However, Garton et 
al.'s (in press, entire) results are consistent with the habitat loss 
and fragmentation analyses conducted by the Service and many other 
authors, as noted in the individual MZ discussions above.
    The population and carrying capacity projections by Garton et al. 
(in press, pp. 22-64 ) are generally consistent with what we would 
expect given the causes of sage-grouse declines and extirpation 
documented in the literature (see above) and where those threats occur 
in the species range. Therefore, despite the concerns of the authors 
and other about the limitations of lek data and prospective analysis, 
the results presented by Garton et al. (in press, entire) are 
consistent with our analyses of habitat impacts based on the review of 
the best available scientific information.

Foreseeable Future of Habitat Threats

    We examined the persistence of each of these habitat threats on the 
landscape to help inform a determination of foreseeable future. Habitat 
conversion and fragmentation resulting from agricultural activities and 
urbanization will continue indefinitely. Human

[[Page 13962]]

populations are increasing in the western United States and we have no 
data indicating this trend will be reversed. Increased fire frequency 
as facilitated by the expanding distribution of invasive plant species 
will continue indefinitely unless an effective means for controlling 
the invasives is found. In the last approximately 100 years, no broad 
scale Bromus tectorum eradication method has been developed. Therefore, 
given the history of invasive plants on the landscape, our continued 
inability to control such species, and the expansive infestation of 
invasive plants across the species' range currently, we anticipate they 
and associated fires will be on the landscape for the next 100 years or 
longer.
    Continued exploration and development of traditional and 
nonconventional fossil fuel sources in the eastern portion of the 
greater sage-grouse range will continue to increase over the next 20 
years (EIA 2009b, p. 109). Based on existing National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA) documents for major oil and gas developments, 
production within existing developments will continue for a minimum of 
20 years, with subsequent restoration (if possible) requiring from 30 
to 50 additional years. Renewable energy development is estimated to 
reach maximum development by 2030. However, since most renewable energy 
facilities are permanent landscape features, unlike oil, gas and coal, 
direct and functional habitat loss from the development footprint will 
be permanent. Based on this information, we estimate the foreseeable 
future of energy development at a minimum of 50 years, and perhaps much 
longer for nonrenewable sources.
    Grazing (both domestic and wild horse and burro) is unlikely to be 
removed from sagebrush ecosystems. Therefore, it is difficult to 
estimate a foreseeable future for livestock grazing. However, as of 
2007, there were 7,118,989 permitted AUMs in sage-grouse habitat. 
Although there have been recent reductions in the number of AUMs (3.4 
percent since 2005), we have no information suggesting that livestock 
grazing will be significantly reduced, or removed, from sage-grouse 
habitats. Therefore, while we cannot provide an exact estimate of the 
foreseeable future for grazing, we expect it to be a persistent use of 
the sage-grouse landscape for several decades.
Summary of Factor A
    As identified above in our Factor A analysis, habitat conversion 
for agriculture, urbanization, infrastructure (e.g., roads, powerlines, 
fences); fire, invasive plants, pinyon-juniper woodland encroachment, 
grazing, energy development, and climate change are all contributing, 
individually and collectively, to the present and threatened 
destruction, modification, and curtailment of the habitat and range of 
the greater sage-grouse. The impacts are compounded by the fragmented 
nature of this habitat loss, as fragmentation results in functional 
loss of habitat for greater sage-grouse even when otherwise suitable 
habitat is still present.
    Fragmentation of sagebrush habitats is a key cause, if not the 
primary cause, of the decline of sage-grouse populations. Fragmentation 
can make otherwise suitable habitat either too small or isolated to be 
of use to greater sage-grouse (i.e., functional habitat destruction), 
or the abundance of sage-grouse that can be supported in an area is 
diminished. Fire, invasive plants, energy development, various types of 
infrastructure, and agricultural conversion have resulted in habitat 
fragmentation and additional fragmentation is expected to continue for 
the foreseeable future in some areas.
    In our evaluation of Factor A, we found that although many of the 
habitat impacts we analyzed (e.g, fire, urbanization, invasive species) 
are present throughout the range, they are not at a level that is 
causing a threat to greater sage-grouse everywhere within its range. 
Some threats are of high intensity in some areas but are low or 
nonexistent in other areas. Fire and invasive plants, and the 
interaction between them, is more pervasive in the western part of the 
range than in the eastern. Oil and gas development is having a high 
impact on habitat in many areas in the eastern part of the range, but a 
low impact further to the west. The impact of pinyon-juniper 
encroachment generally is greater in western areas of the range, but is 
of less concern in more eastern areas such as Wyoming and Montana. 
Agricultural development is high in the Columbia Basin, Snake River 
Plain, and eastern Montana, but low elsewhere. Infrastructure of 
various types is present throughout the most of range of the greater 
sage-grouse, as is livestock grazing, but the degree of impact varies 
depending on grazing management practices and local ecological 
conditions. The degree of urbanization and exurban development varies 
across the range, with some areas having relatively low impact to 
habitat.
    While sage-grouse habitat has been lost or altered in many portions 
of the species' range, habitat still remains to support the species in 
many areas of its range (Connelly et al. in press c, p. 23), such as 
higher elevation sagebrush, and areas with a low human footprint 
(activities sustaining human development) such as the Northern and 
Southern Great Basin (Leu and Hanser in press, p. 14), indicating that 
the threat of destruction, modification or curtailment of the greater 
sage-grouse is moderate in these areas. In addition, two strongholds of 
contiguous sagebrush habitat (the southwest Wyoming Basin and the Great 
Basin area straddling the States of Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho) contain 
the highest densities of males in the range of the species (Wisdom et 
al. in press, pp. 24-25; Knick and Hanser in press, p. 17). We believe 
that the ability of these strongholds to maintain high densities to 
date in the presence of several threats indicates that there are 
sufficient habitats currently to support the greater sage-grouse in 
these areas, but not throughout its entire range unless these threats 
are ameliorated.
    As stated above, the impacts to habitat are not uniform across the 
range; some areas have experienced less habitat loss than others, and 
some areas are at relatively lower risk than others for future habitat 
destruction or modification. Nevertheless, the impacts are substantial 
in many areas and will continue or even increase in the future across 
much of the range of the species. With continued habitat destruction 
and modification, resulting in fragmentation and diminished 
connectivity, greater sage-grouse populations will likely decline in 
size and become more isolated, making them more vulnerable to further 
reduction over time and increasing the risk of extinction.
    We have evaluated the best scientific and commercial information 
available regarding the present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of the greater sage-grouse's habitat or 
range. Based on the current and ongoing habitat issues identified here, 
their synergistic effects, and their likely continuation in the future, 
we conclude that this threat is significant such that it provides a 
basis for determining that the species warrants listing under the Act 
as a threatened or endangered species.

Factor B: Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

Commercial Hunting

    The greater sage-grouse was heavily exploited by commercial hunting 
in the late 1800s and early 1900s (Patterson 1952, pp. 30-32; 
Autenrieth 1981, pp. 3-11). Hornaday (1916, pp. 179-221) and others 
alerted the public to the risk of

[[Page 13963]]

extinction of the species as a result of this overharvest. The impacts 
of hunting on greater sage-grouse during those historical decades may 
have been exacerbated by impacts from human expansion into sagebrush-
steppe habitats (Girard 1937, p. 1). In response, many States closed 
sage-grouse hunting seasons by the 1930s (Patterson 1952, pp.30-33; 
Autenrieth 1981, p. 10). Sage-grouse have not been commercially 
harvested for many decades; therefore, commercial hunting does not 
affect the greater sage-grouse.

Recreational Hunting

    With the increase of sage-grouse populations by the 1950s, limited 
recreational hunting seasons were allowed in most of the species' range 
(Patterson 1952, p. 242; Autenrieth 1981, p.11). Currently, greater 
sage-grouse are legally sport-hunted in 10 of 11 States where they 
occur (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-3). The hunting season for sage-
grouse in Washington was closed in 1988, and the species was added to 
the State's list of threatened species in 1998 (Stinson et al. 2004, p. 
1). In Canada, sage-grouse are designated as an endangered species, and 
hunting is not permitted (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-3).
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP23MR10.002

    Harvest levels have varied considerably since the 1950s, and in 
recent years have been much lower than in past decades (Figure 3) 
(Service 2009, unpublished data). From 1960 to 1980, the majority of 
sage-grouse hunting mortality occurred in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, 
accounting for at least 75 to 85 percent of the annual harvest (Service 
2009, unpublished data). In the 1960s harvest exceeded 120,000 
individuals annually for 7 out of 10 years. Harvest levels reached a 
maximum in the 1970s, being above 200,000 individuals in 9 of 10 years 
with the total estimate at 2,322,581 birds harvested for the decade. 
During the 1980s, harvest exceeded 130,000 individuals in 9 of 10 years 
(Service 2009, unpublished data). The harvest was above 100,000 
annually during the early 1990s but in 1994 dropped below 100,000 for 
the first time in decades. From 2000 to 2007, annual harvest has 
averaged approximately 31,000 birds (Service 2009, unpublished data).
    Sustainable harvest is determined based on the concept of 
compensatory and additive mortality (Connelly 2005, p. 7). The 
compensatory mortality hypothesis asserts that if sage-grouse produce 
more offspring than can survive to sexual maturity, individuals lost to 
hunting represent losses that would have occurred otherwise from some 
other source (e.g., starvation, predation, disease). Hunting mortality 
is termed additive if it exceeds natural mortality and ultimately 
results in a decline of the breeding population. The validity of 
compensatory mortality in upland gamebirds has not been rigorously 
tested, and as we stated above, annual

[[Page 13964]]

sage-grouse productivity is relatively low compared to other grouse 
species. Autenrieth (1981, p. 77) suggested sage-grouse could sustain 
harvest rates of up to 30 percent annually. Braun (1987, p. 139) 
suggested a rate of 20 to 25 percent was sustainable. State wildlife 
agencies currently attempt to keep harvest levels below 5 to 10 percent 
of the population, based on a recommendation taken from Connelly et al. 
(2000a, p. 976). However, it is unclear from Connelly et al. (2000a) 
what this recommendation is based on, and similar to previous suggested 
harvest rates, it has not been experimentally tested with regard to its 
impacts on sage-grouse populations.
    The validity of the idea that hunting is a form of compensatory 
mortality for upland game birds has been questioned in recent years 
(Reese and Connelly, in press, p. 6). Connelly et al. 2005 (pp. 660, 
663) cite many studies suggesting that hunting of upland game, 
including the greater sage-grouse, is often not compensatory. Other 
studies have sought to determine whether hunting mortality in sage-
grouse is compensatory or additive (Crawford 1982; Crawford and Lutz 
1985; Braun 1987; Zunino 1987; Johnson and Braun 1999; Connelly et al. 
2003; Sedinger et al. in press; Sedinger et al. unpublished data). 
Results of those studies have been contradictory. For example, Braun 
(1987, p. 139) found that harvest levels of 7 to 11 percent had no 
effect on subsequent spring breeding populations based on lek counts in 
North Park, Colorado. Johnson and Braun (1999, p. 83) determined that 
overwinter mortality correlated with harvest intensity in North Park, 
Colorado, and hypothesized that hunting mortalities may be additive.
    Numerous contradictions are likely due to differing methods, lack 
of experimental data, and differing effects of harvest due to a 
relationship between harvest and habitat quality. For example, Connelly 
et al. (2003, pp. 256-257) evaluated data for monitored lek routes in 
areas experiencing different levels of harvest (no harvest, 1-bird 
season, 2-bird season) in Idaho and found that populations with no 
hunting season had faster rates of population increase than populations 
with a light to modest harvest. The effect was particularly pronounced 
in xeric habitats near human populations, which suggests that the 
impact of hunting on sage-grouse to some extent depends on habitat 
quality. Gibson (1998, p. 15) found that hunting mortality had negative 
impacts on the population dynamics of an isolated population of sage-
grouse in Long Valley, California, but appeared to have no effect on 
sage-grouse in Bodie Hills, California, a nearby population that is 
contiguous with adjacent occupied areas of Nevada. Data indicated that 
hunting suppressed the population size of the isolated Long Valley 
population well below the apparent carrying capacity (Gibson 1998, p. 
15; Gardner 2008, pers. comm.).
    Sage-grouse hunting is regulated by State wildlife agencies. 
Hunting seasons are reviewed annually, and States change harvest 
management based on estimates for spring production and population size 
(e.g., Bohne 2003, pp.1-10). However, harvest affects fall populations 
of sage-grouse, and currently there is no reliable method for obtaining 
estimates of fall population size (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 9-6). 
Instead, lek counts conducted in the spring are used as a surrogate for 
fall population size. However, fall populations are already reduced 
from spring estimates as some natural mortality inevitably has occurred 
in the interim (Kokko 2001, p. 164). The discrepancy between spring and 
fall population size estimates plays a role in determining whether 
harvest will be within the recommended level of less than 5-10 percent 
of the fall population. For example, hen mortality in Montana increased 
from the typical level of 1 to 5 percent to 16 percent during July/
August in a year (2003) with WNv mortality (Moynahan 2006, p.1535). 
During the summer of 2006 and 2007 in South Dakota, mortality from WNv 
was estimated to be between 21 and 63 percent of the population (Kaczor 
2008, p.72). Despite the increased mortalities due to WNv, hunting 
regulations in both States remained similar to previous years.
    Female survivorship is a key element of population productivity. 
Harvest might affect female and male grouse differently. Connelly et 
al. (2000b, p.228-229) found that in Idaho 42 percent of all documented 
female mortality was attributable to hunting while for males the number 
was 15 percent. Patterson (1952, p. 245) found females accounted for 60 
percent (1950) and 63 percent (1951) of total hunting mortalities. 
Because sage-grouse are relatively long-lived, have moderate 
reproductive rates, and are polygynous, their populations are likely to 
be especially sensitive to adult female survival (Schroeder 1999, p.2, 
13; Saether and Bakke 2000, p. 652; Connelly 2005, p.9). Yearling sage-
grouse hens have less reproductive potential than adults (Dalke et al. 
1963, p. 839; Moynahan 2006, p. 1537). Adult females have higher nest 
initiation rates, higher nest success, and higher chick survival rates 
than yearling females (Connelly et al., in press a, pp. 15, 20, 48). 
High adult female mortality has the potential to result in negative lag 
effects as future populations become overrepresented by yearling 
females (Moynahan 2006, p. 1537).
    All States with hunting seasons have changed limits and season 
dates to more evenly distribute hunting mortality across the entire 
population structure of greater sage-grouse, harvesting birds after 
females have left their broods (Bohne 2003, p. 5). Females and broods 
congregate in mesic areas late in the summer potentially making them 
more vulnerable to hunting (Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 230). However, 
despite increasingly later hunting seasons, hens in Wyoming continue to 
comprise the majority of the harvest in all years (WGFD 2004a, p. 4; 
2006, p. 7). From 1996 to 2008, on average 63 percent of adult hunting 
mortalities in Nevada were females (range 58 percent to 73 percent) 
(NDOW, 2009, unpublished data). In 2008 in Oregon, adult females 
accounted for 70 percent of the adults harvested (ODFW 2009). These 
results could indicate that females are more susceptible to hunting 
mortality, or it could be a reflection of a female skewed sex ratio in 
adult birds. Male sage-grouse typically have lower survival rates than 
females, and the varying degrees of female skewed sex ratios recorded 
for sage-grouse are thought to be as a result of this differential 
survival (Swenson 1986, p. 16; CO Conservation Plan, p. 54). The 
potential for negative effects on populations by harvesting 
reproductive females has long been recognized by upland game managers 
(e.g., hunting of female ring-necked pheasants, (Phasianus colchicus), 
is prohibited in most States).
    Harvest management levels that are based on the concept of 
compensatory mortality assume that overwinter mortality is high, which 
is not true for sage-grouse (winter mortality rates approximately 2 
percent, Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 229). Additionally, due to WNv, 
sage-grouse population dynamics may be increasingly affected by 
mortality that is density independent (i.e., mortality that is 
independent of population size). Further, there is growing concern 
regarding wide-spread habitat degradation and fragmentation from 
various sources, such as development, fire, and the spread of noxious 
weeds, resulting in density independent mortality which increases the 
probability that harvest mortality will be additive.
    State management agencies have become increasingly responsive to 
these concerns. All of the States where hunting greater sage-grouse is 
legal,

[[Page 13965]]

except Montana, now manage harvests on a regional scale rather than 
applying State-wide limits. Bag limits and season lengths are 
relatively conservative compared to prior decades (Connelly 2005, p. 9; 
Gardner 2008, pers. comm.). Emergency closures have been used for some 
declining populations. For example, North Dakota closed the 2008 and 
2009 hunting seasons following record low lek attendance likely due to 
WNv (Robinson 2009, pers. comm.). Hunting on the Duck Valley Indian 
Reservation (Idaho/Nevada) has been closed since 2006 due to WNv (Dick 
2009, pers. comm.; Gossett 2008, pers. comm.). Hunting in Owyhee 
County, Idaho was closed in 2006 and again in 2008 and 2009 as a result 
of WNv (Dick 2008, pers. comm.; IDFG 2009).
    All ten States that allow bow and gun hunting of sage-grouse also 
allow falconers to hunt sage-grouse. Falconry seasons are typically 
longer (60 to 214 days), and in some cases have larger bag limits than 
bow/gun seasons. However, due to the low numbers of falconers and their 
dispersed activities, the resulting harvest is thought to be negligible 
(Apa 2008, pers. comm.; Northrup 2008, pers. comm.; Hemker 2008, pers. 
comm.; Olsen 2008, pers. comm.; Kanta 2008, pers. comm.). Wyoming is 
one of the few States that collects falconry harvest data and reported 
a take of 180 sage-grouse by falconers in the 2006-2007 season (WGFD 
2007, unpublished data). In Oregon, the take is probably less than five 
birds per year (Budeau 2008, pers. comm.). In Idaho the 2005 estimated 
Statewide falconry harvest was 77 birds, and that number has likely 
remained relatively constant (Hemker 2008, pers. comm.). We are not 
aware of any studies that have examined falconry take of greater sage-
grouse in relation to population trends, but the amount of greater 
sage-grouse mortality associated with falcon sport hunting appears to 
be negligible.
    We surveyed the State fish and wildlife agencies within the range 
of greater sage-grouse to determine what information they had on 
illegal harvest (poaching) of the species. Nevada and Utah indicated 
they were aware of citations being issued for sage-grouse poaching, but 
that it was rare (Espinosa 2008, pers. comm.; Olsen 2008, pers. comm.). 
Sage-grouse wings are infrequently discovered in wing-barrel collection 
sites during forest grouse hunts in Washington, but such take is 
considered a result of hunter misidentification rather than deliberate 
poaching (Schroeder 2008, pers. comm.). None of the remaining States 
had any quantitative data on the level of poaching. Based on these 
results, illegal harvest of greater sage-grouse poaching appears to 
occur at low levels. We are not aware of any studies or other data that 
demonstrate that poaching has contributed to sage-grouse population 
declines.

Recreational Use

    Greater sage-grouse are subject to a variety of non-consumptive 
recreational uses such as bird watching or tour groups visiting leks, 
general wildlife viewing, and photography. Daily human disturbances on 
sage-grouse leks could cause a reduction in mating and some reduction 
in total production (Call and Maser 1985, p. 19). Overall, a relatively 
small number of leks in each State receive regular viewing use by 
humans during the strutting season and most States report no known 
impacts from this use (Apa 2008, pers. comm.; Christiansen 2008, pers. 
comm.; Gardner 2008, pers. comm.; Northrup 2008, pers. comm.). Only 
Colorado has collected data regarding the effects of non-consumptive 
use. Their analyses suggest that controlled lek visitation has not 
impacted greater sage-grouse (Apa 2008, pers. comm.). However, Oregon 
reported anecdotal evidence of negative impacts of unregulated viewing 
to individual leks near urban areas that are subject to frequent 
disturbance from visitors (Hagen 2008, pers. comm.).
    To reduce any potential impact of lek viewing on sage-grouse, 
several States have implemented measures to protect most leks while 
allowing recreational viewing to continue. The Wyoming Game and Fish 
Department (WGFD) provides the public with directions to 16 leks and 
guidelines to minimize viewing disturbance. Leks included in the 
brochure are close to roads and already subject to some level of 
disturbance (Christiansen 2008, pers. comm.); presumably, focusing 
attention on these areas reduces pressure on relatively undisturbed 
leks. Colorado and Montana have some sites with viewing trailers for 
the public for the same reasons (Apa 2008, pers. comm.; Northrup 2008, 
pers. comm.). We were not able to locate any studies documenting how 
lek viewing, or other forms of non-consumptive recreational uses, of 
sage-grouse are related to sage-grouse population trends. Given the 
relatively small number of leks visited, we have no reason to believe 
that this type of recreational activity is having a negative impact on 
local populations or contributing to declining population trends.

Religious Use

    Some Native American tribes harvest greater sage-grouse as part of 
their religious or ceremonial practices as well as for subsistence. 
Native American hunting occurs on the Wind River Indian Reservation 
(Wyoming), with about 20 males per year taken off of leks in the spring 
plus an average fall harvest of approximately 40 birds (Hnilicka 2008, 
pers. comm.). The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe (Idaho) occasionally takes 
small numbers of birds in the spring, but no harvest figures have been 
reported for 2007 and 2008 (Christopherson 2008, pers. comm.). The 
Shoshone-Paiute Tribe of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation (Idaho and 
Nevada) suspended hunting in 2006 to 2009 due to significant population 
declines resulting from a WNv outbreak in the area (Dick 2009, pers. 
comm.; Gossett 2008, pers. comm.). Prior to 2006, the sage-grouse 
hunting season on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation ran from July 1 to 
November 30 with no bag or possession limits. Preliminary estimates 
indicate that the harvest may have been as high as 25 percent of the 
population (Gossett 2008, pers. comm.). Despite the hunting ban, 
populations have not recovered on the reservation (Dick 2009, pers. 
comm.; Gossett 2008, pers. comm.). No harvest by Native Americans for 
subsistence or religious and ceremonial purposes occurs in South 
Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Washington, or Oregon (Apa 2008, pers. 
comm.; Hagen 2008, pers. comm.; Kanta 2008, pers. comm.; Robinson 2008, 
pers. comm.; Schroeder 2008, pers. comm.).

Scientific and Educational Use

    Greater sage-grouse are the subject of many scientific research 
studies. We are aware of some 51 studies ongoing or completed during 
2005 and 2008. Of the 11 western States where sage-grouse currently 
occur, all reported some type of field studies that included the 
capture, handling, and subsequent banding, or banding and radio-tagging 
of sage-grouse. In 2005, the overall mortality rate due to the capture, 
handling, and/or radio-tagging process was calculated at approximately 
2.7 percent of the birds captured (68 mortalities of 2,491 captured). A 
survey of State agencies, BLM, consulting companies, and graduate 
students involved in sage-grouse research indicates that there has been 
little change in direct handling mortality since then. We are not aware 
of any studies that document that this level of taking has affected any 
sage-grouse population trends.
    Greater sage-grouse have been translocated in several States and 
the Province of British Columbia (Reese and Connelly 1997, p. 235). 
Reese and Connelly (1997, pp. 235-238)

[[Page 13966]]

documented the translocation of over 7,200 birds between 1933 and 1990. 
Only 5 percent of the translocation efforts documented by Reese and 
Connelly (1997, p. 240) were considered to be successful in producing 
sustained, resident populations at the translocation sites. From 2003 
to 2005, 137 adult female sage-grouse were translocated to Strawberry 
Valley, Utah and had a 60 percent annual survival rate (Baxter et al. 
2006, p. 182). Since 2004, Oregon and Nevada have supplied the State of 
Washington with close to 100 greater sage-grouse to increase the 
genetic diversity of the geographically isolated Columbia Basin 
populations and to reestablish a historical population. One bird has 
died during transit and as expected natural mortality for translocated 
birds has been higher than resident populations (Schroeder 2008, pers. 
comm.). Given the low numbers of birds that have been used for 
translocation spread over many decades, it is unlikely that the 
removals from source populations have contributed to greater sage-
grouse declines, while the limited success of translocations also has 
likely had nominal impact on rangewide population trends. We did not 
find any information regarding the direct use of greater sage-grouse 
for educational purposes.
Summary of Factor B
    Greater sage-grouse are not used for any commercial purpose. In 
Canada, hunting of sage-grouse is prohibited in Alberta and 
Saskatchewan. In the United States, sage-grouse hunting is regulated by 
State wildlife agencies and hunting regulations are reevaluated yearly. 
We have no information that suggests any change will occur in the 
current situation, in which hunting greater sage-grouse is prohibited 
in Washington and allowed elsewhere in the range of the species in the 
U.S. under State regulations, which provide a basis for adjustments in 
annual harvest and emergency closures of hunting seasons. We have no 
evidence suggesting that gun and bow sport hunting has been a primary 
cause of range-wide declines of the greater sage-grouse in the past, or 
that it currently is at level that poses a significant threat to the 
species. However, although harvest as a singular factor does not appear 
to threaten the species throughout its range, negative impacts on local 
populations have been demonstrated and there remains a large amount of 
uncertainty regarding harvest impacts because of a lack of experimental 
evidence and conflicting studies. Significant habitat loss and 
fragmentation have occurred during the past several decades, and there 
is evidence that the sustainability of harvest levels depends to a 
large extent upon the quality of habitat and the health of the 
population. However, recognition that habitat loss is a limiting factor 
is not conclusive evidence that hunting has played no role in 
population declines or that reducing or eliminating harvest will not 
have an effect on population stability or recovery.
    Take from poaching (illegal hunting) appears to occur at low levels 
in localized areas, and there is no evidence that it contributes to 
population declines. The information on non-consumptive recreational 
activities is limited to lek viewing, the extent of such activity is 
small, and there is no indication that it has a negative impact that 
contributes to population declines. Harvest by Native American tribes, 
and mortality that results from handling greater sage-grouse for 
scientific purposes appears to occur at low levels in localized areas 
and thus we do not consider these to be a significant threat at either 
the rangewide or local population levels. We know of no utilization for 
educational purposes. We have no reason to believe any of the above 
activities will increase in the future.
    We do not believe data support overuse of sage-grouse as a singular 
factor in rangewide population declines. We note, however, that in 
light of present and threatened habitat loss (Factor A) and other 
considerations (e.g. West Nile virus outbreaks in local populations), 
continued close attention will be needed by States and tribes to 
carefully manage hunting mortality, including adjusting seasons and 
allowable harvest levels, and imposing emergency closures if needed.
    In sum, we find that this threat is not significant to the species 
such that it causes the species to warrant listing under the Act.

Factor C: Disease and Predation

Disease

    Greater sage-grouse are hosts for a variety parasites and diseases, 
including macroparasitic arthropods, helminths and microparasites 
(protozoa, bacteria, viruses and fungi) (Thorne et al. 1982, p. 338; 
Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 10-4 to 10-7; Christiansen and Tate, in 
press, p. 2). However, there have been few systematic surveys for 
parasites or infectious diseases of greater sage-grouse; therefore, 
whether they have a role in population declines is unknown (Connelly et 
al. 2004, p. 10-3; Christiansen and Tate, in press, p. 3). Early 
studies have suggested that sage-grouse populations are adversely 
affected by parasitic infections (Batterson and Morse 1948, p. 22). 
Parasites also have been implicated in sage-grouse mate selection, with 
potentially subsequent effects on the genetic diversity of this species 
(Boyce 1990, p. 263; Deibert 1995, p. 38). However, Connelly et al. 
(2004, p. 10-6) note that, while these relationships may be important 
to the long-term ecology of greater sage-grouse, they have not been 
shown to be significant to the immediate population status. Connelly et 
al. (2004, p. 10-3) have suggested that diseases and parasites may 
limit isolated sage-grouse populations, but that the effects of 
emerging diseases require additional study (see also Christiansen and 
Tate, in press, pp. 22-23).
    Internal parasites which have been documented in the greater sage-
grouse include the protozoans Sarcosystis spp. and Tritrichomonas 
simoni, blood parasites (including avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.), 
Leucocytozoon spp., Haemoproteus spp., and Trypanosoma avium, tapeworms 
(Raillietina centrocerci and R. cesticillus), gizzard worms (Habronema 
spp. and Acuaria spp.), cecal worms (Heterakis gallinarum), and filarid 
nematodes (Ornithofilaria tuvensis) (Honess 1955, pp.1-2; Hepworth 
1962, p. 6: Thorne et al. 1982, p. 338; Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 10-4 
to 10-6; Petersen 2004, p. 50; Christiansen and Tate, in press, pp. 9-
13). None of these parasites have been known to cause mortality in the 
greater sage-grouse (Christiansen and Tate, in press, p. 8-13). Sub-
lethal effects of these parasitic infections on sage-grouse have never 
been studied.
    Greater sage-grouse host many external parasites, including lice, 
ticks, and dipterans (midges, flies, mosquitoes, and keds) (Connelly et 
al. 2004, pp. 10-6 to 10-7). Most ectoparasites do not produce disease, 
but can serve as disease vectors or cause mechanical injury and 
irritation (Thorne et al. 1982, p. 231). Ectoparasites can be 
detrimental to their hosts, particularly when the bird is stressed by 
inadequate habitat or nutritional conditions (Petersen 2004, p. 39). 
Some studies have suggested that lice infestations can affect sage-
grouse mate selection (Boyce 1990, p. 266; Spurrier et al. 1991, p. 12; 
Deibert 1995, p. 37), but population impacts are not known (Connelly et 
al. 2004, p. 10-6).
    Only a few parasitic infections in greater sage-grouse have been 
documented to result in fatalities, including the protozoan, Eimeria 
spp. (coccidiosis) (Connelly et al. 2004, p.

[[Page 13967]]

10-4), and possibly ixodid ticks (Haemaphysalis cordeilishas). 
Mortality is not 100 percent with coccidiosis, and young birds that 
survive an initial infection typically do not succumb to subsequent 
infections (Thorne et al. 1982, p. 112). Infections also tend to be 
localized to specific geographic areas. Most cases of coccidiosis in 
greater sage-grouse have been found where large numbers of birds 
congregated, resulting in soil and water contamination by fecal 
material (Scott 1940, p. 45; Honess and Post 1968, p. 20; Connelly et 
al. 2004, p. 10-4; Christiansen and Tate, in press, p. 3). While the 
role of this parasite in population regulation is unknown, Petersen 
(2004, p. 47) hypothesized that coccidiosis could be limiting for local 
populations, as this parasite causes decreased growth and resulted in 
significant mortality in young birds, thereby potentially limiting 
recruitment. However, no cases of sage-grouse mortality resulting from 
coccidiosis have been documented since the early 1960s (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 10-4), with the exception of two yearlings being held in 
captivity (Cornish 2009a, pers. comm.). One hypothesis for the apparent 
decline in occurrences of coccidiosis is the reduced density of sage-
grouse, limiting the spread of the disease (Christiansen and Tate, in 
press, p. 14).
    The only mortalities associated with ixodid ticks were found in 
association with a tularemia (Francisella tularenis) outbreak in 
Montana (Parker et al. 1932, p. 480; Christiansen and Tate, in press, 
p. 7). The sage-grouse mortality was likely from the pathological 
effects of the abnormally high number of feeding ticks found on the 
birds, as well as tularemia infection itself (Christiansen and Tate, in 
press, p.15). No other reports of tularemia have been recorded in 
greater sage-grouse (Christiansen and Tate, in press, p. 15).
    Greater sage-grouse also are subject to a variety of bacterial, 
fungal, and viral pathogens. The bacteria Salmonella spp. has caused 
mortality in the greater sage-grouse and was apparently contracted 
through of exposure to contaminated water supplies around livestock 
stock tanks (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 10-7). However, it is unlikely 
that diseases associated with Salmonella spp. pose a significant risk 
to sage-grouse unless environmental conditions concentrate birds, 
resulting in contamination of limited water supplies by accumulated 
fecal material (Christiansen and Tate, in press, p. 15). A tentative 
documentation of Mycoplasma spp. in sage-grouse is known from Colorado 
(Hausleitner 2003, p. 147), but we found no other information to 
suggest this bacterium is either fatal or widespread. Other bacteria 
found in sage-grouse include avian tuberculosis (Mycobacterium avium), 
and avian cholera (Pasteurella multocida). These bacteria have never 
been identified as a cause of mortality in greater sage-grouse and the 
risk of exposure and hence, population effects, is low (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 10-7 to 10-8).
    Sage-grouse afflicted with coccidiosis in Wyoming also were 
positive for Escherichia coli (Honess and Post 1968, p. 17). This 
bacterium is not believed to be a threat to wild populations of greater 
sage-grouse (Christiansen and Tate, in press, p. 15), as it has only 
been shown to cause acute mortality in captive birds kept in unsanitary 
conditions (Friend 1999, p. 125). One death from Clostridium 
perfringens has been recorded in a free-ranging adult male sage-grouse 
in Oregon (Hagen and Bildfell 2007, p. 545). Friend (1999, p. 123) 
mentions that outbreaks of Clostridum have been reported in greater 
sage-grouse, but the only information we located were two deaths 
reported from northeastern Wyoming (Cornish 2009a, pers. comm.). 
Christiansen and Tate (in press, p. 14) caution that given the 
persistence of this bacterium's spores in the soil, the resulting 
necrotic enteritis, especially when coupled with coccidiosis, may be a 
concern in small isolated populations.
    One case of aspergillosis, a fungal disease, has been documented in 
sage-grouse, but there is no evidence to suggest this fungus plays a 
role in limiting greater sage-grouse populations (Connelly et al. 2004, 
p. 10-8; Petersen 2004, p. 45). Sage-grouse habitats are generally 
incompatible with the ecology of this disease due to their arid 
conditions.
    Viruses could cause serious diseases in grouse species and 
potentially influence population dynamics (Petersen 2004, p. 46). 
However, prior to 2002, only avian infectious bronchitis (caused by a 
coronavirus) had been identified in the greater sage-grouse during 
necropsy. No clinical signs of the disease were observed.
    West Nile virus was introduced into the northeastern United States 
in 1999 and has subsequently spread across North America (Marra et al. 
2004, p.394). This virus is thought to have caused millions of wild 
bird deaths since its introduction (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 4), 
but most WNv mortality goes unnoticed or unreported (Ward et al. 2006, 
p. 101). The virus persists largely within a mosquito-bird-mosquito 
infection cycle (McLean 2006, p. 45). However, direct bird-to-bird 
transmission of the virus has been documented in several species 
(McLean 2006, pp. 54, 59) including the greater sage-grouse (Walker and 
Naugle in press, p. 13; Cornish 2009b, pers. comm.). The frequency of 
direct transmission has not been determined (McLean 2006, p. 54).
    Impacts of WNv on the bird host varies by species with some species 
being relatively unaffected (e.g., common grackles (Quiscalus 
quiscula)) and others experiencing mortality rates of up to 68 percent 
(e.g., American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)) (Walker and Naugle in 
press, p. 4, and references therein). Greater sage-grouse are 
considered to have a high susceptibility to WNv, with resultant high 
levels of mortality (Clark et al. 2006, p. 19; McLean 2006, p. 54).
    In sagebrush habitats, WNv transmission is primarily regulated by 
environmental factors, including temperature, precipitation, and 
anthropogenic water sources, such as stock ponds and coal-bed methane 
ponds, that support the mosquito vectors (Reisen et al. 2006, p. 309; 
Walker and Naugle in press, pp. 10-12). Cold ambient temperatures 
preclude mosquito activity and virus amplification, so transmission to 
and in sage-grouse is limited to the summer (mid-May to mid-September) 
(Naugle et al. 2005, p. 620; Zou et al. 2007, p. 4), with a peak in 
July and August (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 10). Reduced and 
delayed WNv transmission in sage-grouse has occurred in years with 
lower summer temperatures (Naugle et al. 2005, p. 621; Walker et al. 
2007b, p. 694). In non-sagebrush ecosystems, high temperatures 
associated with drought conditions increase WNv transmission by 
allowing for more rapid larval mosquito development and shorter virus 
incubation periods (Shaman et al. 2005, p.134; Walker and Naugle in 
press, p. 11). Greater sage-grouse congregate in mesic habitats in the 
mid-late summer (Connelly et al. 2000, p. 971) thereby increasing the 
risk of exposure to mosquitoes. If WNv outbreaks coincide with drought 
conditions that aggregate birds in habitat near water sources, the risk 
of exposure to WNv will be elevated (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 
11).
    Greater sage-grouse inhabiting higher elevation sites in summer are 
likely less vulnerable to contracting WNv than birds at lower elevation 
as ambient temperatures are typically cooler (Walker and Naugle in 
press, p. 11). Greater sage-grouse populations in northwestern Colorado 
and western Wyoming are examples of high elevation populations with 
lower risk for impacts from WNv (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 26). 
Also, due to

[[Page 13968]]

summer temperatures generally being lower in more northerly areas, 
sage-grouse populations that are in geographically more northern 
populations my be less susceptible than those at similar elevations 
farther south (Naugle et al. 2005, cited in Walker and Naugle in press, 
p. 11). Climate change could result in increased temperatures and thus 
potentially exacerbate the prevalence of WNv, and thereby impacts on 
greater sage-grouse, but this risk also depends on complex interactions 
with other environmental factors including precipitation and 
distribution of suitable water (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 12).
    The primary vector of WNv in sagebrush ecosystems is Culex tarsalis 
(Naugle et al. 2004, p. 711; Naugle et al. 2005, p. 617; Walker and 
Naugle in press, p. 6). Individual mosquitoes may disperse as much as 
18 km (11.2 mi) (Miller 2009, pers. comm.; Walker and Naugle in press, 
p. 7). This mosquito species is capable of overwinter survival and, 
therefore, can emerge as infected adults the following spring (Walker 
and Naugle in press, p. 8 and references therein), thereby decreasing 
the time for disease cycling (Miller 2009, pers. comm.). This ability 
may increase the occurrence of this virus at higher elevation 
populations or where ambient temperatures would otherwise be 
insufficient to sustain the entire mosquito-virus cycle.
    In greater sage-grouse, mortality from WNv occurs at a time of year 
when survival is otherwise typically high for adult females (Schroeder 
et al. 1999, p.14; Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 30), thus potentially 
making these deaths additive and reducing average annual survival 
(Naugle et al. 2005, p. 621). WNv has been identified as a source of 
additive mortality in American white pelicans (Pelecanus 
erythrorhynchos) in the northern plains breeding colonies (Montana, 
North Dakota and South Dakota), and its continued impact has the 
potential to severely impact the entire pelican population (Sovada et 
al. 2008, p. 1030).
    WNv was first detected in 2002 as a cause of greater sage-grouse 
mortalities in Wyoming (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 15). Data from 
four studies in the eastern half of the sage-grouse range (Alberta, 
Montana, and Wyoming; MZ I) showed survival in these populations 
declined 25 percent in July and August of 2003 as a result of the WNv 
infection (Naugle et al. 2004, p. 711). Populations of sage-grouse that 
were not affected by WNv showed no similar decline. Additionally, 
individual sage-grouse in exposed populations were 3.4 times more 
likely to die during July and August, the peak of WNv occurrence, than 
birds in non-exposed populations (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 10-9; Naugle 
et al. 2004, p. 711). Subsequent declines in both male and female lek 
attendance in infected areas in 2004 compared with years before WNv 
suggest outbreaks could contribute to local population extirpation 
(Walker et al. 2004, p. 4). One outbreak near Spotted Horse, Wyoming in 
2003 was associated with the subsequent extirpation of the local 
breeding population, with five leks affected by the disease becoming 
inactive within 2 years (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 16). Lek 
surveys in northeastern Wyoming in 2004 indicated that regional sage-
grouse populations did not decline, suggesting that the initial effects 
of WNv were localized (WGFD, unpublished data, 2004b).
    Eight sage-grouse deaths resulting from WNv were identified in 
2004: four from the Powder River Basin area of northeastern Wyoming and 
southeastern Montana, one from the northwestern Colorado, near the town 
of Yampa, and three in California (Naugle et al. 2005, p. 618). Fewer 
other susceptible hosts succumbed to the disease in 2004, suggesting 
that below average precipitation and summer temperatures may have 
limited mosquito production and disease transmission rates (Walker and 
Naugle in press, pp. 16-17). However, survival rates in greater sage-
grouse in July and September of that year were consistently lower in 
areas with confirmed WNv mortalities than those without (avg. 0.86 and 
0.96, respectively; Walker and Naugle in press, p. 17). There were no 
comprehensive efforts to track sage-grouse mortalities outside of these 
areas, so the actual distribution and extent of WNv in sage-grouse in 
2004 is unknown (70 FR 2270).
    Mortality rates from WNv in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern 
Montana (MZ I) were between 2.4 (estimated minimum) and 28.9 percent 
(estimated maximum) in 2005 (Walker et al. 2007b, p. 693). Sage-grouse 
mortalities also were reported in California, Nevada, Utah, and 
Alberta, but no mortality rates were calculated (Walker and Naugle in 
press, p. 17). Mortality rates in 2006 in northeastern Wyoming ranged 
from 5 to15 percent of radio-marked females (Walker and Naugle in 
press, p. 17). Mortality rates in South Dakota among radio-marked 
juvenile sage-grouse ranged between 6.5 and 71 percent in the same year 
(Kaczor 2008, p. 63). Large sage-grouse mortality events, likely the 
result of WNv, were reported in the Jordan Valley and near Burns, 
Oregon (over 60 birds), and in several areas of Idaho and along the 
Idaho-Nevada border (over 55 birds) (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 
18). While most of the carcasses had decomposed and, therefore, were 
not testable, results for the few that were tested showed that they 
died from WNv. Mortality rates in these areas were not calculated. 
However, the hunting season in Owyhee County, Idaho, was closed that 
year due to the large number of birds that succumbed to the disease 
(USGS 2006, p. 1; Walker and Naugle in press, p. 18).
    In 2007, a WNv outbreak in South Dakota contributed to a 44-percent 
mortality rate among 80 marked females (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 
18). Juvenile mortality rates in 2007 in the same area ranged from 20.8 
to 62.5 percent (Kaczor 2008, p. 63), reducing recruitment the 
subsequent spring by 2 to 4 percent (Kaczor 2008, p. 65). Twenty-six 
percent of radio-marked females in northeastern Montana died during a 
2-week period immediately following the first detection of WNv in 
mosquito pools. Two of those females were confirmed dead from WNv 
(Walker and Naugle in press, p. 18). In the Powder River Basin, WNv-
related mortality among 85 marked females was between 8 and 21 percent 
(Walker and Naugle in press, p. 18). A 52-percent decline in the number 
of males attending leks in North Dakota between 2007 and 2008 also were 
associated with WNv mortality in 2007 that prompted the State wildlife 
agency to close the hunting season in 2008 (North Dakota Game and Fish 
2008, entire) and 2009 (Robinson 2009, pers. comm.). The Duck Valley 
Indian Reservation along the border of Nevada and Idaho closed their 
hunting season in 2006 due to population declines resulting from WNv 
(Gossett 2008, pers. comm.). WNv is still present in that area, with 
continued population declines (50.3 percent of average males per lek 
from 2005 to 2008) (Dick 2008, p. 2), and the hunting season remains 
closed. The hunting season was closed in most of the adjacent Owyhee 
County, Idaho for the same reason in both 2008 and 2009 (Dick 2008, 
pers. comm.; IDFG 2009).
    Only Wyoming reported WNv mortalities in sage-grouse in 2008 
(Cornish 2009c, pers. comm.). However, with the exceptions of Colorado, 
California, and Idaho, research on sage-grouse in other States is 
limited, minimizing the ability to identify mortalities from the 
disease, or recover infected birds before tissue deterioration 
precludes testing. Three sage-grouse deaths were confirmed in 2009 in 
Wyoming (Cornish 2009c, pers. comm.), two in Idaho (Moser 2009, pers. 
comm.)

[[Page 13969]]

and one other is suspected in Utah (Olsen 2009, pers. comm.).
    Greater sage-grouse deaths resulting from WNv have been detected in 
10 States and 1 Canadian province. To date, no sage-grouse mortality 
from WNv has been identified in either Washington State or 
Saskatchewan. However, it is likely that sage-grouse have been infected 
in Saskatchewan based on known patterns of sage-grouse in infected 
areas of Montana (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 15). Also, WNv has 
been detected in other species within the range of greater sage-grouse 
in Washington (USGS 2009).
    In 2005, we reported that there was little evidence that greater 
sage-grouse can survive a WNv infection (70 FR 2270). This conclusion 
was based on the lack of sage-grouse found to have antibodies to the 
virus and from laboratory studies in which all sage-grouse exposed to 
the virus, at varying doses, died within 8 days or less (70 FR 2270; 
Clark et al. 2006, p. 17). These data suggested that sage-grouse do not 
develop a resistance to the disease, and death is certain once an 
individual is exposed (Clark et al. 2006, p. 18). However, 6 of 58 
females (10.3 percent) birds captured in the spring of 2005 in 
northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana were seropositive for 
neutralizing antibodies, which suggests they were exposed to the virus 
the previous fall and survived an infection. Additional, but 
significantly fewer (2 of 109, or 1.8 percent) seropositive females 
were found in the spring of 2006 (Walker et al. 2007b, p. 693). Of 
approximately 1,400 serum tests on sage-grouse from South Dakota, 
Montana, Wyoming and Alberta, only 8 tested positive for exposure to 
WNv (Cornish 2009dpers. comm.), suggesting that survival is extremely 
low. Seropositive birds have not been reported from other parts of the 
species' range (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 20).
    The duration of immunity conferred by surviving an infection is 
unknown (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 20). It also is unclear whether 
sage-grouse have sub-lethal or residual effects resulting from a WNv 
infection, such as reduced productivity or overwinter survival (Walker 
et al. 2007b, p. 694). Other bird species infected with WNv have been 
documented to suffer from chronic symptoms, including reduced mobility, 
weakness, disorientation, and lack of vigilance (Marra et al. 2004, p. 
397; Nemeth et al. 2006, p. 253), all of which may affect survival, 
reproduction, or both (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 20). Reduced 
productivity in American white pelicans has been attributed to WNv 
(Sovada et al. 2008, p.1030).
    Several variants of WNv have emerged since the original 
identification of the disease in the United States in 1999. One 
variant, termed NY99, has proven to be more virulent than the original 
virus strain of WNv, increasing the frequency of disease cycling 
(Miller 2009, pers. comm.). This constant evolution of the virus could 
limit resistance development in the greater sage-grouse.
    Walker and Naugle (in press, pp. 20-24) modeled variability in 
greater sage-grouse population growth for the next 20 years based on 
current conditions under three WNv impact scenarios. These scenarios 
included: (1) no mortalities from WNv; (2) WNv- related mortality based 
on rates of observed infection and mortality rate data from 2003 to 
2007; and (3) WNv-related mortality with increasing resistance to the 
disease over time. The addition of WNv-related mortality (scenario 2) 
resulted in a reduction of population growth. The proportion of 
resistant individuals in the modeled population increased marginally 
over the 20-year projection periods, from 4 to 15 percent, under the 
increasing resistance scenario (scenario 3). While this increase in the 
proportion of resistant individuals did reduce the projected WNv rates, 
the authors caution that the presence of neutralizing antibodies in the 
live birds does not always indicate that these birds are actually 
resistant to infection and disease (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 25).
    Additional models predicting the prevalence of WNv suggest that new 
sources of anthropogenic surface waters (e.g., coal-bed methane 
discharge ponds), increasing ambient temperatures, and a mosquito 
parasite that reduces the length of time the virus is present in the 
vector before the mosquito can spread the virus all suggest the impacts 
of this disease are likely to increase (Miller 2008, pers. comm.). 
However, the extent to which this will occur, and where, is unclear and 
difficult to predict because several conditions that support the WNv 
cycle must coincide for an outbreak to occur.
    Human-created water sources in sage-grouse habitat known to support 
breeding mosquitoes that transmit WNv include overflowing stock tanks, 
stock ponds, irrigated agricultural fields, and coal-bed natural gas 
discharge ponds (Zou et al. 2006, p. 1035). For example, from 1999 
through 2004, potential mosquito habitats in the Powder River Basin of 
Wyoming and Montana increased 75 percent (619 ha to 1084.5 ha; 1259 ac 
to 2680) primarily due to the increase of small coal-bed natural gas 
water discharge ponds (Zou et al. 2006, p. 1034). Additionally, water 
developments installed in arid sagebrush landscapes to benefit wildlife 
continue to be common. Several scientists have expressed concern 
regarding the potential for exacerbating WNv persistence and spread due 
to the proliferation of surface water features (e.g., Friend et al., 
2001, p. 298; Zou et al. 2006, p.1040; Walker et al. 2007b, p. 695; 
Walker and Naugle in press, p. 27). Walker et al. (2007a, p. 694) 
concluded that impacts from WNv will depend less on resistance to the 
disease than on temperatures and changes in vector distribution. Zou et 
al. (2006, p. 1040) cautioned that the continuing development of coal-
bed natural gas facilities in Wyoming and Montana contributes to 
maintaining, and possibly increasing WNv on that landscape through the 
maintenance and proliferation of surface water.
    The long-term response of different sage-grouse populations to WNv 
infections is expected to vary markedly depending on factors that 
influence exposure and susceptibility, such as temperature, land uses, 
and sage-grouse population size (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 25). 
Small, isolated, or genetically limited populations are at higher risk 
as an infection may reduce population size below a threshold where 
recovery is no longer possible, as observed with the extirpated 
population near Spotted Horse, Wyoming (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 
25). Larger populations may be able to absorb impacts resulting from 
WNv as long as the quality and extent of available habitat supports 
positive population growth (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 25). 
However, impacts from this disease may act synergistically with other 
stressors resulting in reduction of population size, bird distribution, 
or persistence (Walker et al. 2007a, p. 2652). WNv persists on the 
landscape after it first occurs as an epizootic, suggesting this virus 
will remain a long-term issue in affected areas (McLean 2006, p. 50).
    Proactive measures to reduce the impact of WNv on greater sage-
grouse have been limited and are typically economically prohibitive. 
Fowl vaccines used on captive sage-grouse were largely ineffective 
(mortality rates were reduced from 100 to 80 percent in five birds) 
(Clark et al. 2006, p. 17; Walker and Naugle in press, p. 27). 
Development of a sage-grouse specific vaccine would require a market 
incentive and development of an effective delivery mechanism for large 
numbers of birds. Currently, the delivery mechanism is

[[Page 13970]]

via intramuscular injection (Marra et al. 2004, p. 399; Walker and 
Naugle in press, p. 27), which is not feasible for wild populations. 
Vaccinations would likely only benefit the individuals receiving the 
vaccine, and not their offspring, so vaccination would have to occur on 
an annual basis (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 27, and references 
therein).
    Mosquito production from human-created water sources could be 
minimized if water produced during coal-bed natural gas development 
were re-injected rather than discharged to the surface (Doherty 2007, 
p. 81). Mosquito control programs for reducing the number of adult 
mosquitoes may reduce the risk of WNv, but only if such methods are 
consistently and appropriately implemented (Walker and Naugle in press, 
p. 28). Many coal-bed natural gas companies in northeastern Wyoming (MZ 
I) have identified use of mosquito larvicides in their management plans 
(Big Horn Environmental Consultants in litt., 2009, p. 3). However, we 
could find no information on the actual use of the larvicides or their 
effectiveness. One experimental treatment in the area did report that 
mosquito larvae numbers were less in ponds treated with larvicides than 
those that were not (Big Horn Environmental Consultants in litt., 2009, 
pp. 5-7) but statistical analyses were not conducted. While none of the 
sage-grouse mortalities in the treated areas were due to WNv (Big Horn 
Environmental Consultants 2009, p.3), the study design precluded actual 
cause and effect analyses; therefore, the results are inconclusive. The 
benefits of mosquito control in potentially reducing the incidence of 
WNv in sage-grouse need to be considered in light of the potential 
detrimental or cascading ecological effects of widespread spraying 
(Marra et al. 2004, p. 401).
    Small populations, such as the Columbia Basin area in Washington 
State or the subpopulations within the Bi-State area along the 
California and Nevada border also may be at high risk of extirpation 
simply due to their low population numbers and the additive mortality 
WNv causes (Christiansen and Tate, in press, p. 21). Larger populations 
may be better able to sustain losses from WNv (Walker and Naugle in 
press, p. 25) simply due to their size. However, as other impacts to 
grouse and their habitats described under Factor A affect these areas, 
these secure areas or sage-grouse ``refugia'' also may be at risk 
(e.g., southwestern Wyoming, south-central Oregon). Existing and 
developing models suggest that the occurrence of WNv is likely to 
increase throughout the range of the species into the future.
Summary of Disease
    Although greater sage-grouse are host to a wide variety of diseases 
and parasites, few have resulted in population effects, with the 
exception of WNv. Many large losses from bacterial and coccidial 
infections have resulted when large groups of grouse were restricted to 
limited habitats, such as springs and seeps in the late summer. If 
these habitats become restricted due to habitat losses and degradation, 
or changes in climate, these easily transmissible diseases may become 
more prevalent. Sub-lethal effects of these disease and parasitic 
infections on sage-grouse have never been studied, and, therefore, are 
unknown.
    Substantial new information on WNv and impacts on the greater sage-
grouse has emerged since we completed our finding in 2005. The virus is 
now distributed throughout the species' range, and affected sage-grouse 
populations experience high mortality rates with resultant, often large 
reductions in local population numbers. Infections in northeastern 
Wyoming, southeastern Montana, and the Dakotas seem to be the most 
persistent, with mortalities recorded in that area every year since WNv 
was first detected in sage-grouse. Limited information suggests that 
sage-grouse may be able to survive an infection; however, because of 
the apparent low level of immunity and continuing changes within the 
virus, widespread resistance is unlikely.
    There are few regular monitoring efforts for WNv in greater sage-
grouse; most detection is the result of research with radio-marked 
birds, or the incidental discovery of large mortalities. In 
Saskatchewan, where the greater sage-grouse is listed as an endangered 
species, no monitoring for WNv occurs (McAdams 2009, pers. comm.). 
Without a comprehensive monitoring program, the extent and effects of 
this disease on greater sage-grouse rangewide cannot be determined. 
However, it is clear that WNv is persistent throughout the range of the 
greater sage-grouse, and is likely a locally significant mortality 
factor. We anticipate that WNv will persist within sage-grouse habitats 
indefinitely, and will remain a threat to greater sage-grouse until 
they develop a resistance to the virus.
    The most significant environmental factors affecting the 
persistence of WNv within the range of sage-grouse are ambient 
temperatures and surface water abundance and development. The continued 
development of anthropogenic sources of warm standing water throughout 
the range of the species will likely increase the prevalence of the 
virus in sage-grouse, as predicted by Walker and Naugle (in press, pp. 
20-24; see discussion above). Areas with intensive energy development 
may be at a particularly high risk for continued WNv mortalities due to 
the development of surface water features, and the continued loss and 
fragmentation of habitats (see discussion of energy development above). 
Resultant changes in temperature as a result of climate change also may 
exacerbate the prevalence of WNv and thereby impacts on greater sage-
grouse unless they develop resistance to the virus.
    With the exception of WNv, we could find no evidence that disease 
is a concern with regard to sage-grouse persistence across the species' 
range. WNv is a significant mortality factor for greater sage-grouse 
when an outbreak occurs, given the bird's lack of resistance and the 
continued proliferation of water sources throughout the range of the 
species. However, a complex set of environmental and biotic conditions 
that support the WNv cycle must coincide for an outbreak to occur. 
Currently the annual patchy distribution of the disease is keeping the 
impacts at a minimum. The prevalence of this disease is likely to 
increase across the species' range.
    We find that the threat of disease is not significant to the point 
that the greater sage-grouse warrants listing under the Act as 
threatened or endangered at this time.

Predation

    Predation is the most commonly identified cause of direct mortality 
for sage-grouse during all life stages (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 9; 
Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 228; Connelly et al. in press a, p. 23). 
However, sage-grouse have co-evolved with a variety of predators, and 
their cryptic plumage and behavioral adaptations have allowed them to 
persist despite this mortality factor (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 10; 
Coates 2008 p. 69; Coates and Delehanty 2008, p. 635; Hagen in press, 
p. 3). Until recently, there has been little published information that 
indicates predation is a limiting factor for the greater sage-grouse 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 10-1), particularly where habitat quality has 
not been compromised (Hagen in press, p. 3). Although many predators 
will consume sage-grouse, none specialize on the species (Hagen in 
press, p. 5). However, generalist predators have the greatest effect on 
ground nesting birds because

[[Page 13971]]

predator numbers are independent of prey density (Coates 2007, p. 4).
    Major predators of adult sage-grouse include many species of 
diurnal raptors (especially the golden eagle), red foxes, and bobcats 
(Lynx rufus) (Hartzler 1974, pp. 532-536; Schroeder et al. 1999, pp. 
10-11; Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 25; Rowland and Wisdom 2002, p. 
14; Hagen in press, pp. 4-5). Juvenile sage-grouse also are killed by 
many raptors as well as common ravens, badgers (Taxidea taxus), red 
foxes, coyotes and weasels (Mustela spp.) (Braun 1995, entire; 
Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 10). Nest predators include badgers, weasels, 
coyotes, common ravens, American crows, and magpies (Pica spp.). Elk 
(Holloran and Anderson 2003, p.309) and domestic cows (Bovus spp.) 
(Coates et al. 2008, pp. 425-426), have been observed to eat sage-
grouse eggs. Ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.) also have been 
identified as nest predators (Patterson 1952, p. 107; Schroeder et al. 
1999, p. 10; Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 25), but recent data show 
that they are physically incapable of puncturing eggs (Holloran and 
Anderson 2003, p 309; Coates et al. 2008, p 426; Hagen in press, p. 6). 
Several other small mammals visited sage-grouse nests monitored by 
videos in Nevada, but none resulted in predation events (Coates et al. 
2008, p. 425). Great Basin gopher snakes (Pituophis catenifer 
deserticola) were observed at nests, but no predation occurred.
    Adult male greater sage-grouse are very susceptible to predation 
while on the lek (Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 10; Schroeder and Baydack 
2000, p. 25; Hagen in press, p. 5), presumably because they are very 
conspicuous while performing their mating displays. Because leks are 
attended daily by numerous birds, predators also may be attracted to 
these areas during the breeding season (Braun 1995). Connelly et al. 
(2000b, p.228) found that among 40 radio-collared males, 83 percent of 
the mortality was due to predation and 42 percent of those mortalities 
occurred during the lekking season (March through June). Adult female 
greater sage-grouse are susceptible to predators while on the nest but 
mortality rates are low (Hagen in press, p. 6). Hens will abandon their 
nest when disturbed by predators (Patterson 1952, p. 110), likely 
reducing this mortality (Hagen in press, p. 6). Connelly et al. (2000b, 
p. 228) found that among 77 radio-collared adult hens that died, 52 
percent of the mortality was due to predation, and 52 percent of those 
mortalities occurred between March and August, which includes the 
nesting and brood-rearing periods. Because sage-grouse are highly 
polygynous with only a few males breeding per year, sage-grouse 
populations are likely more sensitive to predation upon females. 
Predation of adult sage-grouse is low outside the lekking, nesting, and 
brood-rearing season (Connelly et al. 2000b, p. 230; Naugle et al. 
2004, p. 711; Moynahan et al. 2006, p. 1536; Hagen in press, p. 6).
    Estimates of predation rates on juveniles are limited due to the 
difficulties in studying this age class (Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 
509; Hagen in press, p.8). Chick mortality from predation ranged from 
27 percent to 51 percent in 2002 and 10 percent to 43 percent in 2003 
on three study sites in Oregon (Gregg et al. 2003a, p. 15; 2003b, p. 
17). Mortality due to predation during the first few weeks after 
hatching was estimated to be 82 percent (Gregg et al. 2007, p. 648). 
Based on partial estimates from three studies, Crawford et al. (2004, 
p. 4 and references therein) reported survival of juveniles to their 
first breeding season was low, approximately 10 percent, and predation 
was one of several factors they cited as affecting juvenile survival. 
However, Connelly et al, (in press a, p. 19) point out that the 
estimate of 10 percent survival of juveniles likely is biased low, as 
at least two of the four studies that were the basis of this estimate 
were from areas with fragmented or otherwise marginal habitat.
    Sage-grouse nests are subject to varying levels of predation. 
Predation can be total (all eggs destroyed) or partial (one or more 
eggs destroyed). However, hens abandon nests in either case (Coates, 
2007, p. 26). Gregg et al. (1994, p. 164) reported that over a 3-year 
period in Oregon, 106 of 124 nests (84 percent) were preyed upon (Gregg 
et al. 1994, p. 164). Non-predated nests had greater grass and forb 
cover than predated nests. Patterson (1952, p.104) reported nest 
predation rates of 41 percent in Wyoming. Holloran and Anderson (2003, 
p. 309) reported a predation rate of 12 percent (3 of 26) in Wyoming. 
In a 3-year study involving four study sites in Montana, Moynahan et 
al. (2007, p. 1777) attributed 131 of 258 (54 percent) of nest failures 
to predation in Montana, but the rates may have been inflated by the 
study design (Connelly et al. in press a, p. 17). Re-nesting efforts 
may compensate for the loss of nests due to predation (Schroeder 1997, 
p. 938), but re-nesting rates are highly variable (Connelly et al. in 
press a, p. 16). Therefore, re-nesting is unlikely to offset losses due 
to predation. Losses of breeding hens and young chicks to predation 
potentially can influence overall greater sage-grouse population 
numbers, as these two groups contribute most significantly to 
population productivity (Baxter et al. 2008, p. 185; Connelly et al, in 
press a, p. 18).
    Nesting success of greater sage-grouse is positively correlated 
with the presence of big sagebrush and grass and forb cover (Connelly 
et al. 2000, p. 971). Females actively select nest sites with these 
qualities (Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 25; Hagen et al. 2007, p. 
46). Nest predation appears to be related to the amount of herbaceous 
cover surrounding the nest (Gregg et al. 1994, p. 164; Braun 1995; 
DeLong et al. 1995, p. 90; Braun 1998; Coggins 1998, p. 30; Connelly et 
al. 2000b, p. 975; Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 25; Coates and 
Delehanty 2008, p. 636). Loss of nesting cover from any source (e.g., 
grazing, fire) can reduce nest success and adult hen survival. However, 
Coates (2007, p. 149) found that badger predation was facilitated by 
nest cover as it attracts small mammals, a badger's primary prey. 
Similarly, habitat alteration that reduces cover for young chicks can 
increase their rate of predation (Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 27).
    In a review of published nesting studies, Connelly et al. (in press 
a, p. 17) reported that nesting success was greater in unaltered 
habitats versus altered habitats. Where greater sage-grouse habitat has 
been altered, the influx of predators can decrease annual recruitment 
into a population (Gregg et al. 1994, p. 164; Braun 1995; Braun 1998; 
DeLong et al. 1995, p. 91; Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 28; Coates 
2007, p. 2; Hagen in press, p. 7). Ritchie et al. (1994, p. 125), 
Schroeder and Baydack (2001, p. 25), Connelly et al. (2004, p. 7-23), 
and Summers et al. (2004, p. 523) have reported that agricultural 
development, landscape fragmentation, and human populations have the 
potential to increase predation pressure on all life stages of greater 
sage-grouse by forcing birds to nest in less suitable or marginal 
habitats, increasing travel time through habitats where they are 
vulnerable to predation, and increasing the diversity and density of 
predators.
    Abundance of red fox and corvids, which historically were rare in 
the sagebrush landscape, has increased in association with human-
altered landscapes (Sovada et al. 1995, p. 5). In the Strawberry Valley 
of Utah, low survival of greater sage-grouse may have been due to an 
unusually high density of red foxes, which apparently were attracted to 
that area by anthropogenic activities (Bambrough et al. 2000). Ranches, 
farms, and housing

[[Page 13972]]

developments have resulted in the introduction of nonnative predators 
including domestic dogs (Canis domesticus) and cats (Felis domesticus) 
into greater sage-grouse habitats (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-23). 
Local attraction of ravens to nesting hens may be facilitated by loss 
and fragmentation of native shrublands, which increases exposure of 
nests to potential predators (Aldridge and Boyce 2007, p. 522; Bui 
2009, p. 32). The presence of ravens was negatively associated with 
grouse nest and brood fate (Bui 2009, p. 27).
    Raven abundance has increased as much as 1500 percent in some areas 
of western North America since the 1960s (Coates and Delehanty 2010, p. 
244 and references therein). Human-made structures in the environment 
increase the effect of raven predation, particularly in low canopy 
cover areas, by providing ravens with perches (Braun 1998, pp.145-146; 
Coates 2007, p. 155; Bui 2009, p. 2). Reduction in patch size and 
diversity of sagebrush habitat, as well as the construction of fences, 
powerlines, and other infrastructure also are likely to encourage the 
presence of the common raven (Coates et al. 2008, p. 426; Bui 2009, p. 
4). For example, raven counts have increased by approximately 200 
percent along the Falcon-Gondor transmission line corridor in Nevada 
(Atamian et al. 2007, p. 2). Ravens contributed to lek disturbance 
events in the areas surrounding the transmission line (Atamian et al. 
2007, p. 2), but as a cause of decline in surrounding sage-grouse 
population numbers, it could not be separated from other potential 
impacts, such as WNv.
    Holloran (2005, p. 58) attributed increased sage-grouse nest 
depredation to high corvid abundances, which resulted from 
anthropogenic food and perching subsidies in areas of natural gas 
development in western Wyoming. Bui (2009, p. 31) also found that 
ravens used road networks associated with oil fields in the same 
Wyoming location for foraging activities. Holmes (unpubl. data) also 
found that common raven abundance increased in association with oil and 
gas development in southwestern Wyoming. The influence of synanthropic 
predators in the Wyoming Basin is important as this area has one of the 
few remaining clusters of sagebrush landscapes and the most highly 
connected network of sage-grouse leks (Knick and Hanser in press, 
p.18). Raven abundance was strongly associated with sage-grouse nest 
failure in northeastern Nevada, with resultant negative effects on 
sage-grouse reproduction (Coates 2007, p. 130). The presence of high 
numbers of predators within a sage-grouse nesting area may negatively 
affect sage-grouse productivity without causing direct mortality. 
Coates (2007, p. 85-86) suggested that ravens may reduce the time spent 
off the nest by female sage-grouse, thereby potentially compromising 
their ability to secure sufficient nutrition to complete the incubation 
period.
    As more suitable grouse habitat is converted to oil fields, 
agriculture and other exurban development, grouse nesting and brood-
rearing become increasingly spatially restricted (Bui 2009, p. 32). 
High nest densities which result from habitat fragmentation or 
disturbance associated with the presence of edges, fencerows, or trails 
may increase predation rates by making foraging easier for predators 
(Holloran 2005, p. C37). In some areas even low but consistent raven 
presence can have a major impact on sage-grouse reproductive behavior 
(Bui 2009, p. 32). Leu and Hanser (in press, pp. 24-25) determined that 
the influence of the human footprint in sagebrush ecosystems may be 
underestimated due to varying quality of spatial data. Therefore, the 
influence of ravens and other predators associated with human 
activities may be under-estimated.
    Predator removal efforts have sometimes shown short-term gains that 
may benefit fall populations, but not breeding population sizes (Cote 
and Sutherland 1997, p. 402; Hagen in press, p. 9; Leu and Hanser in 
press, p. 27). Predator removal may have greater benefits in areas with 
low habitat quality, but predator numbers quickly rebound without 
continual control (Hagen in press, p. 9). Red fox removal in Utah 
appeared to increase adult sage-grouse survival and productivity, but 
the study did not compare these rates against other non-removal areas, 
so inferences are limited (Hagen in press, p. 11). Slater (2003, p. 
133) demonstrated that coyote control failed to have an effect on 
greater sage-grouse nesting success in southwestern Wyoming. However, 
coyotes may not be an important predator of sage-grouse. In a coyote 
prey base analysis, Johnson and Hansen (1979, p. 954) showed that sage-
grouse and bird egg shells made up a very small percentage (0.4-2.4 
percent) of analyzed scat samples. Additionally, coyote removal can 
have unintended consequences resulting in the release of mesopredators, 
many of which, like the red fox, may have greater negative impacts on 
sage-grouse (Mezquida et al. 2006, p. 752). Removal of ravens from an 
area in northeastern Nevada caused only short-term reductions in raven 
populations (less than 1 year) as apparently transient birds from 
neighboring sites repopulated the removal area (Coates 2007, p. 151). 
Additionally, badger predation appeared to partially compensate for 
decreases in raven removal (Coates 2007, p. 152). In their review of 
literature regarding predation, Connelly et al. (2004, p. 10-1) noted 
that only two of nine studies examining survival and nest success 
indicated that predation had limited a sage-grouse population by 
decreasing nest success, and both studies indicated low nest success 
due to predation was ultimately related to poor nesting habitat. Bui 
(2009, pp. 36-37) suggested removal of anthropogenic subsidies (e.g., 
landfills, tall structures) may be an important step to reducing the 
presence of sage-grouse predators. Leu and Hanser (in press, p. 27) 
also argue that reducing the effects of predation on sage-grouse can 
only be effectively addressed by precluding these features.
Summary of Predation
    Greater sage-grouse are adapted to minimize predation by cryptic 
plumage and behavior. Because sage-grouse are prey, predation will 
continue to be an effect on the species. Where habitat is not limited 
and is of good quality, predation is not a threat to the persistence of 
the species. However, sage-grouse may be increasingly subject to levels 
of predation that would not normally occur in the historically 
contiguous unaltered sagebrush habitats. The impacts of predation on 
greater sage-grouse can increase where habitat quality has been 
compromised by anthropogenic activities (such as exurban development, 
road development) (e.g. Coates 2007, p. 154, 155; Bui 2009, p. 16; 
Hagen in press, p. 12). Landscape fragmentation, habitat degradation, 
and human populations have the potential to increase predator 
populations through increasing ease of securing prey and subsidizing 
food sources and nest or den substrate. Thus, otherwise suitable 
habitat may change into a habitat sink for grouse populations (Aldridge 
and Boyce 2007, p. 517). Anthropogenic influences on sagebrush habitats 
that increase suitability for ravens may limit sage-grouse populations 
(Bui 2009, p. 32). Current land-use practices in the intermountain West 
favor high predator (in particular, raven) abundance relative to 
historical numbers (Coates et al. 2008, p. 426). The interaction 
between changes in habitat and predation may have substantial effects 
at the landscape level (Coates 2007, p. 3).
    The studies presented here suggest that, in areas of intensive 
habitat

[[Page 13973]]

alteration and fragmentation, sage-grouse productivity and, therefore, 
populations could be negatively affected by increasing predation. 
Predators could already be limiting sage-grouse populations in 
southwestern Wyoming and northeastern Nevada (Coates 2007, p. 131; Bui 
2009, p. 33).
    The influence of synanthropic predators in southwestern Wyoming may 
be particularly significant as this area has one of the few remaining 
sagebrush landscapes and the most highly connected network of sage-
grouse leks (Wisdom et al. in press, p. 24). Unfortunately, except for 
the few studies presented here, data are lacking that definitively link 
sage-grouse population trends with predator abundance. However, where 
habitats have been altered by human activities, we believe that 
predation could be limiting local sage-grouse populations. As more 
habitats face development, even dispersed development, we expect the 
risk of increased predation to spread, possibly with negative effects 
on the sage-grouse population trends. Studies of the effectiveness of 
predator control have failed to demonstrate an inverse relationship 
between the predator numbers and sage-grouse nesting success or 
populations numbers.
    Except in localized areas where habitat is compromised, we found no 
evidence to suggest predation is limiting greater sage-grouse 
populations. However, landscape fragmentation is likely contributing to 
increased predation on this species.
Summary of Factor C
    With regard to disease, the only concern is the potential effect of 
WNv. This disease is distributed throughout the species' range and 
affected sage-grouse populations experience high mortality rates (near 
100 percent lethality), with resultant reductions in local population 
numbers. Risk of exposure varies with factors such as elevation, 
precipitation regimes, and temperature. The continued development of 
anthropogenic water sources throughout the range of the species, some 
of which are likely to provide suitable conditions for breeding 
mosquitoes that are part of the WNv cycle, will likely increase the 
prevalence of the virus in sage-grouse. We anticipate that WNv will 
persist within sage-grouse habitats indefinitely and may be exacerbated 
by factors (e.g., climate change) that increase ambient temperatures 
and the presence of the vector on the landscape. The occurrence of WNv 
occurrence is sporadic across the species' range, and a complex set of 
environmental and biotic conditions that support the WNv cycle must 
coincide for an outbreak to occur.
    Where habitat is not limited and is of good quality, predation is 
not a significant threat to the species. We are concerned that 
continued landscape fragmentation will increase the effects of 
predation on this species, potentially resulting in a reduction in 
sage-grouse productivity and abundance in the future. However, there is 
very limited information on the extent to which such effects might be 
occurring. Studies of the effectiveness of predator control have failed 
to demonstrate an inverse relationship between the predator numbers and 
sage-grouse nesting success or population numbers, i.e., predator 
removal activities have not resulted in increased populations. 
Mortality due to nest predation by ravens or other human-subsidized 
predators is increasing in some areas, but there is no indication this 
is causing a significant rangewide decline in population trends. Based 
on the best scientific and commercial information available, we 
conclude that predation is not a significant threat to the species such 
that the species requires listing under the Act as threatened or 
endangered.

Factor D: Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    Under this factor, we examine whether threats to the greater sage-
grouse are adequately addressed by existing regulatory mechanisms. 
Existing regulatory mechanisms that could provide some protection for 
greater sage-grouse include: (1) local land use laws, processes, and 
ordinances; (2) State laws and regulations; and (3) Federal laws and 
regulations. Regulatory mechanisms, if they exist, may preclude listing 
if such mechanisms are judged to adequately address the threat to the 
species such that listing is not warranted. Conversely, threats on the 
landscape are exacerbated when not addressed by existing regulatory 
mechanisms, or when the existing mechanisms are not adequate (or not 
adequately implemented or enforced).

Local Land Use Laws, Processes, and Ordinances

    Approximately 31 percent of the sagebrush habitats within the sage-
grouse MZs are privately owned (Table 3; Knick in press, p. 39) and are 
subject only to local regulations unless Federal actions are associated 
with the property (e.g., wetland modification, Federal subsurface 
owner). We conducted extensive internet searches and contacted State 
and local working group contacts from across the range of the species 
to identify local regulations that may provide protection to the 
greater sage-grouse. We identified only one regulation at the local 
level that specifically addresses sage-grouse. Washington County, 
Idaho, Planning and Zoning has developed a draft Comprehensive Plan 
which states that ``Sage Grouse leks...and a buffer around those leks, 
shall be protected from the disruption of development'' (Washington 
County, 2009, p. 27). As this plan is still incomplete, and the final 
buffer distance has not been identified, it cannot currently provide 
the necessary regulatory provisions to be considered further. Sage-
grouse were mentioned in other county and local plans across the range, 
and some general recommendations were made regarding effects to sage-
grouse associated with land uses. However, we could find no other 
examples of county-planning and enforceable zoning regulations specific 
to sage-grouse.

State Laws and Regulations

    State laws and regulations may impact sage-grouse conservation by 
providing specific authority for sage-grouse conservation over lands 
which are directly owned by the State; providing broad authority to 
regulate and protect wildlife on all lands within their borders; and 
providing a mechanism for indirect conservation through regulation of 
threats to the species (e.g. noxious weeds).
    In general, States have broad authority to regulate and protect 
wildlife within their borders. All State wildlife agencies across the 
range of the species manage greater sage-grouse as resident native game 
birds except for Washington (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-3). In 
Washington, the species has been listed as a State-threatened species 
since 1998 and is managed in accordance with the State's provisions for 
such species (Stinson et al. 2004, p. 1). For example, killing greater 
sage-grouse is banned in Washington, and State-owned agricultural and 
grazing lands must adhere to standards regarding upland plant and 
vegetative community health that protect habitat for the species 
(Stinson et al. 2004, p. 55). However, lands owned by the Washington 
Department of Natural Resources continue to be converted from sagebrush 
habitat to croplands (Stinson et al. 2004, p. 55), which results in a 
loss of habitat for sage-grouse. Therefore, the provisions to protect 
sage-grouse in this State do not provide adequate protections for us to 
consider.
    All States across the range of greater sage-grouse have laws and 
regulations

[[Page 13974]]

that identify the need to conserve wildlife populations and habitat, 
including greater sage-grouse (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 2-22-11). As an 
example, in Colorado, ``wildlife and their environment'' are to be 
protected, preserved, enhanced and managed (Colorado Revised Statutes, 
Title 33, Article 1-101 in Connelly et al. 2004, p. 2-3). Laws and 
regulations in Oregon, Idaho, South Dakota, and California have similar 
provisions (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 2-2 to 2-4, 2-6 to 2-8). However, 
these laws and regulations are general in nature and have not provided 
the protection to sage-grouse habitat necessary to protect the species 
from the threats described in Factor A above.
    All of the states within the range of the sage-grouse have state 
school trust lands that they manage for income to support their 
schools. With the exception of Wyoming (see discussion below), none of 
the states have specific regulations to ensure that the management of 
the state trust lands is consistent with the needs of sage-grouse. Thus 
there are currently no regulatory mechanisms on state trust lands to 
ensure conservation of the species.
    On September 26, 2008, the Governor of Nevada signed an executive 
order calling for the preservation and protection of sage-grouse 
habitat in the State of Nevada. The executive order directs the NDOW to 
``continue to work with state and federal agencies and the interested 
public'' to implement the Nevada sage-grouse conservation plan. The 
executive order also directs other State agencies to coordinate with 
the NDOW in these efforts. Although directed specifically at sage-
grouse conservation, the executive order is broadly worded and does not 
outline specific measures that will be undertaken to reduce threats and 
ensure conservation of sage-grouse in Nevada.
    The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Public Resources 
Code sections 21000-21177), requires full disclosure of the potential 
environmental impacts of projects proposed in the State of California. 
Section 15065 of the CEQA guidelines requires a finding of significance 
if a project has the potential to ``reduce the number or restrict the 
range of a rare or endangered plant or animal.'' Under these guidelines 
sage-grouse are given the same protection as those species that are 
officially listed within the State. However, the lead agency for the 
proposed project has the discretion to decide whether to require 
mitigation for resource impacts, or to determine that other 
considerations, such as social or economic factors, make mitigation 
infeasible (CEQA section 21002). In the latter case, projects may be 
approved that cause significant environmental damage, such as 
destruction of endangered species, their habitat, or their continued 
existence. Therefore, protection of listed species through CEQA is 
dependent upon the discretion of the agency involved, and cannot be 
considered adequate protection for sage-grouse.
    In Wyoming, the Governor issued an executive order on August 1, 
2008, mandating special management for all State lands within sage-
grouse ``Core Population Areas'' (State of Wyoming 2008, entire). Core 
Population Areas are important breeding areas for sage-grouse in 
Wyoming as identified by the Wyoming ``Governor's Sage-Grouse 
Implementation Team.'' In addition to identifying Core Population 
Areas, the Team also recommended stipulations that should be placed on 
development activities to ensure that existing habitat function is 
maintained within those areas. Accordingly, the executive order 
prescribes special consideration for sage-grouse, including 
authorization of new activities only when the project proponent can 
identify that the activity will not cause declines in greater sage-
grouse populations, in the Core Population Areas. These protections 
will apply to slightly less than 23 percent of all sage-grouse habitats 
in Wyoming, but account for approximately 80 percent of the total 
estimated sage-grouse breeding population in the State. In February 
2010, the Wyoming State Legislature adopted a joint resolution 
endorsing Wyoming's core area strategy as outlined in the Governor' 
Executive Order 2008-2.
    On August 7, 2008, the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners approved 
the application of the Implementation Team's recommended stipulations 
to all new development activities on State lands within the Core 
Population Areas. These actions provide substantial regulatory 
protection for sage-grouse in previously undeveloped areas on Wyoming 
State lands. However, as they only apply to State lands, which are 
typically single sections scattered across the State, the benefit to 
sage-grouse is limited.
    The executive order also applies to all activities requiring 
permits from the Wyoming's Industrial Siting Council (ISC), including 
wind power developments on all lands regardless of ownership in the 
State of Wyoming. Developments outside of State land and not required 
to receive an ISC permit (primarily developments that do not reach a 
certain economic threshold) will not be required to follow the 
stipulations. The application of the Governor's order to the Wyoming 
ISC has the potential to provide significant regulatory protection for 
sage-grouse from adverse effects associated with wind development (see 
Energy, Factor A) and other developments.
    There is still some uncertainty regarding what protective 
stipulations will be applied to wind siting applications. The State of 
Wyoming has indicated that it will enforce the Executive Order where 
applicable, and on August 7, 2009, the Wyoming State Board of Land 
Commissioners voted to withdraw approximately 400,000 ha (approximately 
1 million ac) of land within the sage-grouse core areas from potential 
wind development (State of Wyoming 2008, entire). The withdrawal order 
states that ``there is no published research on the specific impacts of 
wind energy on sage-grouse,'' and further states that permitting for 
wind development should require data collection on the potential 
effects of wind on sage-grouse. This action demonstrates a significant 
action in the State of Wyoming to address future development activities 
in core areas.
    Wyoming's executive order does allow oil and gas leases on State 
lands within core areas, provided those developments adhere to required 
protective stipulations, which are consistent with published literature 
(e.g. 1 well pad per section). The Service believes that the core area 
strategy proposed by the State of Wyoming in Executive Order 2008-2, if 
implemented by all landowners via -regulatory mechanisms, would provide 
adequate protection for sage-grouse and their habitat in that State.
    The protective measures associated with the Governor's order do not 
extend to lands located outside the identified core areas but still 
within occupied sage-grouse habitat. Where a siting permit is needed, 
the application is de facto applied to all landownerships as the 
Wyoming ISC cannot issue a permit without the protective stipulations 
in place. In non-core areas, the minimization measures would be 
implemented that are intended to maintain habitat conditions such that 
there is a 50 percent likelihood that leks will persist over time (WGFD 
2009, pp. 30-35). This approach may result in adverse effects to sage-
grouse and their habitats outside of the core areas (WGFD 2009, pp. 32-
35).
    The Wyoming executive order states that current management and 
existing land uses within the core areas should be recognized and 
respected, thus we anticipate ongoing adverse effects

[[Page 13975]]

associated with those activities. The Service is working in 
collaboration with the State of Wyoming Sage Grouse Implementation team 
and other entities to continue to review and refine ongoing activities 
in the core areas, as well as the size and location of the core areas 
themselves to ensure the integrity and purpose of the core area 
approach is maintained. Although this strategy provides excellent 
potential for meaningful conservation of sage-grouse, it has yet to be 
fully implemented. We believe that when fully realized, this effort 
could ameliorate some threats to the greater sage-grouse.
    On April 22, 2009, the Governor of Colorado signed into law new 
rules for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), 
which is the entity responsible for permitting oil and gas well 
development in Colorado (COGCC 2009, entire). The rules went into 
effect on private lands on April 1, 2009, and on Federal lands July 1, 
2009. The new rules require that permittees and operators determine 
whether their proposed development location overlaps with ``sensitive 
wildlife habitat,'' or is within restricted surface occupancy (RSO) 
Area. For greater sage-grouse, areas within 1 km (0.6 mi) of an active 
lek are designated as RSOs, and surface area occupancy will be avoided 
except in cases of economic or technical infeasibility (CDOW, 2009, p. 
12). Areas within approximately 6.4 km (4 mi) of an active lek are 
considered sensitive wildlife habitat (CDOW, 2009, p. 13) and the 
development proponent is required to consult with the CDOW to identify 
measures to (1) avoid impacts on wildlife resources, including sage-
grouse; (2) minimize the extent and severity of those impacts that 
cannot be avoided; and (3) mitigate those effects that cannot be 
avoided or minimized (COGCC 2009, section 1202.a).
    The COGCC will consider CDOW's recommendations in the permitting 
decision, although the final permitting and conditioning authority 
remains with COGCC. Section 1202.d of the new rules does identify 
circumstances under which the consultation with CDOW is not required; 
other categories for potential exemptions also can be found in the new 
rules (e.g., 1203.b). The new rules will inevitably provide for greater 
consideration of the conservation needs of the species, but the 
potential decisions, actions, and exemptions can vary with each 
situation, and consequently there is substantial uncertainty as to the 
level of protection that will be afforded to greater sage-grouse. It 
should be noted that leases that have already been approved but not 
drilled (e.g., COGCC 2009, 1202.d(1)), or drilling operations that are 
already on the landscape, may continue to operate without further 
restriction into the future.
    Some States require landowners to control noxious weeds, a habitat 
threat to sage-grouse on their property, but the types of plants 
considered to be noxious weeds vary by State. For example, only Oregon, 
California, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada list Taeniatherum asperum as a 
noxious, regulated weed, but T. asperum is problematic in other States 
(e.g., Washington, Idaho). Colorado is the only western State that 
officially lists Bromus tectorum as a noxious weed (USDA 2009), but B. 
tectorum is invasive in many more States. These laws may provide some 
protection for sage-grouse in areas, although large-scale control of 
the most problematic invasive plants is not occurring, and 
rehabilitation and restoration techniques are mostly unproven and 
experimental (Pyke in press, p. 25).
    State-regulated hunting of sage-grouse is permitted in all States 
except Washington, where the season has been closed since 1988 
(Connelly et al. 2004, p. 6-3). In States where hunting sage-grouse is 
allowed, harvest levels can be adjusted annually, and the season and 
limits are largely based on trend data gathered from spring lek counts 
and previous harvest data. Management of hunting season length and bag 
limits varies widely between States (see discussion of hunting 
regulations in Factor B). States maintain flexibility in hunting 
regulations through emergency closures or season changes in response to 
unexpected events that affect local populations. For example, in areas 
where populations are in decline or threats such as WNv have emerged, 
some States have implemented harvest reductions or closures. There have 
not been any studies demonstrating that hunting is the primary cause of 
population declines in sage-grouse. Hunting regulations provide 
adequate protection for the birds (see discussion under Factor B), but 
do not protect the habitat. Therefore, the protection afforded through 
this regulatory mechanism is limited.

Federal Laws and Regulations

    Because it is not considered to be a migratory species, the greater 
sage-grouse is not covered by the provisions of the Migratory Bird 
Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712). However, several Federal agencies have 
other legal authorities and requirements for managing sage-grouse or 
their habitat. Federal agencies are responsible for managing 
approximately 64 percent of the sagebrush habitats within the sage-
grouse MZs in the United States (Knick in press, p. 39, Table 3). Two 
Federal agencies with the largest land management authority for 
sagebrush habitats are the BLM and USFS. The U.S. Department of Defense 
(DOD), DOE, and other agencies in DOI have responsibility for lands 
and/or decisions that involve less than 5 percent of greater sage-
grouse habitat (Table 3).
Bureau of Land Management
    Knick (in press, p. 39, Table 3) estimates that about 51 percent of 
sagebrush habitat within the sage-grouse MZs is BLM-administered land; 
this includes approximately 24.9 million ha (about 61.5 million ac). 
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (43 U.S.C. 
1701 et seq.) is the primary Federal law governing most land uses on 
BLM-administered lands, and directs development and implementation of 
Resource Management Plans (RMPs) which direct management at a local 
level. The greater sage-grouse is designated as a sensitive species on 
BLM lands across the species' range (Sell 2010, pers comm.). The 
management guidance afforded species of concern under BLM Manual 6840 - 
Special Status Species Management (BLM 2008f) states that ``Bureau 
sensitive species will be managed consistent with species and habitat 
management objectives in land use and implementation plans to promote 
their conservation and to minimize the likelihood and need for listing 
under the ESA'' (BLM 2008f, p. .05V). BLM Manual 6840 further requires 
that RMPs should address sensitive species, and that implementation 
``should consider all site-specific methods and procedures needed to 
bring species and their habitats to the condition under which 
management under the Bureau sensitive species policies would no longer 
be necessary'' (BLM 2008f, p. 2A1). As a designated sensitive species 
under BLM Manual 6840, sage-grouse conservation must be addressed in 
the development and implementation of RMPs on BLM lands.
    RMPs are the basis for all actions and authorizations involving 
BLM-administered lands and resources. They authorize and establish 
allowable resource uses, resource condition goals and objectives to be 
attained, program constraints, general management practices needed to 
attain the goals and objectives, general implementation sequences, 
intervals and standards for monitoring and evaluating RMPs to determine 
effectiveness, and the need for amendment or revision (43 CFR 1601.0-
5(k)). The RMPs also provide a

[[Page 13976]]

framework and programmatic direction for implementation plans, which 
are site-specific plans written to regulate decisions made in a RMP. 
Examples include allotment management plans (AMPs) that address 
livestock grazing, oil and gas field development, travel management, 
and wildlife habitat management. Implementation plan decisions normally 
require additional planning and NEPA analysis.
    Of the existing 92 RMPs that include sage-grouse habitat, 82 
contain specific measures or direction pertinent to management of sage-
grouse or their habitats (BLM 2008g, p. 1). However, the nature of 
these measures and direction vary widely, with some measures directed 
at a particular land use category (e.g., grazing management), and 
others relevant to specific habitat use categories (e.g., breeding 
habitat) (BLM 2008h). If an RMP contains specific direction regarding 
sage-grouse habitat, conservation, or management, it represents a 
regulatory mechanism that has the potential to ensure that the species 
and its habitats are protected during permitting and other decision-
making on BLM lands. This section describes our understanding of how 
RMPs are currently implemented in relation to sage-grouse conservation.
    In addition to land use planning, BLM uses Instruction Memoranda 
(IM) to provide instruction to district and field offices regarding 
specific resource issues. Implementation of IMs is required unless the 
IM provides discretion (Buckner 2009a. comm.). However, IMs are short 
duration (1 to 2 years) and are intended to immediately address 
resource concerns or provide direction to staff until a threat passes 
or the resource issue can be addressed in a long-term planning 
document. Because of their short duration, their utility and certainty 
as a long-term regulatory mechanism may be limited if not regularly 
renewed.
    The BLM IM No. 2005-024 directed BLM State directors to ``review 
all existing land use plans to determine the adequacy in addressing the 
threats to sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat,'' and then to ``identify 
and prioritize land use plan amendments or land use plan revisions 
based upon the outcome.'' This IM instructed BLM State directors to 
develop a process and schedule to update deficient land use plans to 
adequately address sage-grouse and sagebrush conservation needs no 
later than April 1, 2005. The BLM reports that all land use plan 
revisions within sage-grouse habitat are scheduled for completion by 
2015 (BLM, 2008g). To date, 14 plans have been revised, 31 are in 
progress, and 19 are scheduled to be completed in the future. However, 
the information provided to us by BLM did not specify what 
requirements, direction, measures, or guidance has been included in the 
newly revised RMPs to address threats to sage-grouse and sagebrush 
habitat. Therefore, we cannot assess their value or rely on them as 
regulatory mechanisms for the conservation of the greater sage-grouse.
    On November 30, 2009, the BLM in Montana issued an IM that provides 
guidance for sage-grouse management on lands under their authority in 
MZs I and II (BLM 2009j, entire). The IM directs all state offices in 
Montana to develop alternatives in ongoing and future RMP revisions for 
activities that may affect the greater sage-grouse. The IM provides 
guidance to mitigate impacts and BMPs for all proposed projects and 
activities. While this IM will result in reduction of negative impacts 
of projects authorized by the Montana BLM on sage-grouse, the way in 
which the guidance will be interpreted and applied is uncertain and we 
do not have a basis to assess whether or the extent to which it might 
be effective in reducing threats. However, the IM is based on an 
approach based on core areas in Montana, similar to the approach 
implemented more formally in Wyoming. Therefore, it could be effective 
in reducing impacts to sage-grouse habitat in the short term on BLM 
lands in Montana. Unfortunately, the IM applies only to ongoing and 
future RMPs, and does not apply to activities authorized under existing 
RMPs. No expiration date was provided for this IM, but as discussed 
above typical life expectancy of IMs is rarely greater than 2 years.
    The BLM has regulatory authority over livestock grazing, OHV travel 
and human disturbance, infrastructure development, fire management, and 
energy development through FLPMA and associated RMP implementation, and 
the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) (30 U.S.C. 181 et seq.). The RMPs provide 
a framework and programmatic guidance for AMPs that address livestock 
grazing. In addition to FLPMA, BLM has specific regulatory authority 
for grazing management provided at 43 CFR 4100 (Regulations on Grazing 
Administration Exclusive of Alaska). Livestock grazing permits and 
leases contain terms and conditions determined by BLM to be appropriate 
to achieve management and resource condition objectives on the public 
lands and other lands administered by the BLM, and to ensure that 
habitats are, or are making significant progress toward being restored 
or maintained for BLM special status species (43 CFR 4180.1(d)). Terms 
and conditions that are attached to grazing permits are generally 
mandatory. Across the range of sage-grouse, BLM required each BLM state 
office to adopt rangeland health standards and guidelines by which they 
measure allotment condition (43 CFR 4180 2(b)). Each state office 
developed and adopted their own standards and guidelines based on 
habitat type and other more localized considerations.
    The rangeland health standards must address restoring, maintaining 
or enhancing habitats of BLM special status species to promote their 
conservation, and maintaining or promoting the physical and biological 
conditions to sustain native populations and communities (43 CFR 
4180.2(e)(9) and (10)). BLM is required to take appropriate action no 
later than the start of the next grazing year upon determining that 
existing grazing practices or levels of grazing use are significant 
factors in failing to achieve the standards and conform with the 
guidelines (43 CFR 4180.2(c)).
    The BLM conducted national data calls in 2004 through 2008 to 
collect information on the status of rangelands, rangeland health 
assessments, and measures that have been implemented to address 
rangeland health issues across sage-grouse habitats under their 
jurisdiction. However, the information collected by BLM could not be 
used to make broad generalizations about the status of rangelands and 
management actions. There was a lack of consistency across the range in 
how questions were interpreted and answered for the data call, which 
limited our ability to use the results to understand habitat conditions 
for sage-grouse on BLM lands. For example, one question asked about the 
number of acres of land within sage-grouse habitat that was meeting 
rangeland health standards. Field offices in more than three States 
conducted the rangeland health assessments, and reported landscape 
conditions at different scales (Sell 2009, pers. comm.). In addition, 
the BLM data call reported information at a different scale than was 
used for their landscape mapping (District or project level versus 
national scale) (Buckner 2009b, pers. comm.). Therefore, we lack the 
information necessary to assess how this regulatory mechanism effects 
sage-grouse conservation.
    The BLM's regulations require that corrective action be taken to 
improve rangeland condition when the need is identified; however, 
actions are not necessarily implemented until the permit renewal 
process is initiated for the noncompliant parcel. Thus, there may be a 
lag time between the allotment

[[Page 13977]]

assessment when necessary management changes are identified, and when 
they are implemented. Although RMPs, AMPs, and the permit renewal 
process provide an adequate regulatory framework, whether or not these 
regulatory mechanisms are being implemented in a manner that conserves 
sage-grouse is unclear. The BLM's data call indicates that there are 
lands within the range of sage-grouse that are not meeting the 
rangeland health standards necessary to conserve sage-grouse habitats. 
In some cases management changes should occur, but such changes have 
not been implemented (BLM 2008i).
    The BLM uses regulatory mechanisms to address invasive species 
concerns, particularly through the NEPA process. For projects proposed 
on BLM lands, BLM has the authority to identify and prescribe best 
management practices for weed management; where prescribed, these 
measures must be incorporated into project design and implementation. 
Some common best management practices for weed management may include 
surveying for noxious weeds, identifying problem areas, training 
contractors regarding noxious weed management and identification, 
providing cleaning stations for equipment, limiting off-road travel, 
and reclaiming disturbed lands immediately following ground disturbing 
activities, among other practices. The effectiveness of these measures 
is not documented.
    The BLM conducts treatments for noxious and invasive weeds on BLM 
lands, the most common being reseeding through the Emergency 
Stabilization and Burned Area Rehabilitation Programs. According to BLM 
data, 66 of 92 RMPs noted that seed mix requirements (as stated in 
RMPs, emergency stabilization and rehabilitation, and other plans) were 
sufficient to provide suitable sage-grouse habitat (e.g., seed 
containing sagebrush and forb species)(Carlson 2008a). However, a 
sufficient seed mix does not assure that restoration goals will be met; 
many other factors (e.g., precipitation) influence the outcome of 
restoration efforts.
    Invasive species control is a priority in many RMPs. For example, 
76 of the RMPs identified in the data call claim that the RMP (or 
supplemental plans/guidance applicable to the RMP) requires treatment 
of noxious weeds on all disturbed surfaces to avoid weed infestations 
on BLM managed lands in the planning area (Carlson 2008a). Also, of the 
82 RMPs that reference sage-grouse conservation, 51 of these 
specifically address fire, invasives, conifer encroachment, or a 
combination thereof (Carlson 2008, pers. comm.). We note that it is 
possible that more RMPs are addressing invasives under another general 
restoration category. In the 51 RMPs that address fire, invasives, and 
conifer encroachment, they typically provide nonspecific guidance on 
how to manage invasives. A few examples include: manage livestock in a 
way that enhances desirable vegetation cover and reduces the 
introduction of invasives, identify tools that may be used to control 
invasives (e.g., manual, mechanical, biological, or chemical 
treatments), utilize an integrated weed management program, and apply 
seasonal restrictions on fire hazards, among other methods (Carlson 
2008, pers. comm.). As with other agencies and organizations, the 
extent to which these measures are implemented depends in large part on 
funding, staff time, and other regulatory and non-regulatory factors. 
Therefore, we cannot assess their value as regulatory mechanisms for 
the conservation of the greater sage-grouse.
    Herbicides also are commonly used on BLM lands to control 
invasives. In 2007, the BLM completed a programmatic EIS (72 FR 35718) 
and record of decision (72 FR 57065) for vegetation treatments on BLM-
administered lands in the western United States. This program guides 
the use of herbicides for field-level planning, but does not authorize 
any specific on-the-ground actions; site-specific NEPA analysis is 
still required at the project level.
    The BLM has one documented regulatory action to address wildfire 
and protect of sage-grouse: National IM 2008-142 - 2008 Wildfire Season 
and Sage-Grouse Conservation. This IM was issued on June 19, 2008, and 
was effective through September 30, 2009. It provided guidance to BLM 
State directors that conservation of greater sage-grouse and sagebrush 
habitats should be a priority for wildfire suppression, particularly in 
areas of the Great Basin (portions of WAFWA MZ III, IV, and V) (BLM 
2008j, entire). At least one BLM State office within the range of sage-
grouse (Idaho) developed a State-level IM and guidance that prioritized 
the protection of sage-grouse habitats during fire management 
activities, in addition to the national IM which pertains to wildfire 
suppression activities (BLM 2008k, entire).
    While we do not know the extent to which these directives 
alleviated the wildfire threat to sage-grouse (as described under 
Factor A) during the 2008 and 2009 fire seasons, we believe that this 
strategic approach to ameliorating the threat of fire is appropriate 
and significant. Targeting the protection of important sage-grouse 
habitats during fire suppression and fuels management activities could 
help reduce loss of key habitat due to fire if directed through a long-
term, regulatory mechanism. Under Factor A, we describe why the threat 
of wildfire is likely to continue indefinitely. This foreseeable future 
requires a regulatory approach that addresses the threat over the long 
term. The use of IMs to increase protection of sage-grouse habitat 
during wildfire is not adequate to protect the species because IMs are 
both short-term and have discretionary renewal (decisions made on a 
case-by-case basis).
    The BLM is the primary Federal agency managing the United States 
energy resources on 102 million surface ha (253 million ac) and 283 
million sub-surface ha (700 million ac) of mineral estate (BLM 2010). 
Public sub-surface estate can be under public or private (i.e., split-
estate) surface. Over 7.3 million ha (18 million ac) of sage-grouse 
habitats on public lands are leased for oil, gas, coal, minerals, or 
geothermal exploration and development across the sage-grouse range 
(Service 2008f). Energy development, particularly nonrenewable 
development, has primarily occurred within sage-grouse MZs I and II.
    The BLM has the legal authority to regulate and condition oil and 
gas leases and permits under both FLPMA and the MLA. An amendment to 
the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (42 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.) 
in 2000 (Energy Policy Act of 2000 (PL 106-469)) requires the Secretary 
of the Interior to conduct a scientific inventory of all onshore 
Federal lands to identify oil and gas resources underlying these lands 
(42 U.S.C. 6217). The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 15801 et 
seq.) further requires the nature and extent of any restrictions or 
impediments to the development of such resources be identified and 
permitting and development be expedited on Federal lands (42 U.S.C. 
15921). In addition, the 2005 Energy Policy Act orders the 
identification of renewable energy sources (e.g., wind, geothermal) and 
provides incentives for their development (42 U.S.C. 15851).
    On May 18, 2001, President Bush signed Executive Order (E.O.) 13212 
- Actions to Expedite Energy-Related Projects (May 22, 2001, 66 FR 
28357), which states that the executive departments and agencies shall 
take appropriate actions, to the extent consistent with applicable law, 
to expedite projects that will increase the production, transmission, 
or

[[Page 13978]]

conservation of energy. The Executive Order specifies that this 
includes expediting review of permits or taking other actions as 
necessary to accelerate the completion of projects, while maintaining 
safety, public health, and environmental protections. On October 23, 
2009, nine Federal agencies signed a MOU to expedite the siting and 
construction of qualified electric transmission within the United 
States (Federal Agency MOU 2009). The MOU states that all existing 
environmental review and safeguard processes will be fully maintained. 
Therefore, we assume that this new MOU will not alter the regulatory 
processes (e.g., RMPs, project specific NEPA analysis) currently in 
place related to transmission siting on BLM lands.
    Program-specific guidance for fluid minerals (including oil and 
gas) in the BLM planning handbook (BLM 2005b, Appendix C pp. 23-24) 
specifies that land use planning decisions will identify restrictions 
on areas subject to leasing, including closures, as well as lease 
stipulations. Stipulations are conditions that are made part of a lease 
when the environmental planning record demonstrates the need to 
accommodate various resources such as the protection of specific 
wildlife species. Stipulations advise the lease holder that a wildlife 
species in need of special management may be present in the area 
defined by the lease, and certain protective measures may be required 
in order to develop the mineral resource on that lease.
    The handbook further specifies that all stipulations must have 
waiver, exception, or modification criteria documented in the plan, and 
notes that the least restrictive constraint to meet the resource 
protection objective should be used (BLM 2005b, Appendix C pp. 23-24). 
Waivers are permanent exemptions, and modifications are changes in the 
terms of the stipulation. The BLM reports the issuance of waivers and 
modifications as rare (BLM 2008i). Exceptions are a one-time exemption 
to a lease stipulation. For example, a company may be issued an 
exception to enter crucial winter habitat during a mild winter if an 
on-the-ground survey verifies that sage-grouse are not using the winter 
habitat or have left earlier than normal (BLM 2004, p. 86). In 2006 and 
2007, of 1,716 mineral or right-of-way authorizations on Federal 
surface in 42 BLM planning areas no waivers were issued; 24 
modifications were issued and 115 exceptions were granted, 72 of which 
were in the Great Divide planning area in Wyoming (BLM 2008i), one of 
the densest population concentrations for sage-grouse.
    Although the restrictive stipulations that are applied to permits 
and leases vary, a 0.40-km (0.25-mi) radius around sage-grouse leks is 
generally restricted to ``no surface occupancy'' during the breeding 
season, and noise and development activities are often limited during 
the breeding season within a 0.80- to 3.22-km (0.5- to 2-mi) radius of 
sage-grouse leks. Although these are the most often-applied 
stipulations, site-specific application is highly variable. For 
example, language in the Randolph RMP in Utah states that no 
exploration, drilling, or other development activities can occur during 
the breeding season within 3.22 km (2 mi) of a known sage-grouse lek, 
and that there are ``no exceptions to this stipulation'' (BLM 2008h). 
Conversely, under the Platte River RMP in the Wind River Basin 
Management Area of Wyoming, ``oil and gas development is a priority in 
the area'' and ``discretionary timing stipulations protecting sage-
grouse nesting habitats...will not be applied'' (BLM 2008h). Most of 
the RMPs that address oil, gas, or minerals development specify the 
standard protective stipulations (BLM 2008h). The stipulations do not 
apply to the operation or maintenance of existing facilities, 
regardless of their proximity to sage-grouse breeding areas (BLM 
2008h). In addition, approximately 73 percent of leased lands in known 
sage-grouse breeding habitat have no stipulations at all (Service 
2008f).
    As noted above, a 0.4-km (0.25-mi) radius buffer is used routinely 
by BLM and other agencies to minimize the impacts of oil and gas 
development on sage-grouse breeding activity. The rationale for using a 
0.4-km (0.25-mi) buffer as the basic unit for active lek protection is 
not clear, as there is no support in published literature for this 
distance affording any measure of protection (see also discussion under 
Energy Development, above). Anecdotally, this distance appears to be an 
artifact from the 1960s attempt to initiate planning guidelines for 
sagebrush management and is not scientifically based (Roberts 1991). 
The BLM stipulations most commonly attached to leases and permits are 
inadequate for the protection of sage-grouse, and for the long-term 
maintenance of their populations in those areas affected by oil and gas 
development activities (Holloran 2005, pp. 57-60; Walker 2007, p. 
2651). In some locations, the BLM is incorporating recommendations and 
information from new scientific studies into management direction. 
Wyoming BLM issued an IM on December 29, 2009 (BLM 2009k, entire) to 
ensure their management of sage-grouse and their habitats are 
consistent with the State of Wyoming's core area populations (see 
discussion above). The IM applies to all BLM programs and activities 
within Wyoming, with the exception of livestock grazing management. A 
separate IM will be issued separately for this program. The December 
2009 IM should have the same efficacy in ameliorating threats to the 
sage-grouse in Wyoming. However, the IM is scheduled to expire on Sept. 
30, 2011, and therefore its life is far shorter than the foreseeable 
future (30 to 50 years, see discussion below) for energy development in 
that state. However, we are optimistic that this IM will result in 
short-term conservation benefits for sage-grouse in Wyoming.
    As with fossil fuel sources, the production, purchase, and 
facilitation of development of renewable energy products by Federal 
entities and land management agencies is directed by the 2005 Energy 
Policy Act and Presidential E.O. 13212. The energy development section 
of Factor A describes in detail the development and operation of 
renewable energy projects, including recent increases in wind, solar 
and geothermal energy development. All of these activities require 
ground disturbance, infrastructure, and ongoing human activities that 
could adversely affect greater sage-grouse on the landscape. Recently 
the BLM has begun developing guidance to minimize impacts of renewable 
energy production on public lands. A ROD for ``Implementation of a Wind 
Energy Development Program and Associated Land Use Plan Amendments'' 
(BLM 2005a, entire) was issued in 2005. The ROD outlines best 
management practices (BMPs) for the siting, development and operation 
of wind energy facilities on BLM lands. The voluntary guidance of the 
BMPs do not include measures specifically intended to protect greater 
sage-grouse, although they do provide the flexibility for such measures 
to be required through site-specific planning and authorization (BLM 
2005a, p. 2).
    On December 19, 2008, the BLM issued IM 2009-043, which is intended 
to serve as additional guidance for processing wind development 
proposals. In that IM, which expires on September 30, 2010, BLM updates 
or clarifies previous guidance documentation, including the Wind Energy 
Development Policy, and best management practices from the wind energy 
development programmatic EIS of 2005. The new guidance does not

[[Page 13979]]

provide specific recommendations for greater sage-grouse, and largely 
defers decision-making regarding project siting, including 
meteorological towers, to either the individual land use planning 
process, or to the standard environmental compliance (i.e., NEPA) 
process. In addition, it emphasizes the voluntary nature of the 
Service's 2003 interim guidelines for minimizing the effects of wind 
turbines on avian species and reiterates that incorporation of the 
guidelines in BLM agency decisions was not mandatory (BLM 2008e).
    BLM State offices in Oregon and Idaho issued explicit guidance 
regarding siting of meteorological towers (IM OR-2008-014 and ID-2009-
006, respectively) which required siting restrictions for towers around 
leks such that potential adverse effects to sage-grouse are avoided or 
minimized. These IMs provided substantial regulatory protection for 
sage-grouse; however, both of these IMs expired on September 30, 2009. 
We anticipate that they will be renewed in FY 2010, but that is an 
annual management decision by the respective State BLM offices, thus 
the long-term certainty that such measures will remain in place is 
unknown.
    The BLM is currently in the process of developing programmatic-
level guidance for the development of solar and geothermal energy 
projects. A draft programmatic EIS for geothermal development is 
currently available (BLM and USFS 2008a, entire), and the draft 
programmatic EIS for solar energy is under development (BLM and DOE 
2008). We anticipate that solar and geothermal energy development will 
increase in the future (see discussion under energy in Factor A), and 
that the development of infrastructure associated with these projects 
could affect sage-grouse. Final environmental guidance for solar and 
geothermal energy development on BLM lands has not yet been issued or 
implemented; thus, we cannot assess its adequacy or implications for 
the conservation of sage-grouse.
Summary: BLM
    The BLM manages the majority of greater sage-grouse habitats across 
the range of the species. The BLM has broad regulatory authority to 
plan and manage all land use activities on their lands including travel 
management, energy development, grazing, fire management, invasive 
species management, and a variety of other activities. As described in 
Factor A, all of these factors have the potential to affect sage-
grouse, including direct effects to the species and its habitats. The 
ability of regulatory mechanisms to adequately address the effects 
associated with wildfire or invasive plant species such as Bromus 
tectorum is limited due primarily to the nature of those factors and 
how they manifest on the landscape. However, a regulatory mechanism 
that requires BLM staff to target the protection of key sage-grouse 
habitats during fire suppression or appropriate fuels management 
activities could help address the threat of wildfire in some 
situations. We recognize the use of IMs for this purpose, including 
both at the national and State level (Idaho) (BLM 2008j and 2008k); 
however, a long-term mechanism is necessary given the scale of the 
wildfire threat and its likelihood to persist on the landscape in the 
foreseeable future.
    For other threats to sage-grouse on BLM lands, the BLM has the 
regulatory authority to address them in a manner that will provide 
protection for sage-grouse. However, BLM's current application of those 
authorities in some areas falls short of meeting the conservation needs 
of the species. This is particularly evident in the regulation of oil, 
gas, and other energy development activities, both on BLM-administered 
lands and on split-estate lands. Stipulations commonly applied by BLM 
to oil and gas leases and permits do not adequately address the scope 
of negative influences of development on sage-grouse (Holloran 2005, 
pp. 57-60, Walker 2007, pp. 2651; see discussion under Factor A), with 
the exception of the new 2010 IM issued by the BLM in Wyoming (see 
discussion below). In addition, BLM's ability to waive, modify, and 
allow exceptions to those stipulations without regard to sage-grouse 
persistence further limits the adequacy of those regulatory mechanisms 
in alleviating the negative impacts to the species associated with 
energy development.
    For other threats, such as grazing, our ability to assess the 
application of existing regulatory mechanisms on a broad scale is 
limited by the way that BLM collected and summarized their data on 
rangeland health assessments and the implementation of corrective 
measures, where necessary. The land use planning and activity 
permitting processes, as well as other regulations available to BLM 
give them the authority to address the needs of sage-grouse. However, 
the extent to which they do so varies widely from RMP area to RMP area 
across the range of the species. In many areas existing mechanisms (or 
their implementation) on BLM lands and BLM-permitted actions do not 
adequately address the conservation needs of greater sage-grouse, and 
are exacerbating the effects of threats to the species described under 
Factor A.
USDA Forest Service
    The USFS has management authority for 8 percent of the sagebrush 
area within the sage-grouse MZs (Table 3; Knick in press, p. 39). The 
USFS estimated that sage-grouse occupy about 5.2 million ha (12.8 
million ac) on national forest lands in the western United States (USFS 
2008 Appendix 2, Table 1). Twenty-six of the 33 National Forests or 
Grasslands across the range of sage-grouse contain moderately or highly 
important seasonal habitat for sage-grouse (USFS 2008 Appendix 2, Table 
2). Management of activities on national forest system lands is guided 
principally by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) (16 U.S.C. 
1600-1614, August 17, 1974, as amended 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 
1985, 1988, and 1990). NFMA specifies that the USFS must have a land 
and resource management plan (LRMP) (16 U.S.C. 1600) to guide and set 
standards for all natural resource management activities on each 
National Forest or National Grassland. All of the LRMPs that currently 
guide the management of sage-grouse habitats on USFS lands were 
developed using the 1982 implementing regulations for land and resource 
management planning (1982 Rule, 36 CFR 219).
    Greater sage-grouse is designated as sensitive species on USFS 
lands across the range of the species (USFS 2008, pp. 25-26). 
Designated sensitive species require special consideration during land 
use planning and activity implementation to ensure the viability of the 
species on USFS lands and to preclude any population declines that 
could lead to a Federal listing (USFS 2008, p. 21). Additionally, 
sensitive species designations require analysis for any activity that 
could have an adverse impact to the species, including analysis of the 
significance of any adverse impacts on the species, its habitat, and 
overall population viability (USFS 2008, p. 21). The specifics of how 
sensitive species status has conferred protection to sage-grouse on 
USFS lands varies significantly across the range, and is largely 
dependent on LRMPs and site-specific project analysis and 
implementation. Fourteen forests identify greater sage-grouse as a 
Management Indicator Species (USFS 2008, Appendix 2, Table 2), which 
requires them to establish objectives for the maintenance and 
improvement of habitat for the species during all planning processes, 
to the degree consistent with overall multiple use objectives of the 
alternative (1982 Rule,

[[Page 13980]]

36 CFR 219.19(a)). Of the 33 National Forests that manage greater sage-
grouse habitat, 16 do not specifically address sage-grouse management 
or conservation in their Forest Plans, and only 6 provide a high level 
of detail specific to sage-grouse management (USFS 2008, Appendix 2, 
Table 4).
    Almost all of the habitats that support sage-grouse on USFS lands 
also are open to livestock grazing (USFS 2008, p. 39). Under the Range 
Rescissions Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-19), the USFS must conduct a NEPA 
analysis to determine whether grazing should be authorized on an 
allotment, and what resource protection provisions should be included 
as part of the authorization (USFS 2008, p. 33). The USFS reports that 
they use the sage-grouse habitat guidelines developed in Connelly et 
al. (2000) to develop desired condition and livestock use standards at 
the project or allotment level. However, USFS also reported that the 
degree to which the recommended sage-grouse conservation and management 
guidelines were incorporated and implemented under Forest Plans varied 
widely across the range (USFS 2008, p. 45). We do not have the results 
of rangeland health assessments or other information regarding the 
status of USFS lands that provide habitat to sage-grouse and, 
therefore, cannot assess the efficacy in conserving this species.
    Energy development occurs on USFS lands, although to a lesser 
extent than on BLM lands. Through NFMA, LRMPs, and the On-Shore Oil and 
Gas Leasing Reform Act (1987; implementing regulations at 36 CFR 228, 
subpart E), the USFS has the authority to manage, restrict, or attach 
protective measures to mineral and other energy permits on USFS lands. 
Similar to BLM, existing protective standard stipulations on USFS lands 
include avoiding construction of new wells and facilities within 0.4 km 
(0.25 mi), and noise or activity disturbance within 3.2 km (2.0 mi) of 
active sage-grouse leks during the breeding season. As described both 
in Factor A and above, this buffer is inadequate to prevent adverse 
impacts to sage-grouse populations. For most LRMPs where energy 
development is occurring, these stipulations also apply to hard mineral 
extraction, wind development, and other energy development activities 
in addition to fluid mineral extraction (USFS 2008, Appendix 1, 
entire). The USFS is a partner agency with the BLM on the draft 
programmatic EIS for geothermal energy development described above. The 
Record of Decision for the EIS does not amend relevant LRMPs and still 
requires project-specific NEPA analysis of geothermal energy 
applications on USFS lands (BLM and USFS 2008b, p. 3).
    The land use planning process and other regulations available to 
the USFS give it the authority to adequately address the needs of sage-
grouse, although the extent to which they do so varies widely across 
the range of the species. We do not have information regarding the 
current land health status of USFS lands in relation to the 
conservation needs of greater sage-grouse; thus, we cannot assess 
whether existing conditions adequately meet the species' habitat needs.
Other Federal Agencies
    Other Federal agencies in the DOD, DOE, and DOI (including the 
Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Service, and National Park Service) are 
responsible for managing less than 5 percent of sagebrush lands within 
the United States (Knick 2008, p. 31). Regulatory authorities and 
mechanisms relevant to these agencies' management jurisdictions include 
the National Park Service Organic Act (39 Stat. 535; 16 U.S.C. 1, 2, 3 
and 4), the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee), and the Department of the Army's Integrated 
Natural Resources Management Plans for their facilities within sage-
grouse habitats. Due to the limited amount of land administered by 
these agencies, we have not described them in detail here. However, 
most of these agencies do not manage specifically for greater sage-
grouse on their lands, except in localized areas (e.g., specific 
wildlife refuges, reservations). One exception is DOD regulatory 
mechanisms applicable within MZ VI, where half of the remaining sage-
grouse populations and habitats occur on their lands.
    The Yakima Training Center (YTC), a U.S. Army facility, manages 
land in Washington that is the primary habitat for one of two 
populations of greater sage-grouse in that State. During the breeding 
season, the YTC has restrictions on training activities for the 
protection of sage-grouse. Leks have a 1-km (0.6-mi) buffer where all 
training is excluded, and aircraft below 91.4 m (300 ft) are restricted 
from midnight to 9 am from March 1 to May 15 (Stinson et al. 2004, p. 
32). Sage-grouse protection areas also are identified, and training 
activities are restricted in those areas during nesting and early brood 
rearing periods (Stinson et al. 2004, p. 32). Other protections also 
are provided. According to Stinson et al. (2004, p. 32), the ``YTC is 
the only area in Washington where sage-grouse are officially protected 
from disturbance during the breeding and brood-rearing period.'' 
However, the biggest concern for sage-grouse on the YTC is wildfire, 
both natural and human-caused (Schroeder 2009, pers. comm.). Military 
training activities occur across the YTC throughout the year, including 
when there is high fire risk, and many fires are started every year 
(Schroeder 2009, pers. comm.). Although the YTC has an active fire 
response program, there are some fires most years that grow large, and 
habitat is being burned faster than it can be replaced (Schroeder 2009, 
pers. comm.). The protective stipulations to reduce disturbance to 
greater sage-grouse are useful; however, current management, training 
activities, and fire response, are resulting in habitat loss for the 
species on the YTC.
    The USDA Farm Service Agency manages the Conservation Reserve 
Program (CRP) which pays landowners a rental fee to plant permanent 
vegetation on portions of their lands, taking them out of agricultural 
production (Schroeder and Vander Haegen in press, p. 4-5). These lands 
are put under contract, typically for a 10-year period (Walker 2009, 
pers. comm.). In some areas across the range of sage-grouse, and 
particularly in Washington (Schroeder and Vander Haegen in press, p. 
21), CRP lands provide important habitat for the species (see Factor A 
discussion). Under the 2008 Farm Bill, several changes could reduce the 
protection that CRP lands afford sage-grouse. First, the total acreage 
that can be enrolled in the CRP program at any time has been reduced 
from 15.9 million ha (39.2 million ac) to 12.9 million ha (32 million 
ac) for 2010-2012 (USDA 2009a, p. 1). Second, no more than 25 percent 
of the agricultural lands in any county can now be enrolled under CRP 
contracts, although there are provisions to avoid this cap if 
permission is granted by the County government (Walker 2009, pers. 
comm.). Third, the 2008 Farm Bill authorized the BCAP, which provides 
financial assistance to agricultural producers to establish and produce 
eligible crops for the conversion to bioenergy products (USDA 2009b, p. 
1). As CRP contracts expire, the BCAP program could result in greater 
incentives to take land out of CRP and put it into production for 
biofuels (Walker 2009, pers. comm.). All of these changes could affect 
the amount of land in CRP, and in turn the habitat value provided to 
greater sage-grouse. This change is of particular importance in 
Washington, where CRP lands have been out of production long enough to 
provide habitat for sage-grouse. Although the 2008 Farm Bill has been

[[Page 13981]]

signed into law, the implementing regulations and rules have not yet 
been finalized. Thus, we cannot assess how the measures described above 
will be implemented, and to what extent they may change the quantity or 
quality of CRP land available for sage-grouse.

Canadian Federal and Provincial Laws and Regulations

    Greater sage-grouse are federally protected in Canada as an 
endangered species under schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA; 
Canada Gazette, Part III, Chapter 29, Volume 25, No. 3, 2002). Passed 
in 2002, SARA is similar to the ESA and allows for habitat regulations 
to protect sage-grouse (Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 31). The species 
is also listed as endangered at the provincial level in Alberta and 
Saskatchewan, and neither province allows harvest (Aldridge and Brigham 
2003, p. 31). In Saskatchewan, sage-grouse are protected under the 
Wildlife Habitat Protection Act, which protects sage-grouse habitat 
from being sold or cultivated (Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 32). In 
addition, sage-grouse are listed as endangered under the Saskatchewan 
Wildlife Act, which restricts development within 500 m (1,640 ft) of 
leks and prohibits construction within 1,000 m (3,281 ft) of leks 
between March 15 and May 15 (Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 32). As 
stated above, these buffers are inadequate to protect sage-grouse from 
disturbance. In Alberta, individual birds are protected, but their 
habitat is not (Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 32). Thus, although there 
are some protections for the species in Canada, they are not sufficient 
to assure conservation of the species.

Nonregulatory Conservation Measures

    There are many non-regulatory conservation measures that may 
provide local habitat protections. Although they are non-regulatory in 
nature, they are here to acknowledge these programs. We have reviewed 
and taken into account efforts being made to protect the species, as 
required by the Act. Although some local conservation efforts have been 
implemented and are effective in small areas, they are neither 
individually nor collectively at a scale that is sufficient to 
ameliorate threats to the species or populations. Many other 
conservation efforts are being planned but there is substantial 
uncertainty as to whether, where, and when they will be implemented, 
and whether they will be effective; further, even if the efforts being 
planned or considered become implemented and are effective in the 
future, they are not a scale, either individually or collectively, to 
be sufficient to ameliorate the threats to the species.
    Other partnerships and agencies have also implemented broader-scale 
conservation efforts. Cooperative Weed Management Areas (CWMAs) provide 
a voluntary approach to control invasive species across the range of 
sage-grouse. CWMAs are partnerships between Federal, State, and local 
agencies, tribes, individuals, and interested groups to manage both 
species designated by State agencies as noxious weeds, and invasive 
plants in a county or multi-county geographical area. As of 2005, 
Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado had between 75 and 89 percent of 
their States covered by CWMAs or county weed districts, while 
Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming had between 90 and 100 percent 
coverage. Coverage in North Dakota is between 50 and 74 percent, and 
South Dakota has less than 25 percent coverage (Center for Invasive 
Plant Management 2008). Because these CWMAs are voluntary partnerships 
we cannot be assured that they will be implemented nor can we predict 
their effectiveness.
    The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the USDA 
provides farmers, ranchers, and other private landowners with technical 
assistance and financial resources to support various management and 
habitat restoration efforts. This includes helping farmers and ranchers 
maintain and improve wildlife habitat as part of larger management 
efforts, and developing technical information to assist NRCS field 
staff with sage-grouse considerations when working with private 
landowners. Because of the variable nature of the actions that can be 
taken and the species they may address, some may benefit greater sage-
grouse, some may cause negative impacts (e.g., because they are aimed 
at creating habitat conditions for other species that are inconsistent 
with the needs of sage-grouse), or are neutral in their effects. In May 
2008, Congress passed the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 
(2008 Farm Bill, P.L. 110-246). The Farm Bill maintains or extends 
various technical and funding support programs for landowners. All 
conservation programs under the Farm Bill are voluntary, unless binding 
contracts for conservation planning or restoration are completed.
    In 2006, WAFWA published the ``Greater Sage-Grouse Comprehensive 
Conservation Strategy'' (Conservation Strategy; Stiver et al. 2006). 
This document describes a range-wide framework to ``maintain and 
enhance populations and distribution of sage-grouse'' (Stiver et al. 
2006, p. ES-1). Although this framework is important to guiding 
successful long-term conservation efforts and management of the greater 
sage-grouse and its habitats, by design the WAFWA Conservation Strategy 
is not regulatory in nature. Implementation of recommendations in the 
Strategy by each signatory to the associated MOU is voluntary and few, 
if any of the conservation recommendations have been implemented. Given 
the lack of funding for this effort, we do not have the assurances that 
implementation will occur. However, this is the most comprehensive 
inter-agency strategy developed for this species and therefore, if the 
principles identified are properly implemented it could have 
significant positive impacts.
    All of the States in the extant range of the greater sage-grouse 
have finalized conservation or management plans for the species and its 
habitats. These plans focus on habitat and population concerns at a 
State level. The degree to which they consider and address mitigation 
for a variety of threats varies substantially. For example, some plans 
propose explicit strategies for minerals and energy issues (e.g., 
Montana) or wind energy development (e.g., Washington), and others more 
generally acknowledge potential issues with energy development but do 
not identify specific conservation measures (e.g., Nevada) (Stiver et 
al. 2006, p. 2-24). These plans are in various stages of 
implementation. The State level plans are not prescriptive, and 
generally contain information to help guide the development and 
implementation of more focused conservation efforts and planning at a 
local level. We recognize the importance of these plans and 
coordination efforts, but at this time cannot rely on them being 
effectively implemented. Specific measures recommended in a State plan 
that have been adopted into legal or regulatory frameworks (e.g., a 
resource management plan), are assessed as regulatory mechanisms in the 
discussion under Factor D.
    The WDFW has designated sage-grouse habitat as a ``priority 
habitat'' which classifies it as a priority for conservation and 
management, and provides species and habitat information to interested 
parties for land use planning purposes (Schroeder et al. 2003, pp. 17-4 
to 17-6, Stinson et al. 2004, p. 31). However, the recommendations 
provided under this program are guidelines, and we cannot be assured 
they will be implemented. Similarly, programs like Utah's Watersheds 
Restoration Initiative are partnership driven efforts intended to

[[Page 13982]]

conserve, manage, and restore habitats. We recognize projects and 
cooperative efforts that are beneficial for sage-grouse may occur as a 
result of this program.
Summary of Nonregulatory Conservation Efforts
    There are several non-regulatory conservation efforts that address 
impacts to the sage-grouse, mostly at a local scale (e.g. local working 
group plans, CCAA). Their voluntary nature is appreciated, but their 
implementation and effectiveness may be compromised as a result. We are 
encouraged by the number and scale of these efforts, but lacking data 
on exact locations, scale, and effectiveness, we do not know if threats 
to the greater sage-grouse will be ameliorated as a result. We strongly 
encourage implementation of the WAFWA Conservation Strategy as we 
believe its implementation could be effective in reducing threats to 
this species.
Summary of Factor D
    To our knowledge, no current local land use or development planning 
regulations provide adequate protection to sage-grouse from development 
or other harmful land uses. Development and fragmentation of private 
lands is a threat to greater sage-grouse (see discussion under Factor 
A), and current local regulations do not adequately address this 
threat.
    Wyoming and Colorado have implemented State regulations regarding 
energy development that could provide significant protection for 
greater sage-grouse. In Wyoming, regulations regarding new energy 
development have the potential to provide adequate protection to 
greater sage-grouse by protecting core areas of the species' habitat. 
BLM Wyoming has adopted Wyoming's approach for projects under their 
authorities through a short-term IM. However, the restrictive 
regulations do not apply to existing leases, or to habitats outside of 
core areas. Thus, sage-grouse may continue to experience population-
level impacts associated with activities (e.g., energy development) in 
Wyoming (see discussion under Factor A) both inside and outside core 
areas. In Colorado, the regulations describe a required process rather 
than a specific measure that can be evaluated; the regulations are only 
recently in place and their implementation and effectiveness remains to 
be seen.
    The majority of sage-grouse habitat in the United States is managed 
by Federal agencies (Table 3). The BLM and USFS have the legal 
authority to regulate land use activities on their respective lands. 
Under Factor A, we describe the ways that oil, natural gas, and other 
energy development activities, fire, invasive species, grazing, and 
human disturbance are or may be adversely affecting sage-grouse 
populations and habitat. Overall, Federal agencies' abilities to 
adequately address the issues of wildfire and invasive species across 
the landscape, and particularly in the Great Basin, are limited. 
However, we believe that new mechanisms could be adopted to target the 
protection of sage-grouse habitats during wildfire suppression 
activities or fuels management projects, which could help reduce this 
threat in some situations. There is limited opportunity to implement 
and apply new regulatory mechanisms that would provide adequate 
protections or amelioration for the threat of invasive species. For 
grazing, the regulatory mechanisms available to the BLM and USFS are 
adequate to protect sage-grouse habitats; however, the application of 
these mechanisms varies widely across the landscape. In some areas, 
rangelands are not meeting the habitat standards necessary for sage-
grouse, and that contributes to threats to the species.
    Our assessment of the implementation of regulations and associated 
stipulations guiding energy development indicates that current measures 
do not adequately ameliorate impacts to sage-grouse. Energy and 
associated infrastructure development, including both nonrenewable and 
renewable energy resources, are expected to continue to expand in the 
foreseeable future. Unless protective measures consistent with new 
research findings are widely implemented via a regulatory process, 
those measures cannot be considered an adequate regulatory mechanism in 
the context of our review. For the BLM and USFS, RMPs and LRMPs are 
mechanisms through which adequate protections for greater sage-grouse 
could be implemented. However, the extent to which appropriate measures 
to conserve sage-grouse have been incorporated into those planning 
documents, or are being implemented, varies across the range. As 
evidenced by the discussion above, and the ongoing threats described 
under Factor A, BLM and the USFS are not fully implementing the 
regulatory mechanisms available to conserve greater sage-grouse on 
their lands.
    Based on our review of the best scientific and commercial 
information available, we conclude that existing regulatory mechanisms 
are inadequate to protect the species. The absence of adequate 
regulatory mechanisms is a significant threat to the species, now and 
in the foreseeable future.

Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting the Species' 
Continued Existence

Pesticides

    Few studies have examined the effects of pesticides to sage-grouse, 
but at least two have documented direct mortality of greater sage-
grouse from use of these chemicals. Greater sage-grouse died as a 
result of ingestion of alfalfa sprayed with organophosphorus 
insecticides (Blus et al. 1989, p. 1142; Blus and Connelly 1998, p. 
23). In this case, a field of alfalfa was sprayed with methamidophos 
and dimethoate when approximately 200 sage-grouse were present; 63 of 
these sage-grouse were later found dead, presumably as a result of 
pesticide exposure (Blus et al. 1989; p. 1142, Blus and Connelly 1998, 
p. 23). Both methamidophos and dimethoate remain registered for use in 
the United States (Christiansen and Tate in press, p. 21), but we found 
no further records of sage-grouse mortalities from their use. In 1950, 
Rangelands treated with toxaphene and chlordane bait in Wyoming to 
control grasshoppers resulted in game bird mortality of 23.4 percent 
(Christian and Tate in press, p. 20). Forty-five sage-grouse deaths 
were recorded, 11 of which were most likely related to the pesticide 
(Christiansen and Tate in press, p. 20, and references therein). Sage-
grouse who succumbed to vehicle collisions and mowing machines in the 
same area also were likely compromised from pesticide ingestion 
(Christian and Tate in press, p. 20). Neither of these chemicals has 
been registered for grasshopper control since the early 1980s 
(Christiansen and Tate in press, p. 20, and references therein).
    Game birds that ingested sub-lethal levels of pesticides have been 
observed exhibiting abnormal behavior that may lead to a greater risk 
of predation (Dahlen and Haugen 1954, p. 477; McEwen and Brown 1966, p. 
609; Blus et al. 1989, p. 1141). McEwen and Brown (1966, p. 689) 
reported that wild sharp-tailed grouse poisoned by malathion and 
dieldrin exhibited depression, dullness, slowed reactions, irregular 
flight, and uncoordinated walking. Although no research has explicitly 
studied the indirect levels of mortality from sub-lethal doses of 
pesticides (e.g., predation of impaired birds), it has been assumed to 
be the reason for mortality among some study birds (McEwen and Brown 
1966 p. 609; Blus et al. 1989, p. 1142; Connelly and Blus 1991, p. 4). 
Both Post (1951, p. 383) and Blus et al. (1989, p. 1142) located 
depredated sage-grouse carcasses in areas that had been treated with 
insecticides. Exposure to these

[[Page 13983]]

insecticides may have predisposed sage-grouse to predation. Sage-grouse 
mortalities also were documented in a study where they were exposed to 
strychnine bait type used to control small mammals (Ward et al. 1942 as 
cited in Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 16).
    Cropland spraying may affect populations that are not adjacent to 
agricultural areas, given the distances traveled by females with broods 
from nesting areas to late brood-rearing areas (Knick et al. in press, 
p. 17). The actual footprint of this effect cannot be estimated, 
because the distances traveled to get to irrigated and sprayed fields 
is unknown (Knick et al. in press, p. 17). Similarly, actual 
mortalities from pesticides may be underestimated if sage-grouse 
disperse from agricultural areas after exposure.
    Much of the research related to pesticides that had either lethal 
or sub-lethal effects on greater sage-grouse was conducted on 
pesticides that have been banned or have their use further restricted 
for more than 20 years due to their toxic effects on the environment 
(e.g., dieldrin). We currently do not have any information to show that 
the banned pesticides are presently having negative impacts to sage-
grouse populations through either illegal use or residues in the 
environment. For example, sage-grouse mortalities were documented in a 
study where they were exposed to strychnine bait used to control small 
mammals (Ward et al. 1942 as cited in Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 16). 
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), above-
ground uses of strychnine were prohibited in 1988 and those uses remain 
temporarily cancelled today. We do not know when, or if, above ground 
uses will be permitted to resume. Currently strychnine is registered 
for use only below-ground as a bait application to control pocket 
gophers (Thomomys sp.; EPA 1996, p. 4). Therefore, the current legal 
use of strychnine baits is unlikely to present a significant exposure 
risk to sage-grouse. No information on illegal use, if it occurs, is 
available. We have no other information regarding mortalities or 
sublethal effects of strychnine or other banned pesticides on sage-
grouse.
    Although a reduction in insect population levels resulting from 
insecticide application can potentially affect nesting sage-grouse 
females and chicks (Willis et al. 1993, p. 40; Schroeder et al. 1999, 
p. 16), we have no information as to whether insecticides are impacting 
survivorship or productivity of the greater sage-grouse. Eng (1952, pp. 
332,334) noted that after a pesticide was sprayed to reduce 
grasshoppers, songbird and corvid nestling deaths ranged from 50 to 100 
percent depending on the chemical used, and stated it appeared that 
nestling development was adversely affected due to the reduction in 
grasshoppers. Potts (1986 as cited in Connelly and Blus 1991, p. 93) 
determined that reduced food supply resulting from the use of 
pesticides ultimately resulted in high starvation rates of partridge 
chicks (Perdix perdix). In a similar study on partridges, Rands (1985, 
pp. 51-53) found that pesticide application adversely affected brood 
size and chick survival by reducing chick food supplies.
    Three approved insecticides, carbaryl, diflubenzuron, and 
malathion, are currently available for application across the extant 
range of sage-grouse as part of implementation of the Rangeland 
Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Suppression Control Program, under the 
direction of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) 
(APHIS 2004, entire). Carbaryl is applied as bait, while diflubenzuron 
and malathion are sprayed. APHIS requires that application rates be in 
compliance with EPA regulations, and APHIS has general guidelines for 
buffer zones around sensitive species habitats. These pesticides are 
only applied for grasshopper and Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex) 
control when requested by private landowners (APHIS 2004). Due to 
delays in developing nationwide protocols for application procedures, 
APHIS did not perform any grasshopper or Mormon cricket suppression 
activities in 2006, 2007, or 2008 (Gentle 2008, pers. comm.). However, 
due to an anticipated peak year of these pests in 2010, plans for 
suppression are already in progress.
    In the Rangeland Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Suppression Program 
Final Environmental Impact Statement--2002 (p.10), APHIS concluded that 
there ``is little likelihood that the insecticide APHIS would use to 
suppress grasshoppers would be directly or indirectly toxic to sage-
grouse. Treatments would typically not reduce the number of 
grasshoppers below levels that are present in non-outbreak years.'' 
APHIS (2002, p. 69) stated that although ``malathion is also an 
organophosphorus insecticide and carbaryl is a carbamate insecticide, 
malathion and carbaryl are much less toxic to birds'' than other 
insecticides associated with effects to sage-grouse or other wildlife. 
The APHIS risk assessment (pp. 122-184) for this EIS determined that 
the grasshopper treatments would not directly affect sage-grouse. As to 
potential effects on prey abundance, APHIS noted that during 
``grasshopper outbreaks when grasshopper densities can be 60 or more 
per square meter (Norelius and Lockwood, 1999), grasshopper treatments 
that have a 90 to 95 percent mortality still leave a density of 
grasshoppers (3 to 6) that is generally greater than the average 
density found on rangeland, such as in Wyoming, in a normal year 
(Schell and Lockwood, 1997).''
    Herbicide applications can kill sagebrush and forbs important as 
food sources for sage-grouse (Carr 1968 as cited in Call and Maser 
1985, p. 14). The greatest impact resulting from a reduction of either 
forbs or insect populations is for nesting females and chicks due to 
the loss of potential protein sources that are critical for successful 
egg production and chick nutrition (Johnson and Boyce 1991, p. 90; 
Schroeder et al. 1999, p. 16). A comparison of applied levels of 
herbicides with toxicity studies of grouse, chickens, and other 
gamebirds (Carr 1968, as cited in Call and Maser 1985, p. 15) concluded 
that herbicides applied at recommended rates should not result in sage-
grouse poisonings.
    In summary, pesticides can result in direct mortality of 
individuals, and also can reduce the availability of food sources, 
which in turn could contribute to mortality of sage-grouse. Despite the 
potential effects of pesticides, we could find no information to 
indicate that the use of these chemicals, at current levels, negatively 
affects greater sage-grouse population numbers. Schroeder et al.'s 
(1999, p.16) literature review found that the loss of insects can have 
significant impacts on nesting females and chicks, but those impacts 
were not detailed. Many of the pesticides that have been shown to have 
an effect on sage-grouse have been banned in the United States for more 
than 20 years. As previously noted, we currently do not have any 
information to show that the banned pesticides through either illegal 
use or residues in the environment are presently having negative 
impacts to sage-grouse populations.

Contaminants

    Greater sage-grouse exposure to various types of environmental 
contaminants may potentially occur as a result of agricultural and 
rangeland management practices, mining, energy development and pipeline 
operations, nuclear energy production and research, and transportation 
of materials along highways and railroads.
    A single greater sage-grouse was found covered with oil and dead in 
a wastewater pit associated with an oil

[[Page 13984]]

field development in 2006; the site was in violation of legal 
requirements for screening the pit (Domenici 2008, pers. comm.). To the 
extent that this source of mortality occurs, it would be most likely in 
MZ I and II, as those zones are where most of the oil and gas 
development occurs in relation to occupied sage-grouse habitat. The 
extent to which such mortality to greater sage-grouse is occurring is 
extremely difficult to quantify due to difficulties in retrieving and 
identifying oiled birds and lack of monitoring. We expect that the 
number of sage-grouse occurring in the immediate vicinity of such 
wastewater pits would be small due to the typically intense human 
activity in these areas, the lack of cover around the pits, and the 
fact that sage-grouse do not require free water. Most bird mortalities 
recorded in association with wastewater pits are water-dependent 
species (e.g., waterfowl), whereas dead ground-dwelling birds (such as 
the greater sage-grouse) are rarely found at such sites (Domenici 2008, 
pers. comm.). However, if the wastewater pits are not appropriately 
screened, sage-grouse may have access to them and could ingest water 
and/or become oiled while pursing insects. If these birds then return 
to sagebrush cover and die their carcasses are unlikely to be found as 
only the pits are surveyed. The effects of areal pollutants resulting 
from oil and gas development on greater sage-grouse are discussed under 
the energy development section in Factor A.
    Numerous gas and oil pipelines occur within the occupied range of 
several populations of the species. Exposure to oil or gas from 
pipeline spills or leaks could cause mortalities or morbidity to 
greater sage-grouse. Similarly, given the extensive network of highways 
and railroad lines that occur throughout the range of the greater sage-
grouse, there is some potential for exposure to contaminants resulting 
from spills or leaks of hazardous materials being conveyed along these 
transportation corridors. We found no documented occurrences of impacts 
to greater sage-grouse from such spills, and we do not expect they are 
a significant source of mortality because these types of spills occur 
infrequently and involve only a small area that might be within the 
occupied range of the species.
    Exposure of sage-grouse to radionuclides (radioactive atoms) has 
been documented at the DOE's Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in 
eastern Idaho. Although radionuclides were present in greater sage-
grouse at this site, there were no apparent harmful effects to the 
population (Connelly and Markham 1983, pp. 175-176). There is one site 
in the range formerly occupied by the species (Nuclear Energy Institute 
2004), and construction is scheduled to begin on a new nuclear power 
plant facility in 2009 in Elmore County, Idaho, near Boise (Nuclear 
Energy Institute 2008) in MZ IV. At this new facility and any other 
future facilities developed for nuclear power, if all provisions 
regulating nuclear energy development are followed, it is unlikely that 
there will be impacts to sage-grouse as a result of radionuclides or 
any other nuclear products.

Recreational Activities

    Boyle and Samson (1985, pp. 110-112) determined that non-
consumptive recreational activities can degrade wildlife resources, 
water, and the land by distributing refuse, disturbing and displacing 
wildlife, increasing animal mortality, and simplifying plant 
communities. Sage-grouse response to disturbance may be influenced by 
the type of activity, recreationist behavior, predictability of 
activity, frequency and magnitude, activity timing, and activity 
location (Knight and Cole 1995, p. 71). Examples of recreational 
activities in sage-grouse habitats include hiking, camping, pets, and 
off-highway vehicle (OHV) use. We have not located any published 
literature concerning measured direct effects of recreational 
activities on greater sage-grouse, but can infer potential impacts from 
studies on related species and from research on non-recreational 
activities. Baydack and Hein (1987, p. 537) reported displacement of 
male sharp-tailed grouse at leks from human presence, resulting in loss 
of reproductive opportunity during the disturbance period. Female 
sharp-tailed grouse were observed at undisturbed leks while absent from 
disturbed leks during the same time period (Baydack and Hein 1987, p. 
537). Disturbance of incubating female sage-grouse could cause 
displacement from nests, increased predator risk, or loss of nests. 
However, disruption of sage-grouse during vulnerable periods at leks, 
or during nesting or early brood rearing could affect reproduction or 
survival (Baydack and Hein 1987, pp. 537-538).
    Sage-grouse avoidance of activities associated with energy field 
development (e.g., Holloran 2005, pp. 43, 53, 58; Doherty et al. 2008, 
p. 194) suggests these birds are likely disturbed by any persistent 
human presence. Additionally, Aldridge et al. (2008, p. 988) reported 
that the density of humans in 1950 was the best predictor of 
extirpation of greater sage-grouse. The authors also determined that 
sage-grouse have been extirpated in virtually all counties reaching a 
human population density of 25 people/km\2\ (65people/mi\2\) by 1950. 
However, their analyses considered all impacts of human presence and 
did not separate recreational activities from other associated 
activities and infrastructure. The presence of pets in proximity to 
sage-grouse can result in sage-grouse mortality or disturbance, and 
increases in garbage from human recreationists can attract sage-grouse 
predators and help maintain their numbers at increased levels (cite). 
Leu et al. (2008, p. 1133) reported that slight increases in human 
densities in ecosystems with low biological productivity (such as 
sagebrush) may have a disproportionally negative impact on these 
ecosystems due to the potentially reduced resiliency to anthropogenic 
disturbance.
    Indirect effects to sage-grouse from recreational activities 
include impacts to vegetation and soils, and facilitating the spread of 
invasive species. Payne et al. (1983, p. 329) studied off-road vehicle 
impacts to rangelands in Montana, and found long-term (2 years) 
reductions in sagebrush shrub canopy cover as the result of repeated 
trips in the area. Increased sediment production and decreased soil 
infiltration rates were observed after disturbance by motorcycles and 
four-wheel drive trucks on two desert soils in southern Nevada (Eckert 
et al. 1979, p. 395), and noise from these activities can cause 
disturbance (Knick et al. in press, p.24).
    Recreational use of OHVs is one of the fastest-growing outdoor 
activities. In the western United States, greater than 27 percent of 
the human population used OHVs for recreational activities between 1999 
and 2004 (Knick et al., in press, p. 19). Off-highway vehicle use was a 
primary factor listed for 13 percent of species either listed under the 
Act or proposed for listing (Knick et al. in press, p. 24). Knick et 
al. (in press, p. 1) reported that widespread motorized access for 
recreation subsidized predators adapted to humans and facilitated the 
spread of invasive plants. Any high-frequency human activity along 
established corridors can affect wildlife through habitat loss and 
fragmentation (Knick et al. in press, p. 25). The effects of OHV use on 
sagebrush and sage-grouse have not been directly studied (Knick et al. 
in press, p. 25). However, a review of local sage-grouse conservation 
plans indicated that local working groups considered off-road vehicle 
use to be a risk factor in many areas.
    We are unaware of scientific reports documenting direct mortality 
of greater sage-grouse through collision with off-

[[Page 13985]]

road vehicles. Similarly, we did not locate any scientific information 
documenting instances where snow compaction as a result of snowmobile 
use precluded greater sage-grouse use, or affected their survival in 
wintering areas. Off-road vehicle or snowmobile use in winter areas may 
increase stress on birds and displace sage-grouse to less optimal 
habitats. However, there is no empirical evidence available documenting 
these effects on sage-grouse, nor could we find any scientific data 
supporting the possibility that stress from vehicles during winter is 
limiting greater sage-grouse populations.
    Given the continuing influx of people into the western United 
States (see discussion under Urbanization, Factor A; Leu and Hanser, in 
press, p. 4), which is contributed to in part by access to recreational 
opportunities on public lands, we anticipate effects from recreational 
activity will continue to increase. The foreseeable future for this 
effect spans for greater than 100 years, as we do not anticipate the 
desire for outdoor recreational activities will diminish.

Life History Traits Affecting Population Viability

    Sage-grouse have comparatively low reproductive rates and high 
annual survival (Schroeder et al. 1999 pp. 11, 14; Connelly et al. 
2000a, pp. 969-970), resulting in slower potential or intrinsic 
population growth rates than is typical of other game birds. Therefore, 
recovery of populations after a decline may require years. Also, as a 
consequence of their site fidelity to breeding and brood-rearing 
habitats (Lyon and Anderson 2003, p. 489), measurable population 
effects may lag behind negative habitat impacts (Wiens and Rotenberry 
1985, p. 666). While these natural history characteristics would not 
limit sage-grouse populations across large geographic scales under 
historical conditions of extensive habitat, they may contribute to 
local population declines when humans alter habitats or mortality 
rates.
    Sage-grouse have one of the most polygamous mating systems observed 
among birds (Deibert 1995, p. 92). Asymmetrical mate selection (where 
only a few of the available members of one sex are selected as mates) 
should result in reduced effective population sizes (Deibert 1995, p. 
92), meaning the actual amount of genetic material contributed to the 
next generation is smaller than predicted by the number of individuals 
present in the population. With only 10 to 15 percent of sage-grouse 
males breeding each year (Aldridge and Brigham 2003, p. 30), the 
genetic diversity of sage-grouse would be predicted to be low. However, 
in a recent survey of 16 greater sage-grouse populations, only the 
Columbia Basin population in Washington showed low genetic diversity, 
likely as a result of long-term population declines, habitat 
fragmentation, and population isolation (Benedict et al. 2003, p. 308; 
Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, p. 1307). The level of genetic diversity in 
the remaining range of sage-grouse has generated a great deal of 
interest in the field of behavioral ecology, specifically sexual 
selection (Boyce 1990, p. 263; Deibert 1995, p. 92-93). There is some 
evidence of off-lek copulations by subordinate males, as well as 
multiple paternity within one clutch (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 8-2; 
Bush 2009, p. 108). Dispersal also may contribute to genetic diversity, 
but little is known about dispersal in sage-grouse (Connelly et al. 
2004, p. 3-5). However, the lek breeding system suggests that 
population sizes in sage-grouse must be greater than in non-lekking 
bird species to maintain long-term genetic diversity.
    Aldridge and Brigham (2003, p. 30) estimated that up to 5,000 
individual sage-grouse may be necessary to maintain an effective 
population size of 500 birds. Their estimate was based on individual 
male breeding success, variation in reproductive success of males that 
do breed, and the death rate of juvenile birds. We were unable to find 
any other published estimates of minimal population sizes necessary to 
maintain genetic diversity and long-term population sustainability in 
sage-grouse. However, the minimum viable population size necessary to 
sustain the evolutionary potential of a species (retention of 
sufficient genetic material to avoid the effect of inbreeding 
depression or deleterious mutations) has been estimated as high as an 
adult population of 5,000 individuals (Traill et al. 2010, p. 32). Many 
sage-grouse populations have already been estimated at well below that 
value (see Garton et al. in press and discussions under Factor A), 
suggesting their evolutionary potential (ability to persist long-term) 
has already been compromised if that value is correct.

Drought

    Drought is a common occurrence throughout the range of the greater 
sage-grouse (Braun 1998, p. 148) and is considered a universal 
ecological driver across the Great Plains (Knopf 1996, p.147). 
Infrequent, severe drought may cause local extinctions of annual forbs 
and grasses that have invaded stands of perennial species, and 
recolonization of these areas by native species may be slow (Tilman and 
El Haddi 1992, p. 263). Drought reduces vegetation cover (Milton et al. 
1994, p. 75; Connelly et al. 2004, p. 7-18), potentially resulting in 
increased soil erosion and subsequent reduced soil depths, decreased 
water infiltration, and reduced water storage capacity. Drought also 
can exacerbate other natural events such as defoliation of sagebrush by 
insects. For example, approximately 2,544 km\2\ (982 mi\2\) of 
sagebrush shrublands died in Utah in 2003 as a result of drought and 
infestations with the Aroga (webworm) moth (Connelly et al. 2004, p. 5-
11). Sage-grouse are affected by drought through the loss of vegetative 
habitat components, reduced insect production (Connelly and Braun 1997, 
p. 9), and potentially exacerbation of WNv infections as described in 
Factor C above. These habitat component losses can result in declining 
sage-grouse populations due to increased nest predation and early brood 
mortality associated with decreased nest cover and food availability 
(Braun 1998, p. 149; Moynahan 2007, p. 1781).
    Sage-grouse populations declined during the 1930s period of drought 
(Patterson 1952, p. 68; Braun 1998, p. 148). Drought conditions in the 
late 1980s and early 1990s also coincided with a period when sage-
grouse populations were at historically low levels (Connelly and Braun 
1997, p. 8). From 1985 through 1995, the entire range of sage-grouse 
experienced severe drought (as defined by the Palmer Drought Severity 
Index) with the exceptions of north-central Colorado (MZ II) and 
southern Nevada (MZ III). During this time period drought was 
particularly prevalent in southwestern Wyoming, Idaho, central 
Washington and Oregon, and northwest Nevada (University of Nebraska 
2008). Abnormally dry to severe drought conditions still persist in 
Nevada and western Utah (MZ III and IV), Idaho (MZ IV), northern 
California and central Oregon (MZ V), and southwest Wyoming (MZ II) 
(University of Nebraska 2008).
    Aldridge et al. (2008, p. 992) found that the number of severe 
droughts from 1950 to 2003 had a weak negative effect on patterns of 
sage-grouse persistence. However, they cautioned that drought may have 
a greater influence on future sage-grouse populations as temperatures 
rise over the next 50 years, and synergistic effects of other threats 
affect habitat quality (Aldridge et al. 2008, p. 992). Populations on 
the periphery of the range may suffer extirpation during a severe and 
prolonged drought (Wisdom et al. in press, p. 22).

[[Page 13986]]

    In summary, drought has been a consistent and natural part of the 
sagebrush-steppe ecosystem and there is no information to suggest that 
drought was a cause of persistent population declines of greater sage-
grouse under historic conditions. However, drought impacts on the 
greater sage-grouse may be exacerbated when combined with other habitat 
impacts that reduce cover and food (Braun 1998, p. 148).
Summary of Factor E
    Numerous factors have caused sage-grouse mortality, and probably 
morbidity, such as pesticides, contaminants, as well as factors that 
contribute to direct and indirect disturbance to sage-grouse and 
sagebrush, such as recreational activities. Drought has been correlated 
with population declines in sage-grouse, but is only a limiting factor 
where habitats have been compromised. Although we anticipate use of 
pesticides, recreational activities, and fluctuating drought conditions 
to continue indefinitely, we did not find any evidence that these 
factors, either separately, or in combination are resulting in local or 
range-wide declines of greater sage-grouse. New information regarding 
minimum population sizes necessary to maintain the evolutionary 
potential of a species suggests that sage-grouse in some areas 
throughout their range may already be at population levels below that 
threshold. This is a result of habitat loss and modification (discussed 
under Factor A).
    We have evaluated the best available scientific information on 
other natural or manmade factors affecting the species' continued 
existence and determined that this factor does not singularly pose a 
significant threat to the species now or in the foreseeable future.

Findings

Finding on Petitions to List the Greater Sage-Grouse Across Its Entire 
Range

    As required by the Act, we have carefully examined the best 
scientific and commercial information available in relation to the five 
factors used to assess whether the greater sage-grouse is threatened or 
endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range. We 
reviewed the petitions, information available in our files, other 
available published and unpublished information, and other information 
provided to us after our notice initiating a status review of the 
greater sage-grouse was published. We also consulted with recognized 
greater sage-grouse and sagebrush experts and other Federal and State 
agencies.
    In our analysis of Factor A, we identified and evaluated the 
present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the 
habitat or range of the greater sage-grouse from various causes, 
including: habitat conversion for agriculture; urbanization; 
infrastructure (e.g., roads, powerlines, fences) in sagebrush habitats; 
fire; invasive plants; pinyon-juniper woodland encroachment; grazing; 
energy development; and climate change. All of these, individually and 
in combination, are contributing to the destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of the greater sage-grouse's habitat or range. Almost half 
of the sagebrush habitat estimated to have been present historically 
has been destroyed. The impact has been greatly compounded by the 
fragmented nature of this habitat loss, as fragmentation results in 
functional habitat loss for greater sage-grouse even when otherwise 
suitable habitat is still present. Although sagebrush habitats are 
increasingly being destroyed, modified, and fragmented for multiple 
reasons, the impact is especially great in relation to fire and 
invasive plants (and the interaction between them) in more westerly 
parts of the range, and energy development and related infrastructure 
in more easterly areas. In addition, direct loss of habitat and 
fragmentation is occurring due to agriculture, urbanization, and 
infrastructure such as roads and powerlines built in support of several 
activities. Some of these habitat losses due to these activities 
occurred many years ago, but they continue to have an impact due to the 
resulting fragmentation. Renewed interest in agricultural activities in 
areas previously defined as unsuitable for these activities, due to 
economic and technological incentives are likely to increase habitat 
loss and fragmentation from agricultural conversion. Encroachment of 
pinyon and juniper woodland into sagebrush is increasing and likely to 
continue in several areas, altering the structure and composition of 
habitat to the point that is it is greatly diminished or of no value to 
sage-grouse. While effects of livestock grazing must be assessed 
locally, the continued removal of sagebrush to increase forage directly 
fragments habitat, and indirectly provides for fragmentation through 
fencing and opportunities for invasive plant incursion. Habitat loss 
and fragmentation also is very likely to increase as a result of 
increased temperatures and changes in precipitation regimes associated 
with the effects of climate change; also, the impacts of fire and 
invasive plants likely already are, and will continue to be, 
exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
    Sagebrush restoration techniques are limited and generally 
ineffective. Further, restoring full habitat function may not be 
possible in some areas because alteration of vegetation, nutrient 
cycles, topsoil, and cryptobiotic crusts have exceeded the point beyond 
which recovery to pre-disturbance conditions or conditions suitable to 
populations of greater sage-grouse, is possible.
    The impacts to habitat are not uniform across the range; some areas 
have experienced less habitat loss than others, and some areas are at 
relatively lower risk than others for future habitat destruction or 
modification. Nevertheless, the destruction and modification of habitat 
has been substantial in many areas across the range of the species, it 
is ongoing, and it will continue or even increase in the future. Many 
current populations of greater sage-grouse already are relatively small 
and connectivity of habitat and populations has been severely 
diminished across much of the range; and further isolation is likely 
for several populations. Even the Wyoming Basin and the Great Basin 
area where Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho intersect, which are the two 
stronghold areas with relatively large amounts of contiguous sagebrush 
and sizeable populations of sage-grouse, are experiencing habitat 
destruction and modification (e.g. as a result of oil and gas 
development and other energy development in the Wyoming Basin) and this 
will continue in the future. Several recent studies have demonstrated 
that sagebrush area is one of the best landscape predictors of greater 
sage-grouse persistence. Continued habitat destruction and 
modification, compounded by fragmentation and diminished connectivity, 
will result in reduced abundance and further isolation of many 
populations over time, increasing their vulnerability to extinction. 
Overall, this increases the risk to the entire species across its 
range.
    Therefore, based on our review of the best scientific and 
commercial information available, we find that the present or 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the habitat or 
range of the greater sage-grouse is a significant threat to the species 
now and in the foreseeable future.
    During our review of the best scientific and commercial information

[[Page 13987]]

available, we found no evidence of risks from overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or education affecting the 
species as a whole. Although the allowable harvest of sage-grouse 
through hunting was very high in past years, substantial reductions in 
harvest began during the 1990s and have continued to drop, and since 
approximately 2000 total mortality due to hunting has been lower than 
in the last 50 years. The present level of hunting mortality shows no 
sign of being a significant threat to the species. However, in light of 
present and threatened habitat loss (Factor A) and other considerations 
(e.g. West Nile virus outbreaks in local populations), States and 
tribes will need to continue to carefully manage hunting mortality, 
including adjusting seasons and harvest levels, and imposing emergency 
closures if needed. Therefore, we conclude that the greater sage-grouse 
is not threatened by overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes now or in the foreseeable future.
    We found that while greater sage-grouse are subject to various 
diseases, the only disease of concern is West Nile virus. Outbreaks of 
WNv have resulted in disease-related mortality is local areas. Because 
greater sage-grouse have little or no resistance to this disease, the 
likelihood of mortality of affected individuals is extremely high. 
Currently the annual patchy distribution of the disease is resulting in 
minimal impacts except at local scales. We are concerned by the 
proliferation of water sources associated with various human 
activities, particularly water sources developed in association with 
coal bed methane and other types of energy development, as they provide 
potential breeding habitat for mosquitoes that can transmit WNv. We 
expect the prevalence of this disease is likely to increase across much 
of the species' range, but understand the long-term response of 
different populations is expected to vary markedly. Further, a complex 
set of conditions that support the WNv cycle must coincide for an 
outbreak to occur, and consequently although we expect further 
outbreaks will occur and may be more widespread, they likely will still 
be patchy and sporadic. We found that while greater sage-grouse are 
prey for numerous species, and that nest predation by ravens and other 
human-subsidized predators may be increasing and of potential concern 
in areas of human development, no information indicates that predation 
is having or is expected to have an overall adverse effect on the 
species. Therefore, at this time, we find that neither disease nor 
predation is a sufficiently significant threat to the greater sage-
grouse now or in the foreseeable future that it requires listing under 
the Act as threatened or endangered based on this factor.
    Our review of the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms 
included mechanisms in both Canada (less than 2 percent of the species' 
range) and the United States. Greater sage-grouse are federally 
protected in Canada as an endangered species under that country's 
Species at Risk Act. The species also is listed as endangered by the 
provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and neither province allows 
harvest. In Alberta, individual birds are protected, but their habitat 
is not. The Saskatchewan Wildlife Act restricts development within 500 
m (1,640 ft) of leks and prohibits construction within 1,000 m (3,281 
ft) of leks from March 15 - May 15, but numerous studies have shown 
these buffers are inadequate to protect sage-grouse, particularly in 
nesting areas.
    We found very few mechanisms in place at the level of local 
governments that provide, either directly or indirectly, protections to 
the greater sage-grouse or its habitat. The species receives some 
protection under laws of each of the States currently occupied by 
greater sage-grouse, including hunting regulations and various other 
direct and indirect mechanisms. However, in most states these provide 
little or no protection to greater sage-grouse habitat. Colorado 
recently implemented State regulations regarding oil and gas 
development, but they apply only to new developments and prescribe a 
process rather than specific measures that we can evaluate or rely on 
to provide protection related to the covered actions. In Wyoming, a 
Governor's Executive Order (E. O. 2008-2) outlines a strategic 
framework of core habitat areas that may provide the adequate scale of 
conservation needed over time to ensure the long-term conservation of 
greater sage-grouse in the state, but currently only the provisions for 
Wyoming State lands show promise as regulatory mechanisms, affecting 
only a small portion of the species' range in Wyoming.
    The majority of greater sage-grouse habitat is on Federal land, 
particularly areas administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and 
to a lesser extent the U.S. Forest Service. We found a diverse network 
of laws and regulations that relate directly or indirectly to 
protections for the greater sage-grouse and its habitat on Federal 
lands, including BLM and FS lands. However, the extent to which the BLM 
and FS have adopted and adequately implemented appropriate measures to 
conserve the greater sage-grouse and its habitat varies widely across 
the range of the species. Regulatory mechanisms addressing the ongoing 
threats related to habitat destruction and modification, particularly 
as related to fire, invasive plants, and energy development, are not 
adequate. There are no known existing regulatory mechanisms currently 
in place at the local, State, national, or international level that 
effectively address climate-induced threats to greater sage-grouse 
habitat. In summary, based on our review of the best scientific 
information available, we conclude that the inadequacy of existing 
regulatory mechanisms is a significant threat to the greater sage-
grouse now and in the foreseeable future.
    We assessed the potential risks from other natural or manmade 
factors including pesticides, contaminants, recreational activities, 
life history traits, and drought. We did not find any evidence these 
factors, either separately or in combination, pose a risk to the 
species. Therefore, we find that other natural and manmade factors 
affecting the continued existence of the species do not threaten the 
greater sage-grouse now or in the foreseeable future.
    The greater sage-grouse occurs across 11 western States and 2 
Canadian provinces and is a sagebrush obligate. Although greater sage-
grouse have a wide distribution, their numbers have been declining 
since consistent data collection techniques have been implemented. 
Recent local moderations in the decline of populations indicate a 
period of relative population stability, particularly since the mid-
1990s. This trend information was one key basis for our decision in 
2005 that listing the greater sage-grouse was not warranted. The 
population trends appear to have continued to be relatively stable. 
However, our understanding of the status of the species and the threats 
affecting it has changed substantially since our decision in 2005. In 
particular, numerous scientific papers and reports with new and highly 
relevant information have become available, particularly during the 
past year.
    Although the declining population trends have moderated over the 
past several years, low population sizes and relative lack of any sign 
of recovery across numerous populations is troubling. Previously, 
fluctuations in sage-grouse populations were apparent over time (based 
on lek counts as an index). However, these have all but ceased for 
several years, suggesting

[[Page 13988]]

some populations may be at a point where they are unable and unlikely 
to increase due to habitat limitations, perhaps in combination with 
other factors. Also, we are aware of the likelihood of a lag effect in 
some areas, because population trend and abundance estimates are not 
based on information about reproductive success and population 
recruitment, but instead are based on the number of adult males 
observed during lek counts. Because of the relative longevity of adult 
sage-grouse, the lek counts of males could continue to suggest relative 
stability even when a population is actually declining.
    Overall, the range of the species is now characterized by numerous 
relatively small populations existing in a patchy mosaic of 
increasingly fragmented habitat, with diminished connectivity. Many 
areas lack sufficient unfragmented sagebrush habitats on a scale, and 
with the necessary ecological attributes (e.g., connectivity and 
landscape context), needed to address risks to population persistence 
and support robust populations. Relatively small and isolated 
populations are more vulnerable to further reduction over time, 
including increased risk of extinction due to stochastic events. Two 
strongholds of relatively contiguous sagebrush habitat (southwestern 
Wyoming and northern Nevada, southern Idaho, southeastern Oregon and 
northwestern Utah) with large populations which are considered 
strongholds for the species are also being impacted by direct habitat 
loss and fragmentation that will continue for the foreseeable future.
    We have reviewed and taken into account efforts being made to 
protect the species, as required by the Act. Although some local 
conservation efforts have been implemented and are effective in small 
areas, they are neither individually nor collectively at a scale that 
is sufficient to ameliorate threats to the species or populations. Many 
other conservation efforts are being planned but there is substantial 
uncertainty as to whether, where, and when they will be implemented, 
and whether they will be effective.
    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the present and future threats to the 
greater sage-grouse. We have reviewed the petition, information 
available in our files, and other published and unpublished 
information, and consulted with recognized greater sage-grouse and 
sagebrush experts. We have reviewed and taken into account efforts 
being made to protect the species. On the basis of the best scientific 
and commercial information available, we find that listing the greater 
sage-grouse is warranted across its range. However, listing the species 
is precluded by higher priority listing actions at this time, as 
discussed in the Preclusion and Expeditious Progress section below.
    We have reviewed the available information to determine if the 
existing and foreseeable threats render the species at risk of 
extinction now such that issuing an emergency regulation temporarily 
listing the species as per section 4(b)(7) of the Act is warranted. We 
have determined that issuing an emergency regulation temporarily 
listing the greater sage-grouse is not warranted at this time (see 
discussion of listing priority, below). However, if at any time we 
determine that issuing an emergency regulation temporarily listing the 
species is warranted, we will initiate this action at that time.

Finding on the Petition to List the Western Subspecies of the Greater 
Sage-Grouse

    As described in the Taxonomy section, above, we have reviewed the 
best scientific information available on the geographic distribution, 
morphology, behavior, and genetics of sage-grouse in relation to 
putative eastern and western subspecies of sage-grouse, as formally 
recognized by the AOU in 1957 (AOU 1957, p. 139). The AOU has not 
published a revised list of subspecies of birds since 1957, and has 
acknowledged that some of the subspecies probably cannot be validated 
by rigorous modern techniques (AOU 1998, p. xii). The Service 
previously made a finding that the eastern subspecies is not a valid 
taxon and thus is not a listable entity (69 FR 933, January 7, 2004,), 
and the Court dismissed a legal challenge to that finding (see Previous 
Federal Action, above). Thus the 12-month petition finding we are 
making here is limited to the petition to list the western subspecies.
    To summarize the information presented in the Taxonomy section 
(above), our status review shows the following with regard to the 
putative western subspecies: (1) there is insufficient information to 
demonstrate that the petitioned western sage-grouse can be 
geographically differentiated from other greater sage-grouse throughout 
the range of the taxon; (2) there is insufficient information to 
demonstrate that morphological or behavioral aspects of the petitioned 
western subspecies are unique or provide any strong evidence to support 
taxonomic recognition of the subspecies; and (3) genetic evidence does 
not support recognition of the western sage-grouse as a subspecies. To 
be eligible for listing under the Act, an entity must fall within the 
Act's definition of a species, ``*** any subspecies of fish or wildlife 
or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of 
vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature'' (Act, 
section 3(16)). Based on our review of the best scientific information 
available, we conclude that the western subspecies is not a valid 
taxon, and consequently is not a listable entity under the Act. 
Therefore, we find that listing the western subspecies is not 
warranted.
    We note that greater sage-grouse covered by the petition to list 
the putative western subspecies (except for those in the Bi-State area, 
which are covered by a separate finding, below) are encompassed by our 
finding that listing the greater sage-grouse rangewide is warranted but 
precluded (see above). Further, greater sage-grouse within the Columbia 
Basin of Washington were designated as warranted, but precluded for 
listing as a DPS of the western subspecies in 2001 (65 FR 51578, May 7, 
2001). However, with our finding that the western subspecies is not a 
listable entity, we acknowledge that we must reevaluate the status of 
the Columbia Basin population as it relates to the greater sage-grouse; 
we will conduct this analysis as our priorities allow.

Finding on the Petitions to List the Bi-State Area (Mono Basin) 
Population

    As described above we received two petitions to list the Bi-State 
(Mono Basin) area populations of greater sage-grouse as a Distinct 
Population Segment. Please see the section titled ``Previous federal 
actions'' for a detailed history and description of these petitions. In 
order to make a finding on these petitions, we must first determine 
whether the greater sage-grouse in the Bi-State area constitute a DPS, 
and if so, we must conduct the relevant analysis of the five factors 
that are the basis for making a listing determination.

Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment (DPS) Analysis

    Under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we must determine whether any 
species is an endangered species or a threatened species because of any 
of the five threat factors identified in the Act. Section 3(16) of the 
Act defines ``species'' to include ``any subspecies of fish or wildlife 
or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of 
vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature'' (16 U.S.C.

[[Page 13989]]

1532 (16)). To interpret and implement the distinct population segment 
portion of the definition of a species under the Act and Congressional 
guidance, the Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (now 
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries) 
published, on February 7, 1996, an interagency Policy Regarding the 
Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments under the Act 
(61 FR 4722) (DPS Policy). The DPS Policy allows for more refined 
application of the Act that better reflects the conservation needs of 
the taxon being considered and avoids the inclusion of entities that 
may not warrant protection under the Act.
    Under our DPS Policy, we consider three elements in a decision 
regarding the status of a possible DPS as endangered or threatened 
under the Act. We apply them similarly for additions to the List of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, reclassification, and removal from 
the List. They are: (1) Discreteness of the population segment in 
relation to the remainder of the taxon; (2) the significance of the 
population segment to the taxon to which it belongs; and (3) the 
population segment's conservation status in relation to the Act's 
standards for listing (whether the population segment is, when treated 
as if it were a species, endangered or threatened). Discreteness is 
evaluated based on specific criteria provided in the DPS Policy. If a 
population segment is considered discrete under the DPS Policy we must 
then consider whether the discrete segment is ``significant'' to the 
taxon to which it belongs. If we determine that a population segment is 
discrete and significant, we then evaluate it for endangered or 
threatened status based on the Act's standards. The DPS evaluation in 
this finding concerns the Bi-State (Mono Basin) area greater sage-
grouse that we were petitioned to list as threatened or endangered, as 
stated above.

Discreteness Analysis

    Under our DPS Policy, a population segment of a vertebrate species 
may be considered discrete if it satisfies either one of the following 
conditions: (1) It is markedly separated from other populations of the 
same taxon as a consequence of physical, physiological, ecological, or 
behavioral factors (quantitative measures of genetic or morphological 
discontinuity may provide evidence of this separation); or
    (2) it is delimited by international governmental boundaries within 
which differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat, 
conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms exist that are 
significant in light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of the Act.

Markedly Separated From Other Populations of the Taxon

    Bi-State area greater sage-grouse are genetically unique compared 
with other populations of greater sage-grouse. Investigations using 
both mitochondrial DNA sequence data and data from nuclear 
microsatellites have demonstrated that Bi-State area greater sage-
grouse contain a large number of unique haplotypes not found elsewhere 
within the range of the greater sage-grouse (Benedict et al. 2003, p. 
306; Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, p. 1300). The genetic diversity present 
in the Bi-State population was comparable to other populations 
suggesting that the differences were not due to a genetic bottleneck or 
founder event (Oyler-McCance and Quinn in press, p. 18). These genetic 
studies provide evidence that the present genetic uniqueness exhibited 
by Bi-State area greater sage-grouse developed over thousands and 
perhaps tens of thousands of years (Benedict et al. 2003, p. 308; 
Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, p. 1307), which predates Euro-American 
settlement.
    The Service's DPS Policy states that quantitative measures of 
genetic or morphological discontinuity may be used as evidence of the 
marked separation of a population from other populations of the same 
taxon. In the Bi-State area, the present genetic uniqueness is most 
likely a manifestation of prehistoric physical isolation. Based on the 
reported timeline (thousands to tens of thousands of years) (Benedict 
et al. 2003, p. 308), isolation of this population may have begun 
during the Wisconsin Stage of the Pleistocene Epoch (from approximately 
25,000 to 9,000 years before present (ybp)), when Ancient Lake Lahontan 
covered much of western Nevada. After the lake receded (approximately 
9,000 ybp), barriers to genetic mixing remained. Physical barriers in 
the form of inhospitable habitats (Sierra-Nevada Mountains, salt desert 
scrub, Mojave Desert) in most directions maintained this isolation. 
With the establishment of Virginia City, Nevada (1859), any available 
corridor that connected the Bi-State area to the remainder of the 
greater sage-grouse range was removed.
    Currently, no greater sage-grouse occur in the Virginia Range, 
having been extirpated several decades ago. The population in closest 
proximity to the Bi-State area occurs in the Pah Rah Range to the 
northeast of Reno, Nevada, and approximately 50 km (31 mi) to the north 
of the Bi-State area. The Pah Rah Range occurs immediately to the north 
of the Virginia Range and south of the Virginia Mountains. It is 
currently unknown if the small remnant population occurring in the Pah 
Rah Range aligns more closely with the Bi-State birds or the remainder 
of the greater sage-grouse. The range delineation occurs south of the 
Virginia Mountains in one of three locations: (1) the small population 
occurring in the Pah Rah Range, (2) the extirpated population 
historically occurring in the Virginia Range, or (3) the Pine Nut 
Mountains. Limited studies of behavioral differences between the Bi-
State population and other populations have not demonstrated any gross 
differences that suggest behavioral barriers (Taylor and Young 2006, p. 
39).
Conclusion for Discreteness
    We conclude the Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse is 
markedly separate from other populations of the greater sage-grouse 
based on genetic data from mitochondrial DNA sequencing and from 
nuclear microsatellites. The Bi-State area greater sage-grouse contain 
a large number of unique haplotypes not found elsewhere within the 
range of the species. The present genetic uniqueness exhibited by Bi-
State area greater sage-grouse occurred over thousands and perhaps tens 
of thousands of years (Benedict et al. 2003, p. 308; Oyler-McCance et 
al. 2005, p. 1307) and continues through today due to physical 
isolation from the remainder of the range. These genetic data are the 
principal basis for our conclusion that the Bi-State area greater sage-
grouse are markedly separated from other populations of greater sage-
grouse and therefore are discrete under the Service's DPS Policy.

Significance Analysis

    The DPS Policy states that if a population segment is considered 
discrete under one or both of the discreteness criteria, its biological 
and ecological significance will then be considered in light of 
Congressional guidance that the authority to list DPSs be used 
``sparingly'' while encouraging the conservation of genetic diversity. 
In carrying out this examination, the Service considers available 
scientific evidence of the DPS's importance to the taxon to which it 
belongs. As specified in the DPS Policy, this consideration of the 
significance may include, but is not limited to, the following: (1) 
persistence of the discrete population segment in an ecological setting 
unusual or unique to the taxon; (2) evidence that its loss would result 
in a significant gap in the range of the taxon; (3) evidence that it

[[Page 13990]]

is the only surviving natural occurrence of a taxon that may be more 
abundant elsewhere as an introduced population outside its historical 
range; or (4) evidence that the discrete population segment differs 
markedly from other populations of the species in its genetic 
characteristics. The DPS Policy further states that because precise 
circumstances are likely to vary considerably from case to case, it is 
not possible to describe prospectively all the classes of information 
that might bear on the biological and ecological importance of a 
discrete population segment.
    (1) Persistence of the discrete population segment in an ecological 
setting unusual or unique to the taxon. The Bi-State area greater sage-
grouse population occurs in the Mono province (Rowland et al. 2003, p. 
63). This ecological province is part of the Great Basin, and on a 
gross scale the ecological provinces that comprise this area are 
characterized by basin and range topography. Basin and range topography 
covers a large portion of the western United States and northern 
Mexico. It is typified by a series of north-south-oriented mountain 
ranges running parallel to each other, with arid valleys between the 
mountains. Most of Nevada and eastern California comprise basin and 
range topography with only slight variations in floristic patterns. 
Hence, we do not consider Bi-State area greater sage-grouse to occur in 
an ecological setting that is unique for the taxon.
    (2) Evidence that its loss would result in a significant gap in the 
range of the taxon. The estimated total extant range of greater sage-
grouse is 668,412 km\2\ (258,075 mi\2\) (Schroeder et al. 2004, p. 363) 
compared to approximately 18,310 km\2\ (7,069 mi\2\) for the Bi-State 
area sage-grouse (Bi-State Plan 2004). Bi-State area sage-grouse 
therefore occupy about 3 percent of the total extant range of greater 
sage-grouse. Loss of this population would not create a gap in the 
remainder of the species range because the Bi-State population does not 
provide for connectivity for other portions of the range. Therefore, we 
conclude that loss of this population would not represent a significant 
gap in the range of the species.
    (3) Evidence that it is the only surviving natural occurrence of a 
taxon that may be more abundant elsewhere as an introduced population 
outside its historical range. Bi-State area greater sage-grouse are not 
the only surviving occurrence of the taxon and represent a small 
proportion of the total extant range of the species.
    (4) Evidence that the discrete population segment differs markedly 
from other populations of the species in its genetic characteristics. 
Genetic analyses show the Bi-State area sage-grouse have a large number 
of unique haplotypes not found elsewhere in the range of the species 
(Benedict et al. 2003, p. 306; Oyler-McCance et al. 2005, p. 1300). 
Benedict et al. (2003, p. 309) indicated that the preservation of 
genetic diversity represented by this unique allelic composition is of 
particular importance for conservation.
    On the basis of the discussion presented above, we conclude the Bi-
State greater sage-grouse population meets the significance criterion 
of our DPS Policy.

Conclusion of Distinct Population Segment Review

    Based on the best scientific and commercial data available, as 
described above, we find that under our DPS Policy, the Bi-State 
greater sage-grouse population is discrete and significant to the 
overall species. Because the Bi-State greater sage-grouse population is 
both discrete and significant, we find that it is a distinct population 
segment under our DPS Policy. We refer to this population segment as 
the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse.

Conservation Status

    Pursuant to the Act, as stated above, we announced our 
determination that the petitions to list the Bi-State area population 
of greater sage-grouse contained substantial information that the 
action may be warranted. Having found the Bi-State population qualifies 
as a DPS, we now must consider, based on the best available scientific 
and commercial data whether the DPS warrants listing. We have evaluated 
the conservation status of the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse 
in order to make that determination. Our analysis follows below.

Life History Characteristics

    Please see this section of the greater sage-grouse 12-month 
petition finding (GSG finding) above for life history information.

Habitat Description and Characteristics

    Please see this section of the GSG finding, above, for information 
on sage-grouse habitat.

Distribution

    The Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse historically occurred 
throughout most of Mono, eastern Alpine, and northern Inyo Counties, 
California (Hall et al. 2008, p. 97), and portions of Carson City, 
Douglas, Esmeralda, Lyon, and Mineral Counties, Nevada (Gullion and 
Christensen 1957, pp. 131-132; Espinosa 2006a, pers. comm.). Although 
the current range of the population in California was presumed reduced 
from the historical range (Leach and Hensley, 1954, p. 386; Hall 1995, 
p. 54; Schroeder et al. 2004, pp. 368-369), the extent of loss is not 
well understood and there may, in fact, have been no net loss (Hall et 
al. 2008, p. 96) in the California portion of the Bi-State area. 
Gullion and Christensen (1957, pp. 131-132) reported that greater sage-
grouse occurred in Esmeralda, Mineral, Lyon, and Douglas Counties. 
However, parts of Carson City County were likely part of the original 
range of the species in Nevada and it is possible that greater sage-
grouse still persist there (Espinosa 2006a, pers. comm.). The extent of 
the range loss in the Nevada portion of the Bi-State area not been 
estimated (Stiver 2002, pers. comm.).
    In 2001, the State of Nevada sponsored development of the Nevada 
Sage-Grouse Conservation Strategy (Sage-Grouse Conservation Planning 
Team 2001). This Strategy established Population Management Units 
(PMUs) for Nevada and California as management tools for defining and 
monitoring greater sage-grouse distribution (Sage-Grouse Conservation 
Planning Team 2001, p. 31). The PMU boundaries are based on 
aggregations of leks, greater sage-grouse seasonal habitats, and 
greater sage-grouse telemetry data (Sage-Grouse Conservation Planning 
Team 2001, p. 31). The PMUs that comprise the Bi-State planning area 
are Pine Nut, Desert Creek-Fales, Mount Grant, Bodie, South Mono, and 
White Mountains (Figure 4).

[[Page 13991]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP23MR10.003

    Currently in the Bi-State area, sage-grouse leks occur in all of 
the delineated PMUs, with the greatest concentration of leks occurring 
in the Bodie and South Mono PMUs. Historically there were as many as 
122 lek locations in the Bi-State area, although not all were active in 
any given year. This number is likely inflated due to observer and 
mapping error. The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) reports a total 
of 89 known leks in the Bi-State area (NDOW 2008, p. 7; NDOW 2009, 
unpublished data). Of these, approximately 39 are considered active and 
approximately 30 appear to be core leks or occupied annually.
 In the Pine Nut PMU, there are 10 known leks, 4 of which are 
considered active. Only 1 or 2 appear to be core leks (occupied 
annually) with the remainder considered satellite leks (active during 
years of high bird abundance).
 In the Desert Creek-Fales PMU, there are 19 known leks on the 
Nevada portion consisting of 8 active leks and probably 4 core leks. In 
California, on the Fales portion of this PMU, there are 6 known leks 
consisting of 2 or 3 core leks and 3 satellite leks.
 In the Mount Grant PMU, there are 12 known leks with 8 active 
leks. Of the active leks, 2 to 4 appear to be annually attended. Survey 
data are limited, and it is not known how many leks are active on an 
annual basis versus in years of high bird abundance.

[[Page 13992]]

 In the Bodie PMU, 29 leks have been mapped. Approximately 7 to 
8 appear to be core leks, 6 to 12 appear to be satellite locations, and 
the remainder are not well defined (i.e., satellites or changes in lek 
focal activity, poorly mapped, one-time observations).
 In the South Mono PMU there are 9 leks in the Long Valley area 
near Mammoth Lakes, most of which are annually active. Additionally, 1 
lek occurs in the Parker Meadows area south of Lee Vining, and 2 leks 
occurred along Highway 120 at the base of Granite Mountain and in Adobe 
Valley but these 2 leks may be extirpated.
 In the White Mountains PMU 2 leks appear active in California 
in the vicinity of the Mono and Inyo County line, and the NDOW reports 
5 active leks in Esmeralda County.
    Due to long-term and extensive survey efforts, it is unlikely that 
new leks will be found in the Nevada or California portions of the Pine 
Nut and Desert Creek-Fales PMUs or the Bodie and South Mono PMUs in 
California (Espinosa 2006b, pers. comm.; Gardner 2006, pers. comm.). It 
is possible that unknown leks exist in the Mount Grant PMU and the 
Nevada and California portions of the White Mountains PMU, as these 
PMUs are less accessible resulting in reduced survey effort (Espinosa 
2006b, pers. comm.; Gardner 2006, pers. comm.).
    Based on landownership, 46 percent of leks in the Bi-State area 
occur on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, 25 percent occur on 
U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands, 17 percent occur on private land, 7 
percent occur on Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) 
lands, 4 percent occur on Department of Defense (DOD) lands, and 1 
percent occur on State of California lands (Espinosa 2006c, pers. 
comm.; Taylor 2006, pers. comm.). Of the 30-35 core leks in the Bi-
State area, only 3 are known to occur on private lands.

Population Trend and Abundance

    In 2004, WAFWA conducted a partial population trend analysis for 
the Bi-State area (Connelly et al. 2004, Chapter 6). The WAFWA 
recognizes four populations of greater sage-grouse in the Bi-State area 
but only two populations (North Mono Lake and South Mono Lake) had 
sufficient data to warrant analysis (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 6-60, 6-
61, 6-62). Essentially, the South Mono Lake population encompasses the 
South Mono PMU, while the North Mono Lake population encompasses the 
Bodie, Mount Grant, and Desert Creek-Fales PMUs. The authors reported 
that the North Mono Lake population displayed a significant negative 
trend from 1965 to 2003, and the South Mono Lake population displayed a 
non-significant positive trend over this same period (Connelly et al. 
2004, pp. 6-69, 6-70).
    In 2008, WAFWA conducted a similar trend analysis on these two 
populations using a different statistical method for the periods from 
1965 to 2007, 1965 to 1985, and 1986 to 2007 (WAFWA 2008, Appendix D). 
The 2008 WAFWA analysis reports the trend for the North Mono Lake 
population, as measured by maximum male attendance at leks, was 
negative from 1965 to 2007 and 1965 to 1985 but variable from 1986 to 
2007, and suggests an increasing trend beginning in about 2000. WAFWA's 
results for the South Mono Lake population suggest a negative trend 
from 1965 to 2007, a stable trend from 1965 to 1985, and a variable 
trend from 1986 to 2007, again suggesting a positive trend beginning 
around 2000. These two populations do not encompass the entire Bi-State 
area but do represent a large percentage of known leks. The two PMUs 
excluded from this analysis were the Pine Nut and White Mountains, 
which WAFWA delineates as separate populations that lacked sufficient 
data for analysis.
    A new analysis by Garton et al. (in press, pp. 36, 37), also 
reports a decline in the North Mono Lake population from the 1965-1969 
to 2000-2007 assessment periods, with no consistent long-term trend. In 
the South Mono Lake population, Garton et al. (in press, pp. 37, 38) 
report an increase in the 1965-1969 to 1985-1989 assessment periods but 
a decline in the 1985-1989 to 2000-2007 assessment periods, with no 
obvious trend. Garton et al. (in press, pp. 36, 38) report that the 
estimated average annual rate of change for both of these populations 
suggests that growth of these two populations has been, at times, both 
positive and negative.
    The CDFG and NDOW annually conduct greater sage-grouse lek counts 
in the California and Nevada portions, respectively, of the Bi-State 
area. These lek counts are used by the CDFG and NDOW to estimate 
greater sage-grouse populations for each PMU in the Bi-State area. Low 
and high population estimates are derived by combining a corrected 
number of males detected on a lek, an assumed sex ratio of two females 
to one male, and two lek detection rates (intended to capture the 
uncertainty associated with finding leks). The lek detection rates vary 
by PMU but range between 0.75 and 0.95.
    Beginning in 2003, the CDFG and NDOW began using the same method to 
estimate population numbers, and consequently, the most comparable 
population estimates for the entire Bi-State area start in 2003. Prior 
to 2003, Nevada survey efforts varied from year to year, with no data 
for some years, and inconsistent survey methodology. The CDFG methods 
for estimating populations of greater sage-grouse in California were 
more consistent than NDOW's prior to 2003. However, using population 
estimates for greater sage-grouse derived before 2003 could lead to 
invalid and unjustified conclusions given the variation in the number 
of leks surveyed, survey methodology, and population estimation 
techniques between the NDOW and CDFG. Therefore, we are presenting 
population numbers from 2003 to 2009. Population estimates derived from 
spring lek counts are problematic due to unknown or uncontrollable 
biases such as the true ratio of females to males or the percentage of 
uncounted leks. We provide this information in order to place into 
context what we consider to be a reasonable range as to the extent of 
the population in the Bi-State area as well as to demonstrate the 
apparent variability in annual estimates over the short term. For 
reasons described above we caution against assigning too much certainty 
to these results.
    Spring population estimates are presented in Tables 11 and 12 for 
the South Mono, Bodie, Mount Grant, and Desert Creek-Fales PMUs (CDFG 
2009, unpublished data; NDOW 2009, unpublished data). They also include 
population estimates for the Nevada portion of the Pine Nut PMU (NDOW 
2009, unpublished data). However, they do not include population 
estimates for the White Mountains PMU or the California portion of the 
Pine Nut PMU. Due to the difficulty in accessing the White Mountains 
PMU, no consistent surveys have been conducted and it appears that 
birds are not present in the California portion of the Pine Nut PMU 
(Gardner 2006, pers. comm.).

[[Page 13993]]



Table 11--Combined spring population estimates for Bi-State area greater
                 sage-grouse. (See text for citations.)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
               Survey year                   Population estimate range
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2003                                       2,820 to 3,181
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2004                                       3,682 to 4,141
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005                                       3,496 to 3,926
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006                                       4,218 to 4,740
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2007                                       3,287 to 3,692
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2008                                       2,090 to 2,343
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2009                                       2,712 to 3,048
------------------------------------------------------------------------


 Table 12--Population Management Unit (PMU) size, ownership and estimated suitable greater-sage-grouse habitat,
          and estimated greater sage-grouse population for 2009. (See text for details and citations.)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                   Total Size  acres    Percent Federal   Estimated  Habitat       Estimated
Population Management Unit (PMU)         (ha)                Land              acres (ha)     Population  (2009)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pine Nut                          574,373 (232,441)   72                  233,483 (94,488)    89-107
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Desert Creek-Fales                567,992 (229,859)   88                  191,985 (77,694)    512-575
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mount Grant                       699,079 (282,908)   90                  254,961 (103,180)   376-427
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bodie                             349,630 (141,491)   74                  183,916 (74,428)    829-927
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
South Mono                        579,483 (234,509)   88                  280,492 (113,512)   906-1,012
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
White Mountains                   1,753,875           97                  418,056 (169,182)   NA
                                   (709,771)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    As shown in Table 12, Federal lands comprise the majority of the 
area within PMUs. Although other land ownership is small in comparison, 
these other lands contain important habitat for greater sage-grouse 
life cycle requirements. In particular, mesic areas that provide 
important brood rearing habitat are often on private lands.

Movement, Habitat Use, Nest Success, and Survival

    Casazza et al. (2009, pp. 1-49) conducted a 3-year study on greater 
sage-grouse movements in the Bi-State area. The researchers radio-
marked 145 birds, including 104 females and 41 males, in Mono County 
within the Desert Creek-Fales, Bodie, White Mountains, and South Mono 
PMUs (Casazza et al. 2009, p. 6). The greatest distance moved by radio-
marked birds between any two points is as follows: 29 percent moved 
from 0 to 8 km (0 to 5 mi); 41 percent moved from 8 to 16 km (5 to 10 
mi); 25 percent moved from 16 to 24 km (10 to 15 mi); 4 percent moved 
from 24 to 32 km (15 to 20 mi); and 1 percent moved greater than 32 km 
(20 mi).
    Female greater sage-grouse home range size ranged from 2.3 to 137.1 
km\2\ (0.9 to 52.9 mi\2\), with a mean home range size of 38.6 km\2\ 
(14.9 mi\2\) (Overton 2006, unpublished data). Male greater sage-grouse 
home range size ranged from 6.1 to 245.7 km\2\ (2.3 to 94.9 mi\2\) with 
a mean home range size of 62.9 km\2\ (24.1 mi\2\) (Overton 2006, 
unpublished data). Annual home ranges were largest in the Bodie PMU and 
smallest in the Parker Meadows area of the South Mono PMU and the 
California portion of the Desert Creek-Fales PMU.
    The data from more than 7,000 telemetry locations, representing the 
145 individuals indicate movement between populations in the Bi-State 
area is limited. No birds caught within the White Mountains, South 
Mono, or Desert Creek-Fales PMUs made movements outside their 
respective PMUs of capture. Previously, the NDOW tracked a female 
greater sage-grouse radio-marked near Sweetwater Summit in the Nevada 
portion of the Desert Creek-Fales PMU to Big Flat in the northern 
portion of the Bodie PMU, suggesting possible interaction between these 
PMUs. Also, some birds caught in the Bodie PMU made seasonal movements 
on the order of 8 to 24 km (5 to 15 mi) east into Nevada and the 
adjacent Mount Grant PMU. Within the Bi-State area some known bird 
movements would be classified as migratory, but the majority of radio-
marked individuals have not shown movements large enough to be 
characterized as migratory (Casazza et al. 2009, p. 8).
    In association with Casazza et al. (2009), Kolada (2007) conducted 
a study examining nest site selection and nest survival of greater 
sage-grouse in Mono County, These greater sage-grouse selected nest 
sites high in shrub cover (42 percent on average), and these shrubs 
were often species other than sagebrush (i.e., bitterbrush (Purshia 
tridentata)) (Kolada 2007, p. 18). The reported amount of shrub cover 
was not outside the normal range found in other studies (Connelly et 
al. 2000a, p. 970). However, there was a large contribution of non-
sagebrush shrubs to greater sage-grouse nesting habitat in Mono County. 
There was no evidence that greater sage-grouse hens were selecting for 
nest sites with greater residual grass cover or height as compared to 
random sites. Overall nest success among birds in Mono County during 
the 3-year study (2003-2005) appears to be among the highest of any 
population rangewide (Kolada 2007, p. 70). However, nest

[[Page 13994]]

success in Long Valley (South Mono PMU) was substantially lower than 
for either the Bodie or Desert Creek-Fales PMUs.
    Also in association with Casazza et al. (2009), Farinha et al. 
(2008, unpublished data) found that survival of adults was lowest in 
the northern Bi-State area and highest in Long Valley. Near Sonora 
Junction, California (Desert Creek-Fales PMU) and in the Bodie Hills 
(Bodie PMU), adult survival was 4 and 18 percent, respectively. 
Sedinger et al. (unpublished data, p. 12) derived a similar adult 
survival estimate (16 percent) for an immediately adjacent area in 
Nevada. Survival estimates at these three locations are unusually low 
(Sedinger et al. unpublished data, p. 12). In Long Valley, Farinha et 
al. (2008, unpublished data) estimated adult survival at 53 percent, 
which is more consistent with annual survival estimates reported in 
other portions of the species' range.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Bi-State DPS of the Greater Sage-
Grouse

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and implementing regulations 
at 50 CFR part 424, set forth procedures for adding species to the 
federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. In 
making this finding, we summarize below information regarding the 
status and threats to the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse in 
relation to the five factors provided in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. 
Under section (4) of the Act, we may determine a species to be 
endangered or threatened on the basis of any of the following five 
factors: (A) Present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or 
predation; (D) inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) 
other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. We 
evaluated whether threats to the Bi-State area greater sage-grouse DPS 
may affect its survival. Our evaluation of threats is based on 
information provided in the petitions, available in our files, and 
other sources considered to be the best scientific and commercial 
information available including published and unpublished studies and 
reports.
    Our understanding of the biology, ecology, and habitat associations 
of the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse, and the potential 
effects of perturbations such as disease, urbanization, and 
infrastructure development on this population, is based primarily on 
research conducted across the range of the entire greater sage-grouse 
species. The available information indicates that the members of the 
species have similar physiological and behavioral characteristics, and 
consequently similar habitat associations. We believe the potential 
effects of specific stressors on the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-
grouse are the same as those described in the GSG finding, above. To 
avoid redundancy, the descriptions of these effects are omitted below 
and further detail and citations may be found in the corresponding 
analysis in the GSG finding, above.
    The range of the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse is roughly 
3 percent of the area occupied by the entire greater sage-grouse 
species, and the relative impact of effects caused by specific threats 
may be greater at this smaller scale. We have considered these 
differences of scale in our analysis and our subsequent discussion is 
focused on the degree to which each threat influences the Bi-State DPS 
of the greater sage-grouse. Individual threats described within Factors 
A through E below are not all present across the entire Bi-State area. 
However, the influence of each threat on specific populations may 
influence the resiliency and redundancy of the entire Bi-State greater 
sage-grouse population.

Factor A: The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range

Urbanization

    Changing land uses have and continue to occur in the Bi-State area. 
Where traditional private land use was primarily farming and ranching 
operations, today, some of these lands are being sold and converted to 
low-density residential housing developments. About 8 percent of the 
land base in the Bi-State area is privately owned. A 2004 threat 
analysis recognized urban expansion as a risk to greater sage-grouse in 
the Pine Nut, Desert Creek-Fales, Bodie, and South Mono PMUs (Bi-State 
Plan 2004, pp. 24, 47, 88, 169). The CDFG reports that private lands 
have been sold and one parcel was recently developed on Burcham Flat 
within the Desert Creek-Fales PMU (CDFG 2006). Additionally, a planned 
subdivision of a 48 ha (120 ac) parcel that is in close proximity to 
the Burcham Flat lek, 1 of 3 remaining leks in the California portion 
of the Desert Creek-Fales PMU, is currently under review by the County 
of Mono, California. The subdivision would replace a single ranch 
operation with three private residences.
    Sagehen (16.2 ha (40 ac)) and Gaspipe (16.2 ha (40 ac)) Meadows 
located in the South Mono PMU have recently been affected by 
development. Also, Sinnamon (~485 ha, ~1,200 ac) and Upper Summers 
Meadows (~1,214 ha; ~3,000 ac) located in the Bodie PMU are currently 
for sale (Taylor 2008, pers. comm.). Each of these private parcels is 
important to greater sage-grouse because of the summer brood-rearing 
habitat they provide (Taylor 2008, pers. comm.). The NDOW is concerned 
that the urbanization or the division of larger tracts of private lands 
into smaller ranchettes will adversely affect greater sage-grouse 
habitat in the Nevada portion of the Pine Nut and Desert Creek-Fales 
PMUs (NDOW 2006, p. 4). The NDOW reported that expansions of Minden, 
Gardnerville, and Carson City, Nevada, are encroaching into the Pine 
Nut Range (within the Pine Nut PMU) and that housing development in 
Smith Valley and near Wellington, Nevada, has fragmented and diminished 
greater sage-grouse habitats in the north portion of the Desert Creek-
Fales PMU (NDOW 2006, p. 4).
    Development of private lands is known to impact greater sage-grouse 
habitat (Connelly et al. 2004, pp. 7-25, 7-26), and federal and state 
agencies may actively work to purchase parcels important for greater 
sage-grouse conservation. Recently, the State of California purchased a 
470 ha (1,160 ac) parcel in the Desert Creek-Fales PMU comprising the 
largest contiguous private land parcel in the California portion of the 
PMU.
    When private lands adjacent to public lands are developed, there 
can be impacts to greater sage-grouse on the public lands. 
Approximately 89 percent of the land contained within the Bi-State area 
is federally managed land, primarily by the USFS and BLM. The BLM and 
USFS manage public lands under federal laws that provide for multiple-
use management, which allows a number of actions that are either 
detrimental or beneficial to sage-grouse (Bi-State Plan 2004). The Bi-
State Plan (2004, pp. 24, 88) reported within the Pine Nut and Bodie 
PMUs, habitat loss and fragmentation associated with land use change 
and development is not restricted to private lands. Rights-of-way (ROW) 
across public lands for roads, utility lines, sewage treatment plants, 
and other public purposes are frequently granted to support development 
activities on adjacent private parcels.
    Based on location data from radio-marked birds in the Desert Creek-
Fales, Bodie, and South Mono PMUs, greater sage-grouse home ranges 
consist of a

[[Page 13995]]

combination of public and privately owned lands (Casazza 2009, p. 9). 
In the Desert Creek-Fales PMU, use of private lands was most pronounced 
near Burcham and Wheeler Flats. Home ranges of these individuals 
encompassed between 10 and 15 percent private lands, depending on the 
season (Casazza et al. 2009, p. 19). In the Bodie PMU radio-marked 
birds were found to use private lands between 10 and 20 percent of the 
time, with use most pronounced during the summer and winter months 
(Casazza 2009, p. 27). In the South Mono and White Mountains PMUs, use 
of private lands was greatly restricted. We have limited quantitative 
data for birds breeding in the Nevada portion of the Bi-State area. 
However, some greater sage-grouse breeding in the Bodie PMU moved to 
wintering habitat on private land in Nevada on the adjacent Mount Grant 
PMU. Also, private lands in the Nevada portion of the Desert Creek-
Fales PMU and the Mount Grant PMU are used by sage-grouse throughout 
the year, especially during the late summer brood-rearing period 
(Espinosa 2008, pers. comm.).
    The Town of Mammoth Lakes, California, located in the southern 
extent of the Bi-State planning area recently adopted measures that 
will allow for more development on private lands (Town of Mammoth Lakes 
General Plan 2007). Increased indirect effects to greater sage-grouse 
habitat are expected due increases in the human population in the area.
    The proposed expansion of the Mammoth Yosemite Airport is located 
in occupied greater sage-grouse habitat within the South Mono PMU. 
Approximately 1.6 ha (4 ac) of land immediately surrounding the airport 
is zoned for development. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration 
(FAA) recently resumed regional commercial air service at the Airport 
with two winter flights per day beginning in 2008 and potentially 
increasing to a maximum of eight winter flights per day by 2011 (FAA 
2008, ES-1). The Mammoth Yosemite Airport formerly had regional 
commercial air service from 1970 to the mid-1990's (FAA 2008, p. 1-5), 
and it currently supports about 400 flights per month of primarily 
single-engine, private aircraft (Town of Mammoth Lakes 2005, p. 4-204). 
All greater sage-grouse in the Long Valley portion of the South Mono 
PMU occur in close proximity to the Airport and have been exposed to 
commercial air traffic in the past, and are currently exposed to 
private air traffic. Effects of reinstating commercial air service at 
the Mammoth Yosemite Airport on greater sage-grouse are unknown as the 
level of commercial flight traffic these birds may be exposed to is 
undetermined as is the impact this exposure will have on population 
dynamics.
    The Benton Crossing landfill in Mono County is located north of 
Crowley Lake in Long Valley (South Mono PMU) on a site leased from the 
LADWP. Common ravens (Corvus corax) and California gulls (Larus 
californicus) are known to heavily use the facility (Coates 2008, pers. 
comm.), although no specific surveys of either species' abundance have 
been conducted. The influence these known predators have on the 
population dynamics of the South Mono PMU is not known. However, Kolada 
(2007, p. 66) reported that nest success in Long Valley was 
significantly lower in comparison to other populations within the Bi-
State planning area. This result may be attributable to the increased 
avian predators subsidized by landfill operations (Casazza 2008, pers. 
comm.).
Summary: Urbanization
    Development of private lands for housing and the associated 
infrastructure within the Bi-State area is resulting in the destruction 
and modification of habitat of the Bi-State area greater sage-grouse 
DPS. The threat of development is greatest in the Pine Nut, Desert 
Creek-Fales, and Bodie PMUs, where development is, and will likely 
continue to impact Bi-State area greater sage-grouse DPS use of 
specific seasonal sites. The small private holdings in the Bi-State 
area are typically associated with mesic meadow or spring habitats that 
play an important role in greater sage-grouse life history. Greater 
sage-grouse display strong site fidelity to traditional seasonal 
habitats and loss of specific sites can have pronounced population 
impacts. The influence of land development on the population dynamics 
of greater sage-grouse in the Bi-State area is greater than a simple 
measure of spatial extent. As noted above, resumption of commercial air 
service at the Mammoth Yosemite Airport, combined with the construction 
of an adjacent business park, will likely affect greater sage-grouse in 
the South Mono PMU through increasing aircraft and human activity in or 
near sage-grouse habitat.
    Development of public and private lands for a variety of purposes, 
including residential homes and ROWs to support associated 
infrastructure can negatively affect sage-grouse and their habitat, and 
while these threats may not be universal, localized areas of impacts 
are anticipated. Based on the data available, direct and indirect 
effects of urbanization have exerted and will continue to exert a 
negative influence in specific portions of greater sage-grouse range in 
the Bi-State area. This is already especially apparent in the northern 
portion of the range of the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse, in 
the Pine Nut, Desert Creek-Fales, and Bodie PMUs (NDOW 2006, p. 4; Bi-
State Plan 2004, pp. 24, 88).

Infrastructure - Fences, Powerlines, and Roads

    Fences are considered a risk to greater sage-grouse in all Bi-State 
PMUs (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 54, 80, 120, 124, 169). As stated in the 
December 19, 2006, 90-day finding (71 FR 76058), the BLM Bishop Field 
Office reported increased greater sage-grouse mortality and decreased 
use of leks when fences were in close proximity. Known instances of 
collision, and the potential to fragment and degrade habitat quality by 
providing movement pathways and perching substrates for invasive 
species and predators have been cited.
    Fences can also provide a valuable rangeland management tool. If 
properly sited and designed, fencing may ultimately improve habitat 
conditions for greater sage-grouse. Near several leks in the Long 
Valley area of the South Mono PMU, the BLM and LADWP are currently 
using ``let down'' fences as a means of managing cattle. This design 
utilizes permanent fence posts but allows the horizontal wire strands 
to be effectively removed (let down) during the greater sage-grouse 
breeding season or when cattle are not present. While this method does 
not ameliorate all negative aspects of fence presence such as perches 
for avian predators, it does reduce the likelihood of collisions. 
Currently, data on the total extent (length and distribution) of 
existing fences and the amount of new fences being constructed are not 
available for the Bi-State area.
    Powerlines occur in all Bi-State PMUs and are a known threat to the 
greater sage-grouse, but the degree of effect varies by location. In 
the Pine Nut PMU, powerlines border the North Pine Nut lek complex on 
two sides (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 28). An additional line segment to 
the northwest of this complex is currently undergoing review by the BLM 
Carson City District. If this additional line is approved, powerlines 
will surround the greater sage-grouse habitat in the area. Of the four 
leks considered active in the area, the distance between the leks and 
the powerlines ranges from approximately 1.2 to 2.9 km (0.74 to 1.8 
mi). Additionally, one line currently bisects the relatively limited 
nesting habitat in

[[Page 13996]]

the area. Proximity to powerlines is negatively associated with greater 
sage-grouse habitat use, with avoidance of otherwise suitable breeding 
habitat (as indicated by the location of active leks), which may be the 
result of predator avoidance (e.g., ravens and raptors) (Bi-State Plan 
2004, p. 81; and see Powerlines discussion under Factor A in the GSG 
finding above).
    In the Desert Creek-Fales PMU, powerlines are one of several types 
of infrastructure development that impact greater sage-grouse through 
displacement and habitat fragmentation (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 54). 
Recent declines in populations near Burcham and Wheeler Flats in the 
California portion of the Desert Creek-Fales PMU may be related to 
construction of powerlines and associated land use activities (Bi-State 
Plan 2004, p. 54). This area continues to see urban development which 
will likely require additional distribution lines. In the Bodie PMU, 
utility lines are a current and future threat that affects multiple 
sites (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 81). In northern California, utility 
lines have a negative effect on lek attendance and strutting activity. 
Radio-tagged greater sage-grouse loss to avian predation increased as 
the distance to utility lines decreased (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 81). 
Common ravens are a capable nest predator and often nest on power poles 
or are found in association with roads. The Bi-State Plan also 
identifies numerous small-distribution utility lines in the Bodie PMU 
that are likely negatively affecting greater sage-grouse. The plan 
references the expected development of new lines to service private 
property developments. The BLM Bishop Field Office reported reduced 
activity at one lek adjacent to a recently developed utility line and 
suggested this may have been influenced by the development (Bi-State 
Plan 2004, p. 81). Since 2004, however, numbers at this lek have 
rebounded. Currently, there are no high-voltage utility lines in the 
Bodie PMU, nor are there any designated corridors for this use in 
existing land use plans (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 82).
    A high-voltage powerline currently fragments the Mount Grant PMU 
from north to south, with two to three additional smaller distribution 
lines extending from Hawthorne, Nevada, west to the California border. 
The larger north-south trending powerline is sited in a corridor that 
was recently adopted as part of the West-wide Energy Corridor 
Programmatic EIS (BLM/USFS 2009), thus future development of this 
corridor is anticipated. There are two leks that likely represent a 
single complex in proximity to this line segment that have been 
sporadically active over recent years. Whether this variation in active 
use is due to the powerline is not clear. Additionally, there is strong 
potential for geothermal energy development in the Mount Grant PMU that 
will require additional distribution lines to tie into the existing 
electrical grid (see Renewable Energy Development below; RETAAC 2007). 
Of significant concern will be additional distribution lines in 
proximity to the historic mining district of Aurora, Nevada, which 
supports the largest lek in the Mount Grant PMU and occurs about 2.5 km 
(1.5 mi) from the main north-south line.
    The Bi-State Plan (2004, p. 169) mentions three transmission lines 
in the South Mono PMU that may be impacting birds in the area on a year 
round basis including three leks that are in proximity to existing 
utility lines. Future geothermal development may also result in 
expansion of transmission lines in the South Mono PMU (Bi-State Plan 
2004, p. 169). Threats posed by powerlines to the White Mountains PMU 
are not currently imminent, although future development is possible.
    An extensive road network occurs throughout the Bi-State area. The 
type of road varies from paved, multilane highways to rough jeep trails 
but the majority of road miles are unpaved, dirt two-track roads. 
Traffic volume varies significantly, as does individual population 
exposure. For a comprehensive discussion of the effects of roads on 
greater sage-grouse see Roads under Factor A in the GSG finding above. 
In the Desert Creek-Fales PMU, roads are a risk to greater sage-grouse 
(Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 54). All leks in this PMU are in close 
proximity to dirt two-track roads. Seven of eight consistently occupied 
leks in recent years are in relatively close proximity (< 2.5 km (1.5 
mi)) to well- traveled highways. Although abundant, roads were not 
presented as a specific risk factor for the Pine Nut, Bodie, or Mount 
Grant PMUs during the development of their respective risk assessments 
(Bi-State Plan 2004). Large portions of these PMUs are not accessible, 
due to heavy winter snow until early summer after the completion of the 
breeding season and many of the roads are not frequently traveled. 
However, several leks in the Bodie PMU are in proximity to well-
maintained and traveled roads.
    In the South Mono PMU, roads are recognized as a risk factor that 
affects greater sage-grouse habitat and populations (Bi-State Plan 
2004, p. 169). A variety of roads in this area have access to many 
significant lek sites. In Long Valley, lek sites are accessible via 
well maintained gravel roads. Recreational use of these areas is high 
and road traffic is substantial. Two lek sites that were in close 
proximity (< 300 m (1,000 ft)) to Highway 120 are thought to be 
extirpated although the exact cause of extirpation is unknown. Roads in 
the White Mountains PMU may negatively impact greater sage-grouse 
populations and their habitats, and construction of new roads in this 
PMU will fragment occupied or potential habitat for the species (Bi-
State Plan 2004, pp. 120, 124).
    Although greater sage-grouse have been killed due to vehicle 
collisions in the Bi-State area (Wiechmann 2008, p. 3), the greater 
threat with respect to roads is their influence on predator movement, 
invasion by nonnative annual grasses, and human disturbance. Currently 
in the Bi-State area, all federal lands except those managed by the 
BLM's Carson City District Office have restrictions limiting vehicular 
travel to designated routes. The lands where these restrictions apply 
account for roughly 1.6 million ha (4 million ac) or 86 percent of the 
land base in the Bi-State area. Both the Inyo and Humboldt-Toiyabe 
National Forests have recently mapped existing roads and trails on 
Forest Lands in the Bi-State area as part of a USFS Travel Management 
planning effort including identification of designated routes (Inyo 
National Forest 2009; Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest 2009). These 
planning efforts will most directly influence the South Mono, Desert 
Creek-Fales, and Mount Grant PMUs; however, the degree to which they 
will influence greater sage-grouse populations is unclear. While the 
planning effort of the Inyo National Forest has, and the planning 
effort of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest will likely add many 
miles of unauthorized routes to the National Forest System, these 
routes have already been in use for decades and any future negative 
impacts will be the result of an increase in use of these routes.
    Starting in 2005, the BLM's Bishop Field Office implemented 
seasonal closures of several roads in proximity to three lek complexes 
in the Long Valley area of the South Mono PMU during the spring 
breeding season as part of a greater sage-grouse management strategy 
(BLM 2005c, p. 3). The Field Office is also rehabilitating several 
miles of redundant routes to consolidate use and minimize habitat 
degradation and disturbance for these same lek complexes.

[[Page 13997]]

Summary: Infrastructure - Fences, Powerlines, and Roads
    Existing fences, powerlines, and roads fragment and degrade greater 
sage-grouse habitat, and contribute to direct mortality through 
collisions. Additionally, new fences, powerlines, and roads increase 
predators and invasive plants that increase fire risk and or displace 
native sagebrush vegetation. In the Bi-State area, all of these linear 
features adversely affect each of the PMUs both directly and indirectly 
to varying degrees. However, we do not have consistent and comparable 
information on miles of existing or new fences, powerlines and roads, 
or densities of these features within PMUs for the Bi-State area as a 
whole. Wisdom et al. (in press, p. 58) reported that across the entire 
range of the greater sage-grouse species, the mean distance to highways 
and transmission lines for extirpated populations was approximately 5 
km (3.1 mi) or less. In the Bi-State area between 35 and 45 percent of 
annually occupied leks, which are indicative of the presence of nesting 
habitat, are within this distance to state or federal highways and 
between 40 and 50 percent are within this distance to existing 
transmission lines.
    Lek counts suggest that greater sage-grouse populations in Long 
Valley, and to a lesser degree Bodie Hills, have been relatively stable 
over the past 15 years. The remaining populations in the Bi-State area 
appear considerably less stable. Research on adult and yearling 
survival suggests that annual survival is relatively low in the 
northern half of the Bi-State area (Farinha 2008, unpublished data). 
Annual survival was lowest in birds captured in association with the 
Wheeler and Burcham Flat leks in the California portion of the Desert 
Creek-Fales PMU, an area in very close proximity to Highway 395 and 
several transmission lines. Research conducted on nest success, 
however, shows an opposite trend from that of adult survival, with 
overall nest success relatively high in the northern half of the Bi-
State area and lower in the southern half (Kolada 2007, p. 52). In Long 
Valley, where nest success was lowest, the combination of linear 
features (infrastructure) and an increased food source (Benton Crossing 
landfill) for avian predators may be influencing nest survival. Given 
current and future development (based on known energy resources), the 
Mount Grant, Desert Creek-Fales, Pine Nut, and South Mono PMUs are 
likely to be the most directly influenced by new powerlines and 
associated infrastructure.
    Greater sage-grouse in the Bi-State area have been affected by 
roads and associated human disturbance for many years. The geographic 
extent, density, type, and frequency of disturbance have changed over 
time, and the impact has likely increased with the proliferation of 
off-highway vehicles. There are no indications that the increasing 
trend of these activities will diminish in the near future.

Mining

    Mineral extraction has a long history throughout the Bi-State area. 
Currently, the PMUs with the greatest exposure are Bodie, Mount Grant, 
Pine Nut, and South Mono (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 89, 137, 178). 
Although mining represents a year round risk to greater sage-grouse, 
direct loss of key seasonal habitats or population disturbances during 
critical seasonal periods are of greatest impact. In the Bodie PMU, 
mining impacts to the ecological conditions were most pronounced in the 
late 1800's and early 1900's when as many as 10,000 people inhabited 
the area. The area is still open to mineral development, and 
exploration is likely to continue into the future (Bi-State Plan 2004, 
pp. 89-90). In the Bodie Hills, current mining operations are 
restricted to small-scale gold and silver exploration and sand and 
gravel extraction activities with limited impacts on greater sage-
grouse (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 90). An exploratory drilling operation 
is currently authorized in the Bodie Hills near the historic Paramount 
Mine, approximately 8 km (5 mi) north of Bodie, California. The 
proposed action may influence movement and use of important seasonal 
habitats near Big Flat. If subsequent development occurs, restricted 
use of or movement through this area will adversely influence 
connectivity between the Bodie and Mount Grant PMUs.
    The Mount Grant and Pine Nut PMUs also have a long history of 
mining activity. Activity in the Mount Grant PMU has typically 
consisted of open pit mining. Two open pit mines exist, one of which is 
currently active. It is likely that mining will continue and may 
increase during periods when prices for precious metals are high, 
negatively effecting the sage-grouse populations in those areas. Mining 
in the Mount Grant PMU is largely concentrated around the Aurora 
historic mining district. This area contains the largest remaining lek 
in the PMU, which is located on private land. In the Pine Nut PMU, most 
mining activity is confined in woodland habitat but there is some 
overlap with sage-grouse habitats.
Summary: Mining
    The effect of mining is not evenly distributed throughout the Bi-
State area. It is greatest in the Mount Grant and Bodie PMUs where 
mining impacts to habitat may decrease the persistence of greater sage-
grouse in the Mount Grant PMU Aurora lek complex area. This area 
represents a significant stronghold for the Mount Grant PMU and serves 
as a potential connection between breeding populations in the Bodie 
Hills to the west with breeding populations occurring further east in 
the Wassuk Range located on the eastern edge of the Mount Grant PMU. 
Further mineral extraction in either of these PMUs will negatively 
influence the spatial extent of the breeding population occurring in 
the Bodie Hills and the long term persistence of these populations.

Energy Development

    Although energy development and the associated infrastructure was 
identified as a risk for greater sage-grouse occurring in the Bi-State 
area (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 30, 178), the risk assessment preceded 
the current heightened interest in renewable energy and underestimated 
the threats to the species. Several locations in the Bi-State area have 
suitable wind resources, but currently only the Pine Nut Mountains have 
active leases that overlap sage-grouse distribution. Approximately 
3,696 ha (9,135 ac) have been leased from the BLM Carson City District 
and are being evaluated for wind development. The areas under lease are 
on the main ridgeline of the Pine Nut Mountains extending from Sunrise 
Pass near the Lyon and Douglas County line south to the Mount Siegel 
area. The area is a mix of shrub and woodland habitats containing year-
round greater sage-grouse habitat. The ridgeline occurs between the 
north and south greater sage-grouse populations in the Pine Nut PMU. 
The area was recently designated as a renewable energy ``wind zone'' by 
Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons' Renewable Energy Transmission Access 
Advisory Committee (RETAAC; RETAAC 2007, Figure 2). Development of the 
Pine Nut area will have a significant impact on the connectivity within 
this small population and greatly restrict access to nesting and 
brooding habitat. Additional areas located in sage-grouse habitat may 
have suitable wind resources and could be developed in the future.
    In the South Mono PMU there are two geothermal plants located on 
private land immediately east of U.S. 395 at

[[Page 13998]]

Casa Diablo. These are the only operating geothermal plants in the Bi-
State area. Within the South Mono PMU about 3,884 ha (9,600 ac) are 
under geothermal lease. The leased areas are located to the west of 
U.S. 395 and immediately north of Highway 203 and largely outside of 
occupied sage-grouse habitat.
    Within the Desert Creek-Fales PMU, about 2,071 ha (5,120 ac) on the 
north end of the Pine Grove Hills near Mount Etna are leased for 
geothermal development. The leases in this area are valid through 2017. 
Several locations within the Mount Grant PMU are also under current 
leases and several more areas are currently proposed for leasing. Based 
on location and vegetation community, two of the leased areas in the 
Mount Grant PMU are of great importance to sage-grouse. Four sections 
(1,035 ha, 2,560 ac) are leased approximately 1.6-4.8 km (1-3 mi) 
southeast of the confluence between Rough Creek and the East Walker 
River near the Lyon and Mineral County line on lands managed by the 
USFS. This area is considered year-round greater sage-grouse habitat 
with from one to three active leks in proximity. Additionally, 
approximately 13 sections (3,366 ha, 8,320 ac) are leased around the 
Aurora historic mining district near the Nevada and California border. 
Much of this area is dominated by pinyon-juniper woodlands, but at 
least three sections (776 ha, 1,920 ac) contain sagebrush communities 
and there is one known lek in close proximity. The leased sections 
within the Desert Creek-Fales and Mount Grant PMUs also fall within the 
boundary delineated for geothermal development proposed by RETAAC 
(RETAAC 2007, Figure 2).
Summary: Energy Development
    The likelihood of renewable energy facility development in the Bi-
State area is high. There is strong support for energy diversification 
in both Nevada and California, and the energy industry considers the 
available resources in the area to warrant investment (RETAAC 2007, p. 
8). Greater sage-grouse habitat in the Pine Nut and Mount Grant PMUs 
will likely be most affected by facility and infrastructure 
development. Given this anticipated development, additional 
fragmentation and isolation as well as some degree of range contraction 
will occur that will significantly affect the Pine Nut and Mount Grant 
PMUs. Renewable energy development is not evenly distributed across the 
entire Bi-State area, but it will likely be a significant threat to 
populations in the Pine Nut and Mount Grant PMUs.

Grazing

    In the Bi-State area, all PMUs are subject to livestock grazing 
with the majority of ``public'' allotments allocated to cattle and 
sheep (Bi-State Plan 2004). Determining how grazing impacts greater 
sage-grouse habitat and populations is complicated. There are data to 
support both beneficial and detrimental aspects of grazing (Klebenow 
1981, p. 122; Beck and Mitchell 2000, p. 993), suggesting that the risk 
of livestock grazing to greater sage-grouse is dependent on site-
specific management.
    Kolada (2007, p. 52) reports nest success of greater sage-grouse in 
the Bi-State area on average to be as high as any results reported 
across the range of the species. However, nest success is varied among 
PMUs, and residual grass cover did not appear to be as significant a 
factor to nest success as in other western U.S. locations. These 
findings suggest that grazing in the Bi-State area may not be strongly 
influencing this portion of the bird's life history.
    Important mesic meadow sites are relatively limited outside of Long 
Valley and the South Mono PMU, especially north of Mono Lake (Bi-State 
Plan 2004, pp. 17, 65, 130). This limitation may influence greater 
sage-grouse population growth rates. Although most of the grazed lands 
in the Bi-State area are managed by the BLM and USFS under rangeland 
management practices and are guided by agency land use plans, much of 
the suitable mesic habitats are located on private lands. Given their 
private ownership assessing the condition of these sites is difficult 
and conditions are not well known. Although there are federal grazing 
allotments that are exhibiting adverse impacts from livestock grazing, 
such as the Churchill Allotment in the Pine Nut PMU (Axtell 2008, pers. 
comm.), most allotments in the Bi-State area are classified as being in 
fair to good condition (Axtell 2008, pers. comm.; Murphy 2008, pers. 
comm.; Nelson 2008, pers. comm.). We have no information indicating how 
allotment condition classifications used by the BLM and USFS correlate 
with greater sage-grouse population health.
    Feral horses are present in the Bi-State area. Connelly et al. 
(2004, pp. 7-36-7-37) stated that areas occupied by horses have lower 
grass, shrub, and total vegetative cover and that horse alteration of 
spring or other mesic areas may be a concern with regard to greater 
sage-grouse brood rearing. The most significant impact from feral 
horses has occurred in the Mount Grant and Pine Nut PMUs (Axtell 2008, 
pers. comm.). The Bodie PMU has also been impacted by feral horses and 
these animals pose a risk of disturbance to the 7-Troughs lek 
population (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 86-87). The intent of the agencies 
involved is to maintain horse numbers at or below those established for 
the herd management areas (HMA) and wild horse territories (WHT). In 
2003, the BLM captured and removed 26 horses from the Powell Mountain 
WHT located in the Mount Grant PMU and 7 horses from the Bodie PMU. 
Currently there are relatively low numbers of horses (10 to 20) in the 
Bodie PMU. The Bodie Hills have no defined HMA/WHT but the horses 
present are likely coming from the Powell Mountain WHT located in the 
Mount Grant PMU (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 86-87). In 2007, the USFS took 
an additional 87 horses off the Powell Mountain WHT (Murphy 2008, pers. 
comm.). The herd management level set for the Powell Mountain WHT is 35 
individuals. Although management of feral horse populations is an 
ongoing issue, local land managers consider it to be controllable given 
sufficient funding and public support.
Summary: Grazing
    There are localized areas of habitat degradation attributable to 
grazing that indirectly and cumulatively affect greater sage-grouse. 
Overall population estimates, while variable from year-to-year, show no 
discernable trend attributable to grazing. The impact on ecosystems by 
different ungulate taxa may have a combined negative influence on 
greater sage-grouse habitats (Beever and Aldridge in press, p. 20). 
Cattle, horses, mule deer, and antelope each use the sagebrush 
ecosystem somewhat differently and the combination of multiple species 
may produce a different result than simply more of a single species. 
Greater sage-grouse habitat in the Pine Nut PMU, as well as limited 
portions of the Bodie PMU, is affected by grazing management practices 
and has a negative effect on sage-grouse in those areas. Overall, the 
available data do not provide evidence that grazing by domestic or 
feral animals is a major impact to habitat of greater sage-grouse 
throughout the entire Bi-State area. However, the loss or degradation 
of habitat due to grazing contributes to the risk of extirpation of 
some local populations, which in turn contributes to increased risk to 
the persistence of the Bi-State DPS.

Fire

    As discussed above, in the GSG finding, changes in the fire ecology 
that result in an altered wildfire regime are a present and future risk 
in all PMUs in

[[Page 13999]]

the Bi-State area (Bi-State Plan 2004). A reduction in fire occurrence 
has facilitated the expansion of woodlands into montane sagebrush 
communities. In the Pine Nut and Desert Creek-Fales PMUs this has 
resulted in a loss of sagebrush habitat (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 20, 
39), while in other locations such as the Bodie and Mount Grant PMUs 
the most significant impact of conifer expansion is the additional 
fragmentation of sage-grouse habitat and isolation of the greater sage-
grouse populations (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 95-96, 133).
    Invasion by annual grasses (e.g., Bromus tectorum) can lead to a 
shortening of the fire frequency that is difficult to reverse. Often 
invasive species become established or become apparent only following a 
fire or similar disturbance event. In the Bi-State area, there has been 
little recent fire activity (Finn et al. 2004, http://wildfire.cr.usgs.gov/firehistory/data.html). One exception is in the 
southern portion of the Pine Nut PMU where B. tectorum has readily 
invaded a recent burn in the Minnehaha Canyon area. In 2007, the Adrian 
Fire burned about 5,600 ha (14,000 ac) of important nesting habitat at 
the north end of the Pine Nut PMU. Although there does appear to be 
native grass establishment in the burn, B. tectorum is present and 
recovery of this habitat will likely be slow or impossible (Axtell 
2008, pers. comm.). In 1996, a wildfire burned in the center of the 
Pine Nut PMU, in important brood rearing habitat. The area is 
recovering and has little invasive annual grass establishment. However, 
after 15 years the burned area has very limited sagebrush cover. While 
birds still use the meadow habitat, the number of individuals in the 
Pine Nut PMU is small. It is not known to what degree this loss of 
habitat has influenced population dynamics in the area but it is likely 
that it has and will continue to be a factor in the persistence of the 
Pine Nut population given its small size. Across the remainder of the 
Bi-State area wildfires occur on an annual basis, however, impacts to 
sagebrush habitats have been limited to date. Most species of sagebrush 
are killed by fire (West 1983, p. 341; Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 17; 
West and Young 2000, p. 259), and historic fire-return intervals were 
as long as 350 years, depending on sagebrush type and environmental 
conditions (Baker in press, p. 16). Natural sagebrush recolonization in 
burned areas depends on the presence of adjacent live plants for a seed 
source or on the seed bank, if present (Miller and Eddleman 2000, p. 
17), and requires decades for full recovery.
Summary: Fire
    Within the Bi-State area, wildfire is a potential threat to greater 
sage-grouse habitat in all PMUs. To date few large landscape scale 
fires have occurred and we have not yet seen changes to the fire cycle 
(e.g., shorter) due to invasion by nonnative annual grasses. The BLM 
and USFS manage the area under what is essentially a full-suppression 
fire-fighting policy given adequate resources. Based on the available 
information, wildfire is not currently a significant threat to the Bi-
State DPS of the greater sage-grouse. However, the future threat of 
wildfire, given the fragmented nature and small size of the populations 
within the DPS, would have a significant effect on the overall 
viability of the DPS based on its effects on the habitat in the Pine 
Nut PMU.

Invasive Species, Noxious Weeds, and Pinyon-Juniper Encroachment

    A variety of nonnative, invasive plant species are present in all 
PMUs that comprise the Bi-State area, with Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) 
being of greatest concern. (For a general discussion on the effects of 
non-native and invasive plant species, please see Invasive plants under 
Factor A in the GSG finding above).
    Wisdom et al. (2003, pp. 4-3 to 4-13) assessed the risk of Bromus 
tectorum displacement of native vegetation for Nevada and reported that 
44 percent of existing sagebrush habitat is either at moderate or high 
risk of displacement and correspondingly 56 percent of sagebrush 
habitat is at low risk of displacement. In conjunction with Wisdom et 
al. (2003), Rowland et al. (2003, p. 40) found that 48 percent of 
greater sage-grouse habitat on lands administered by the BLM Carson 
City Field Office is at low risk of B. tectorum replacement, about 39 
percent is at moderate risk, and about 13 percent is at high risk. Both 
assessments, however, included large portions of land outside the Bi-
State area. Peterson (2003), in association with the Nevada Natural 
Heritage Program, estimated percent cover of B. tectorum in 
approximately the northern half of the Bi-State area using satellite 
data. Land managers and this satellite data assessment indicate that B. 
tectorum is present throughout the Bi-State area but percent cover is 
low. Conversion to an annual grass dominated community is limited to 
only a few locations. Areas of greatest concern are along main travel 
corridors and in the Pine Nut, Bodie, and Mount Grant PMUs.
    Bromus tectorum out-competes beneficial understory plant species 
and can dramatically alter fire ecology (See Wildfire discussion 
above). In the Bi-State area, essential sage-grouse habitat is often 
highly concentrated and a fire event would have significant adverse 
effects to sage-grouse populations. Land managers have had little 
success preventing B. tectorum invasion in the West. Occurrence of B. 
tectorum in the Bi-State area is apparent at elevations above that 
thought to be relatively immune based on the grass's ecology. This 
suggests that few locations in the Bi-State area will be safe from B. 
tectorum invasion in the future. Climate change may strongly influence 
the outcome of these interactions; the available data suggest that 
future conditions will be most influenced by precipitation (Bradley 
2008, p. 9) (Also see Climate Change discussion below).
    Pinyon-juniper encroachment into sagebrush habitat is a threat 
occurring in the Bi-State area (USFS 1966, p. 22). Pinyon-juniper 
encroachment is occurring to some degree in all PMUs, with the greatest 
loss and fragmentation of important sagebrush habitat in the Pine Nut, 
Desert Creek-Fales, Mount Grant, and Bodie PMUs (Bi-State Plan 2004, 
pp. 20, 39, 96, 133, 137, 167). No data exist for the Bi-State area 
that quantify the amount of sagebrush habitat lost to encroachment, or 
that clearly demonstrate pinyon-juniper encroachment has caused greater 
sage-grouse populations to decline. However, land managers consider it 
a significant threat impacting habitat quality, quantity and 
connectivity and increasing the risk of avian predation to sage-grouse 
populations (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 20, 39, 96) and several previously 
occupied locations are thought to have been abandoned due to 
encroachment (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 20, 133). Management treatment of 
pinyon-juniper is feasible but is often constrained by competing 
resource values and cost. Several thinning projects have been completed 
in the Bi-State area, accounting for approximately 1,618 ha (4,000 ac) 
of woodland removed.
Summary: Invasive Species, Noxious Weeds, Pinyon-Juniper Encroachment
    While the current occurrence of Bromus tectorum in the Bi-State 
area is relatively low, it is likely the species will continue to 
expand and adversely impact sagebrush habitats and the greater sage-
grouse by out-competing beneficial understory plant species and 
altering the fire ecology of the area. Alteration of the fire ecology 
of the Bi-State area is of greatest concern (see Fire

[[Page 14000]]

discussion above). Land managers have had little success preventing B. 
tectorum invasion in the West and elevational barriers to invasion are 
not apparent in the Bi-State area. While climate change may strongly 
influence the outcome of these interactions, the available data suggest 
that future conditions will be most influenced by precipitation 
(Bradley 2008, p. 9). Bromus tectorum is a serious threat to the 
sagebrush shrub community and will be detrimental to greater sage-
grouse in the Bi-State area. Encroachment of sagebrush habitats by 
woodlands is occurring throughout the Bi-State area and continued 
isolation and reduction of suitable habitats will influence both short- 
and long-term persistence of sage-grouse.

Climate Change

    Global climate change is expected to affect the Bi-State area 
(Lenihan et al. 2003, p. 1674; Diffenbaugh et al. 2008, p. 3; Lenihan 
et al. 2008, p. S223). Impacts are not well defined and precise 
predictions are problematic due to the coarse nature of the climate 
models and relatively small geographic extent of the area. In general, 
model predictions tend to agree on an increasing temperature regime 
(Cayan et al. 2008, pp. S38-S40). Model predictions for the Bi-State 
area, using the mid-range ensemble emissions scenario, show an overall 
increase in annual temperatures, with some areas projected to 
experience mean annual temperature increases of 1 to 3 degrees 
Fahrenheit over the next 50 years (TNC Climate Wizard, 2009). Of 
greater uncertainty is the influence of climate change on local 
precipitation (Diffenbaugh et al. 2005, p. 15776; Cayan et al. 2008, p. 
S28). This variable is of major importance to greater sage-grouse, as 
timing and quantity of precipitation greatly influences plant community 
composition and extent, specifically forb production, which in turn 
affects nest and chick survival. Across the west, models predict a 
general increase in precipitation (Neilson et al. 2005, p. 150), 
although scaled-down predictions for the Bi-State area show an overall 
decrease in annual precipitation ranging from under 1 inch up to 3 
inches over the next 50 years (TNC Climate Wizard 2009).
    A warming trend in the mountains of western North America is 
expected to decrease snow pack, accelerate spring runoff, and reduce 
summer stream flows (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 
2007, p. 11). Specifically in the Sierra Nevada, March temperatures 
have warmed over the last 50 years resulting in more rain than snow 
precipitation, which translates into earlier snowmelt. This trend is 
likely to continue and accelerate into the future (Kapnick and Hall 
2009, p. 11). This change in the type of precipitation and the timing 
of snow melt will influence reproductive success by altering the 
availability of understory vegetation and meadow habitats. Increased 
summer temperature is also expected to increase the frequency and 
intensity of wildfires. Westerling et al. (2009, pp. 10-11) modeled 
potential wildfire occurrences as a function of land surface 
characteristics in California. Their model predicts an overall increase 
in the number of wildfires and acreage burned by 2085 (Westerling et 
al. 2009, pp. 17-18). Increases in the number of sites susceptible to 
invasive annual grass and increases in WNv outbreaks are reasonably 
anticipated (IPCC 2007, p. 13; Lenihan et al. 2008, p. S227). Reduction 
in summer precipitation is expected to produce the most suitable 
condition for B. tectorum. Recent warming is linked, in terrestrial 
ecosystems, to poleward and upward shifts in plant and animal ranges 
(IPCC 2007, p. 2).
    While it is reasonable to assume the Bi-State area will experience 
vegetation changes, we do not know how climate change will ultimately 
effect this greater sage-grouse population. It is unlikely that the 
current extent of shrub habitat will remain unchanged, whether the 
shift is toward a grass or woodland dominated system is unknown. Either 
result will negatively affect greater sage-grouse in the area. 
Additionally, it is also reasonable to assume that changes in 
atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, temperature, precipitation, and 
timing of snowmelt, will act synergistically with other threats such as 
wildfire and invasive species to produce yet unknown but likely 
negative effects to greater sage-grouse habitat and populations in the 
Bi-State area.
Summary of Factor A
    Destruction and modification of greater sage-grouse habitat is 
occurring and will continue in the Bi-State area due to urbanization, 
infrastructure (e.g., fences, powerlines, and roads), mining, renewable 
energy development, grazing, wildfire, and invasive plant species. At 
the individual PMU level the impact and timing of these threats vary. 
The Pine-Nut PMU has the lowest number of individuals of all Bi-State 
area (approximately 89 to 107 in 2009) PMUs and is threatened by 
urbanization, grazing management, wildfire, invasive species, and 
energy development. The threats to habitat in this PMU are likely to 
continue in the future which may result in continued declines in the 
populations over the short term.
    The Desert-Creek Fales PMU contains the greatest number of sage-
grouse of all Bi-State PMUs in Nevada (approximately 512 to 575 in 
2009). The most significant threats in this PMU are wildfire, invasive 
species (specifically conifer encroachment), urbanization, and 
fragmentation. Private lands purchase in California and pinyon-juniper 
forest removal in Nevada reduced some of the threats at two important 
locations within this PMU. However, a recent proposal for a land parcel 
subdivision in proximity to Burcham Flat, California, threatens nesting 
habitat and one of the two remaining leks in the area. The imminence of 
these threats varies, however, with urbanization and fragmentation 
being the most imminent threats to habitat in this PMU.
    The Mount Grant PMU has an estimated population of 376 to 427 
individuals based on 2009 surveys. Threats in this PMU include 
renewable energy development and mining associated infrastructure. 
Additional threats include infrastructure (fences, powerlines, and 
roads), conifer encroachment, fragmentation, and impacts to mesic 
habitat on private land from grazing and water table alterations. These 
threats currently fragment, and may in the future continue to fragment 
habitat in this PMU and reduce or eliminate connectivity to populations 
in the Bodie Hills PMU to the west.
    The Bodie and South Mono PMUs are the core of greater sage-grouse 
populations in the Bi-State area, and have estimated populations of 829 
to 927 and 906 to 1,012 individuals based on 2009 surveys, 
respectively. These two PMUs comprise approximately 65 percent of the 
total population in the Bi-State area. Future loss or conversion of 
limited brood rearing habitat on private lands in the Bodie PMU is a 
significant threat to the population. The threat of future wildfire and 
subsequent habitat loss of conversion to annual grassland is of great 
concern. Threats from existing and future infrastructure, grazing, 
mineral extraction, and conifer encroachment are also present but 
believed to have a relatively lower impact. The most significant threat 
in the South Mono PMU involves impacts associated with human activity 
in the forms of urbanization and recreation. Other threats in this PMU 
include existing and future infrastructure, mining activities, and 
wildfire, but pose a relatively lower risk to habitat and the DPS.
    Information on threats in White Mountains PMU is limited. The area 
is

[[Page 14001]]

remote and difficult to access and most data are in the form of random 
observations. Threats to the habitat in this PMU are low due to the 
remote location. Activities such as grazing, recreation, and invasive 
species may be influencing the population but this is speculation. 
Potential future actions in the form of transmission line, road, and 
mineral developments are threats that could lead to the loss of the 
remote but contiguous nature of the habitat.
    Predicting the impact of global climate change on sage-grouse 
populations is challenging due to the relatively small spatial extent 
of the Bi-State area. It is likely that vegetation communities will not 
remain static and the amount of sagebrush shrub habitat will decrease. 
Further, increased variation in drought cycles due to climate change 
will likely place additional stress on sage-grouse habitat and 
populations. While greater sage-grouse evolved with drought, drought 
has been correlated with population declines and shown to be a limiting 
factor to population growth in areas where habitats have been 
compromised.
    Taken cumulatively, the habitat-based threats in all PMUs will 
likely act to fragment and isolate populations of the DPS in the Bi-
State area. Over the short term (10 years) the persistence of the Pine 
Nut PMU is not likely. Populations occurring in the Desert Creek-Fales 
and Mount Grant PMUs are under significant pressure and continued 
threats to habitat will likely increase likelihood of extirpation. The 
Bodie and South Mono PMUs are larger and more stable and should 
continue to persist. While the South Mono PMU appears to be an isolated 
entity, the Bodie PMU interacts with the Mount Grant and the Desert 
Creek-Fales PMUs, and the continued loss of habitat in these other 
locations will likely influence the population dynamics and possibly 
the persistence of the breeding population occurring in the Bodie PMU. 
The White Mountain PMU is likely already an isolated population and 
does not currently or would in the future contribute to the South Mono 
PMU.
    Therefore, based on our review of the best scientific and 
commercial data available, we conclude threats from the present or 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of greater sage-
grouse habitat or range are significant to the Bi-State DPS of the 
greater sage-grouse.

Factor B: Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

Hunting

    The only known assessment of hunting effects specific to the Bi-
State area is an analysis conducted by Gibson (1998) for the Bodie 
Hills and Long Valley lek complexes. This assessment indicated that 
populations in the South Mono PMU (Long Valley area) were depressed by 
hunting from the late 1960's to 2000 but the Bodie Hills population was 
not. The results of Gibson (1998) influenced the CDFG management of the 
Long Valley population through the limitation of allocated hunting 
permits (Gardner 2008, pers. comm.).
    Prior to 1983, California had no limit on hunting permits in the 
area which covers the Bodie Hills portion of the Bodie PMU (North Mono 
Hunt Area) and the Long Valley portion of the South Mono PMU (South 
Mono Hunt Area). In 1983, CDFG closed the hunting season (Bi-State Plan 
2004, pp. 73-74); however, it was reopened in 1987 when CDFG instituted 
a permit system that resulted in limiting the number of permits 
(hundreds) issued annually. In 1998, the number of permits issued was 
significantly reduced (Bi-State Plan 2004, pp. 74-75; Gardner 2008, 
pers. comm.).
    From 1998 to the present, the number of hunting permits issued by 
the CDFG has ranged from 10 to 35 per year for the North Mono and South 
Mono Hunt Areas (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 173; CDFG 2008). In 2008, 25 
single bird harvest permits were issued for the North Mono Hunt Area, 
and 35 single bird harvest permits were issued for the South Mono Hunt 
Area (CDFG 2008). Assuming all permits were filled, and comparing these 
estimated harvest levels to the low spring population estimates for the 
Bodie and South Mono PMUs for 2008, there was an estimated loss of 
about 4 percent for each population (25 of 573 and 35 of 838 for Bodie 
PMU and South Mono PMU, respectively). These harvest levels are within 
the harvest rate of 10 percent or less recommended by Connelly et al. 
(2000a, p. 976). The CDFG evaluated the effect of their greater sage-
grouse hunting season for California as part of an overall assessment 
of the effects of their resident game bird hunting seasons (CDFG 2002). 
They concluded that the removal of individual animals from resident 
game bird populations statewide (including greater sage-grouse) will 
not significantly reduce those populations and will therefore not have 
a significant environmental impact on resident game birds (CDFG 2002, 
p. 7).
    Hunting (gun) has been closed in the Nevada portion of the Bi-State 
area since 1999 (NDOW 2006, p. 2). The falconry season in this area was 
closed in 2003 (Espinosa 2006b, pers. comm.). The Washoe Tribe has 
authority over hunting on tribal allotments in the Pine Nut PMU. There 
are anecdotal reports of harvest by Tribal members but currently the 
Washoe Tribe Hunting and Fishing Commission does not issue harvest 
permits for greater sage-grouse nor are historical harvest records 
available (J. Warpea 2009, pers. comm.).
    Neither the CDFG nor NDOW had any information on poaching of 
greater sage-grouse or the accidental taking of this species by hunters 
pursuing other upland game birds with open seasons for the Bi-State 
area. Gibson (2001, p. 4) does mention that a low level of known 
poaching occurred in Long Valley. Hunting has suppressed some 
populations in the Bi-State area historically. Harvest has been 
estimated to be as much as 4 percent of the population in Bodie and 
South Mono PMUs. While this may be considered to be at levels 
considered compensatory and within harvest guidelines, in Long Valley 
it likely continues to impact population growth.

Recreational, Scientific, and Religious Use

    The CDFG and NDOW provide public direction to leks and guidelines 
to minimize viewing disturbance on a case-by-case basis. Overall, lek 
locations in the Bi-State area are well known and some are frequently 
visited. Disturbance is possible; however, we have no data to suggest 
that non-consumptive recreational uses of greater sage-grouse are 
impacting local populations in the Bi-State area (Gardner 2008, pers. 
comm.; Espinosa 2008, pers. comm.). We are not aware of any studies of 
lek viewing or other forms of non-consumptive recreational uses related 
to greater sage-grouse population trends. We have no information that 
this type of recreational activity is having a negative impact on local 
populations or contributing to declining population trends of greater 
sage-grouse in the Bi-State area.
    Regarding possible effects from scientific studies of greater sage-
grouse, in the past 5 years, approximately 200 greater sage-grouse have 
been captured and handled by researchers. Casazza et al. (2009, p. 45) 
indicates that, in 3 years of study of radio-marked greater sage-
grouse, the deaths of four birds in the Bi-State area were attributed 
to researchers.

[[Page 14002]]

Summary of Factor B
    Overall in the Bi-State area hunting is limited to such a degree 
that it is not apparently restrictive to overall population growth. 
However, hunting was shown to limit the population of greater sage-
grouse occurring within the South Mono PMU historically and even at its 
current reduced level still likely suppresses this population. While 
hunting in the Bodie PMU appears to be compensatory, given this PMU's 
connection with the neighboring and non-hunted Mount Grant PMU and the 
current declines apparent in the Mount Grant population, additional 
evaluation of this hunting across jurisdictional boundaries is 
warranted. We have no information indicating poaching, non-consumptive 
uses, or scientific use significantly impact Bi-State greater sage-
grouse populations, either separately of collectively. Therefore, based 
on our review of the best scientific and commercial data available we 
find that overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes is not a significant threat to the Bi-State DPS of 
the greater sage-grouse.

Factor C: Disease and Predation

Disease

    West Nile virus (WNv) is the only identified disease that warrants 
concern for greater sage-grouse in the Bi-State area. Small 
populations, such as those in the Bi-State area, are at higher risk of 
extirpation due to their low numbers and the additive mortality WNv 
causes (see Disease discussion under Factor C in the GSG finding, 
above). Larger populations may be better able ``absorb'' losses due to 
WNv simply due to their size (Walker and Naugle in press, p. 25). The 
documented loss of four greater sage-grouse to WNv in the Bodie (n=3) 
and Desert Creek-Fales (n=1) PMUs (Casazza et al. 2009, p. 45) has 
heightened our concern about the impact of this disease in the Bi-State 
area, especially given the small population sizes. These mortalities 
represented four percent of the total greater sage-grouse mortalities 
observed, but additional reported mortality due to predation could have 
been due in part to disease-weakened individuals. Mortality caused by 
disease acts in a density independent, or additive, manner. While four 
percent may not appear substantial, the fact that it can act 
independently of habitat and has the potential to suppress a population 
below carrying capacity makes disease of a greater concern.
    Annual and spatial variations in temperature and precipitation 
influence WNv outbreaks. Much of the Bi-State area occurs at relatively 
high elevations with short summers, and these conditions likely limit 
the extent of mosquito and WNv occurrence, or at least may limit 
outbreaks to the years with above-average temperatures. The Bi-State 
area represents the highest known elevation at which greater sage-
grouse have been infected with WNv, about 2,300 m (7,545 ft; Walker and 
Naugle in press, p. 12). Casazza et al. (2009) captured birds in the 
White Mountains, South Mono, Bodie, and California portion of the 
Desert Creek-Fales PMUs, and mortality rates at these locations may not 
be representative of the remainder of the Bi-State area, which occurs 
at lower elevations on average. The WNv was first documented in the 
State of California in 2003 (Reisen et al. 2004, p. 1369), thus, the 
impact of the virus during the 2003-2005 study years may be an 
underrepresentation of current conditions. From 2004 to 2008, the U.S. 
Geological Survey reported 79 cases of WNv in birds (species undefined) 
from Mono, Douglas, Lyon, and Mineral Counties (http://diseasemaps.usgs.gov), accessed February 27, 2009).
    The extent that WNv influences greater sage-grouse population 
dynamics in the Bi-State area is uncertain, and barring a severe 
outbreak, natural variations in survival and reproductive rates that 
drive population growth may be masking the true impact of the disease. 
However, the dramatic fluctuations in recent lek counts in the Desert 
Creek-Fales and Mount Grant PMUs may indicate past outbreaks. Based on 
our current knowledge of the virus, the relatively high elevations and 
cold temperatures common in much of the Bi-State area likely reduce the 
chance of a population-wide outbreak. However, there may be localized 
areas of significant outbreaks that could influence individual 
populations. West Nile virus is a relatively new source of mortality 
for greater sage-grouse and to date has been limited in its impact in 
the Bi-State area. Although predicting precisely when and where further 
outbreaks will occur is not possible, the best scientific data 
available support a conclusion that outbreaks are very likely to 
continue to occur. However, the loss of individual populations from WNv 
outbreaks, which is particularly a risk for smaller populations, may 
influence the persistence of the Bi-State DPS through the loss of 
redundancy to the overall population and the associated challenges of 
recolonizing extirpated sites through natural emigration.

Predation

    Range-wide, annual mortality of breeding-age greater sage-grouse 
varies from 55 to 75 percent for females and 38 to 60 percent for 
males, with the majority of mortality attributable to predation 
(Schroeder and Baydack 2001, p. 25). Although not delineated by sex, 
the best data available for the Bi-State population reports apparent 
annual adult mortality due to predation of between 58 and 64 percent 
(Casazza et al. 2009, p. 45). This loss of radio-collared greater sage-
grouse in the Bi-State area to predators is well within normal levels 
across the range of the species. However, estimates of adult survival 
vary substantially across the Bi-State area and in several locations 
adult survival in the Bi-State area is below that considered 
sustainable by some researchers (Farinha et al. 2008, unpublished data; 
Sedinger et al. unpublished data., p. 12). Where good-quality habitat 
is not a limiting factor, research suggests it is unlikely that 
predation influences the persistence of the species (see Predation 
under the Greater sage-grouse finding above). Thus, we consider the low 
estimates of adult survival in the northern half of the Bi-State area 
to be a manifestation of habitat degradation or other anthropogenic 
factors that can alter natural predator-prey dynamics such as 
introduced nonnative predators or human-subsidized native predators.
    Nest success across the Bi-State area is within the normal range, 
with some locations even higher than previously documented (Kolada 
2007, p. 52). The lowest estimates occur in Long Valley (21 percent; 
Kolada 2007, p. 66). The low estimates in Long Valley are of concern as 
this population represents the stronghold for the species in the Bi-
State area and is also the population most likely exposed to the 
greatest predation (Coates 2008, pers. comm.). Although significantly 
more birds were present in the past, the Long Valley population appears 
stable. The negative impact from reduced nesting success is presumably 
being offset by other demographic statistics such as high chick or 
adult survival.
Summary of Factor C
    We have a poor understanding of the effects of disease on Bi-State 
greater sage-grouse populations, and we are concerned about the 
potential threat, especially in light of recent documented presence of 
WNv and the potential impacts this disease can have on population 
growth. WNv is a substantial mortality factor for greater sage-grouse 
populations when outbreaks occur. We

[[Page 14003]]

will continue to monitor future infections and observe population 
response. Predation is the primary cause of mortality in the Bi-State 
area (Casazza et al. 2009, p. 45), as it is for greater sage-grouse 
throughout its range (see discussion of predation related to the 
greater sage-grouse rangewide, above). In several locations in the 
northern Bi-State area (Bodie Hills, Desert Creek, Fales), adult 
survival is below what some researchers consider to be sustainable 
(Farinha et al. 2008, unpublished data; Sedinger et al. unpublished 
data., p. 12). Low (21 percent) nest success in at least one area (Long 
Valley) may be associated with higher local densities of predators 
(Coates 2008, pers. comm.). Studies suggest predator influence is more 
pronounced in areas of poor habitat conditions. The ultimate cause of 
reduced population growth and survival appears to stem from impacts 
from degraded habitat quality. The impacts from roads, powerlines, and 
other anthropogenic features (landfills, airports, and urbanization) 
degrade habitat quality and increase the densities of native and 
nonnative predators which results in negative effects to greater sage-
grouse population dynamics. Therefore, after reviewing the best 
scientific and commercial data available we have determined that 
disease and predation are threats to the Bi-State DPS, although the 
impact of these threats is relatively low and localized at this time 
compared to other threats.

Factor D: Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    As discussed in Factor D of the GSG finding above, existing 
regulatory mechanisms that could provide some protection for greater 
sage-grouse include: (1) local land use laws, processes, and 
ordinances; (2) State laws and regulations; and (3) Federal laws and 
regulations. Actions adopted by local groups, states, or federal 
entities that are discretionary, including conservation strategies and 
guidance, are not regulatory mechanisms.

Local Laws and Regulations

    Approximately 8 percent of the land in the Bi-State area is 
privately owned (Bi-State Plan 2004). We are not aware of any existing 
county or city ordinances that provide protection specifically for the 
greater sage-grouse or their habitats on private lands.

State Laws and Regulations

    In the Bi-State area, greater sage-grouse are managed by two state 
wildlife agencies (NDOW and CDFG) as resident native game birds. The 
game bird classification allows the direct human taking of greater 
sage-grouse during hunting seasons authorized and conducted under state 
laws and regulations. Currently, harvest of greater sage-grouse is 
authorized in two hunt units in California, covering approximately the 
Long Valley and Bodie Hills populations (CDFG 2008). Greater sage-
grouse hunting is prohibited in the Nevada portion of the Bi-State 
area, where the season has been closed since 1999 (Greater Sage-Grouse 
Conservation Plan for Nevada and Eastern California 2004, pp. 59-61).
    Each State bases its hunting regulations on local population 
information and peer-reviewed scientific literature regarding the 
impacts of hunting on the greater sage-grouse. Hunting seasons or 
closures are reviewed annually, and States implement adaptive 
management based on harvest and population data (Espinosa 2008, pers. 
com.; Gardner 2008, pers. com.). Based on the best data available, we 
can not determine whether or how hunting mortality, is affecting the 
populations. Therefore, we do not have information to indicate how 
regulated hunting is affecting the DPS.
    State agencies directly manage approximately 1 percent of the total 
landscape dominated by sagebrush in the Bi-State area, and various 
State laws and regulations identify the need to conserve wildlife 
habitat (Bi-State Plan 2004). Laws and regulations in both California 
and Nevada allow for acquisition of funding to acquire and conserve 
wildlife habitats, including land purchases and entering into easements 
with landowners. California recently purchased approximately 470 ha 
(1,160 ac) in the Desert Creek-Fales PMU largely for the conservation 
of greater sage-grouse (Taylor 2008, pers. com.). However, any 
acquisitions authorized are discretionary on the part of the agencies 
and cannot be considered an adequate mechanism that alleviates threats 
to the DPS or its habitat.
    The Bi-State Plan (2004) represents more than 2 years of 
collaborative analysis by numerous local biologists, land managers, and 
land users who share a common concern for the greater sage-grouse 
occurring in western Nevada and eastern California. The intent of the 
plan was to identify factors that negatively affect greater sage-grouse 
populations in the Bi-State area as well as conservation measures 
likely to ameliorate these threats and maintain these populations. 
These efforts are in addition to current research and monitoring 
efforts conducted by the States. These voluntary recommended 
conservation measures are in various stages of development and depend 
on the cooperation and participation of interested parties and 
agencies. The Bi-State Plan does not include any prohibitions against 
actions that harm greater sage-grouse or their habitat. Since 
development of the Bi-State Plan, the NDOW has committed approximately 
$250,000 toward conservation efforts, some of which have been 
implemented while others are pending. Other support has come from 
various federal, state, and local agencies. For example, a partnership 
between the NDOW and the USFS resulted in a recently completed pinyon-
juniper removal project in the Sweetwater Range in the Desert Creek-
Fales PMU encompassing about 1,300 ha (3,200 ac) of important greater 
sage-grouse habitat (NDOW 2008, p. 24). Additional efforts are also 
being developed to target restoration of important nesting, brood 
rearing, and wintering habitat components across the Bi-State area. 
However, the Bi-State Plan is not a regulation and its implementation 
depends on voluntary efforts. Thus the Bi-State Plan can not be 
considered to be an adequate regulatory mechanism.
    The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Public Resources 
Code sections 21000-21177), requires full disclosure of the potential 
environmental impacts of projects proposed by state and local agencies. 
The public agency with primary authority or jurisdiction over the 
project is responsible for conducting an environmental review of the 
project, and consulting with the other agencies concerned with the 
resources affected by the project. Section 15065 of the CEQA guidelines 
requires a finding of significance if a project has the potential to 
``reduce the number or restrict the range of a rare or endangered plant 
or animal.'' Species that are eligible for listing as rare, threatened, 
or endangered but are not so listed are given the same protection as 
those species that are officially listed with the State. However, once 
significant effects are identified, the lead agency has the option to 
mitigate the effects through changes in the project, or decide that 
overriding considerations, such as social or economic considerations, 
make mitigation infeasible (CEQA section 21002). In the latter case, 
projects may be approved that cause significant environmental damage, 
such as destruction of endangered species, and their habitat. 
Protection of listed species through CEQA is dependent upon the

[[Page 14004]]

discretion of the agency involved. Therefore, CEQA may not act as a 
regulatory mechanism for the protection of the DPS.

Federal Laws and Regulations

    Federally owned and managed land make up the majority of the 
landscape within the DPS's range. For a comprehensive discussion and 
analysis of federal laws and regulations please see this section under 
Factor D of the GSG finding.
    Approximately 50 percent of the land base in the Bi-State area 
occurs on lands managed by the BLM. As stated in the GSG finding, FLPMA 
is the primary federal law governing most land uses on BLM-administered 
lands. Under FLPMA, the BLM has authority over livestock grazing, 
recreation, OHV travel and human disturbance, infrastructure 
development, fire management, and either in combination with or under 
the MLA and other mineral and mining laws, energy development and 
mining on its lands. In Nevada and California, the BLM manages for many 
of these activities within their jurisdiction. In Nevada and 
California, the BLM has designated the greater sage-grouse a sensitive 
species. BLM's management of lands in the Bi-State area is conducted 
consistent with its management of its lands across the greater sage-
grouse range. Therefore, we refer the reader to the GSG finding above 
for a detailed discussion and analysis BLM's management of sage-grouse 
habitat on its lands.
    The USFS manages approximately 35 percent of the land base in the 
Bi-State area. As stated in the GSG finding, management of activities 
on lands under USFS jurisdiction is guided principally by NFMA through 
associated LRMPs for each forest unit. Under NFMA and other federal 
laws, the USFS has authority to regulate recreation, OHV travel and 
other human disturbance, livestock grazing, fire management, energy 
development, and mining on lands within its jurisdiction. Please see 
the GSG finding for general information and analysis. All of the LRMPs 
that currently guide the management of sage-grouse habitats on USFS 
lands were developed using the 1982 implementing regulations for land 
and resource management planning (1982 Rule, 36 CFR 219), including two 
existing USFS LRMPs (USFS 1986, 1988) within greater sage-grouse 
habitat in the Bi-State area.
    The greater sage-grouse is designated as a USFS Sensitive Species 
in the Intermountain Region (R4) and Pacific Southwest Region (R5), 
which include the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest's Bridgeport Ranger 
District and the Inyo National Forest in the Bi-State area. The 
specifics of how sensitive species status has conferred protection to 
sage-grouse on USFS lands varies significantly across the range, and is 
largely dependent on LRMPs and site-specific project analysis and 
implementation. The Inyo National Forest identifies sage-grouse as a 
Management Indicator Species. This identification requires the USFS to 
establish objectives for the maintenance and improvement of habitat for 
the species during all planning processes, to the degree consistent 
with overall multiple use objectives (1982 rule, 36 CFR 219.19(a)).
    As part of the USFS Travel Management planning effort, both the 
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and the Inyo National Forest are 
revising road designations in their jurisdictions. The Humboldt-Toiyabe 
National Forest released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in 
July, 2009. The Inyo National Forest completed and released its Final 
Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision in August 2009 
for Motorized Travel Management. The ROD calls for the permanent 
prohibition on cross country travel off designated authorized roads. 
However, since this prohibition is not specific to sage-grouse habitat 
and we cannot assess how this will be enforced, we cannot consider the 
policy to be a regulatory mechanism that can protect the DPS.
    Additional federally managed lands in the Bi-State area include the 
DOD Hawthorne Army Depot, which represents less than 1 percent of the 
total land base. However, these lands provide relatively high quality 
habitat (Nachlinger 2003, p. 38) and likely provide some of the best 
greater sage-grouse habitat remaining in the Mount Grant PMU because of 
the exclusion of livestock and the public (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 149). 
There are no National Parks or National Wildlife Refuges in any of the 
PMUs in the Bi-State area, and we are unaware of any private lands in 
the area that are enrolled in the United States Department of 
Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program.
Summary of Factor D
    As described above, habitat destruction and modification in the Bi-
State area is a threat to the DPS. Federal agencies' abilities to 
adequately address several issues such as wildfire, invasive species, 
and disease across the Bi-State area are limited. For other stressors 
such as grazing, the regulatory mechanisms in place could be adequate 
to protect sage-grouse habitats; however, the application of these 
mechanisms varies. In some locations rangelands are not meeting habitat 
standards necessary for sage-grouse persistence, however, overall 
population estimates, while variable from year-to-year, show no 
discernable trend attributable to grazing.
    The statutes, regulations, and policies guiding renewable energy 
development and associated infrastructure development, and mineral 
extraction for the greater sage-grouse range-wide generally are 
implemented similarly in the Bi-State area as they are across the range 
of the greater sage-grouse, and it is our conclusion that this 
indicates that current measures do not ameliorate associated impacts to 
the DPS.
    The existing state and federal regulatory mechanisms to protect 
greater sage-grouse in the Bi-State area afford sufficient discretion 
to decision makers as to render them inadequate to ameliorate threats 
to the Bi-State DPS. We do not suggest that all resource decisions 
impacting sage-grouse have failed to adequately address sage-grouse 
needs and in fact commend the individuals and agencies working in the 
Bi-State area. However, the flexibility built into the regulatory 
process greatly reduces the adequacy of these mechanisms. Because of 
this, the available regulatory mechanisms are not sufficiently reliable 
to provide for conservation of the species in light of the alternative 
resource demands. Therefore, after a review of the best scientific and 
commercial data available, we find that the existing regulatory 
mechanisms are inadequate to ameliorate the threats to the Bi-State DPS 
of the greater sage-grouse.

Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting the Species' 
Continued Existence

Recreational Activities

    A variety of recreational activities are pursued across the Bi-
State area, including traditional activities such as fishing, hiking, 
horseback riding, and camping as well as more recently popularized 
activities, such as off-road-vehicle travel and mountain biking. As 
discussed under Recreational Activities under Factor E in the GSG 
finding above, these activities can degrade habitat and affect sage-
grouse reproduction and survival by causing disturbance in these areas.
    The Bi-State Plan (2004) discusses the risk associated with off-
road vehicles in the Pine Nut and the Mount Grant PMUs (Bi-State Plan 
2004, pp. 27, 137-138). Additionally, for the Bodie and South Mono 
PMUs, the Bi-State Plan (2004, pp. 91-92, 170-171) discusses off-road 
vehicles in the context of all

[[Page 14005]]

types of recreational activities (motorized and non-motorized). We are 
not aware of any scientific reports that document direct mortality of 
greater sage-grouse through collision with off-road vehicles (70 FR 
2278), although mortality from collision with vehicles on U.S. 395 near 
Mammoth Lakes is known (Wiechmann 2008, p. 3). Off-road vehicle use has 
indirect impacts to greater sage-grouse habitat; it is known to reduce 
or eliminate sagebrush canopy cover through repeated trips in an area, 
degrade meadow habitat, increase sediment production, and decrease soil 
infiltration rates through compaction (70 FR 2278).
    Potential disturbance caused by nonmotorized forms of recreation 
(fishing, camping, hiking, big game hunting, dog training) are most 
prevalent in the South Mono and Bodie PMUs. These PMUs are also exposed 
to tourism-associated activity centered around Mono Lake and the towns 
of Mammoth Lakes and Bodie. The exact amount of recreational activity 
or user days occurring in the area is not known, however, the number of 
people in the area is increasing annually (Nelson 2008, pers. comm.; 
Taylor 2008, pers. comm.). Additionally, with the recent 
reestablishment of commercial air service to the Mammoth Yosemite 
Airport during the winter, greater sage-grouse in the South Mono PMU 
will be exposed to more flights during leking and the early nesting 
season than previously experienced. The early nesting season (in 
addition to the already busy summer months) will present the most 
significant new overlap between birds and human activity in the area. 
Leu et al. (2008, p. 1133) reported that slight increases in human 
densities in ecosystems with low biological productivity (such as 
sagebrush) may have a disproportional negative impact on these 
ecosystems due to reduced resiliency to anthropogenic disturbances. The 
greatest concern is the relatively concentrated recreational activity 
occurring in the South Mono PMU, which overlaps with the single most 
abundant greater sage-grouse population in the Bi-State area.
    We are unaware of instances where off-road vehicle (including 
snowmobile) activity precluded greater sage-grouse use, or affected 
survival in the Bi-State area. There are areas where concerns may arise 
though, especially in brood rearing and wintering habitats, which are 
extremely limited in the Bi-State area. For example, during heavy snow 
years, essentially the entire population of birds in Long Valley has 
congregated in a very small area (Gardner 2008, pers. comm.). Off-road 
vehicle or snowmobile use in occupied winter areas could displace them 
to less optimal habitats (Bi-State Plan 2004, p. 91). Given the 
likelihood of a continuing influx of people into Mono County, 
especially in proximity to Long Valley, with access to recreational 
opportunities on public lands, we anticipate effects from recreational 
activity will increase.

Life History Traits Affecting Population Viability

    Greater sage-grouse have comparatively slower potential population 
growth rates than other species of grouse and display a high degree of 
site fidelity to seasonal habitats (see this section under Factor E in 
the GSG finding above for further discussion and analysis). While these 
natural history characteristics would not limit greater sage-grouse 
populations across large geographic scales under historical conditions 
of extensive habitat, they may contribute to local declines where 
humans alter habitats, or when natural mortality rates are high in 
small, isolated populations such as in the case of the Bi-State DPS.
    Isolated populations are typically at greater risk of extinction 
due to genetic and demographic concerns such as inbreeding depression, 
loss of genetic diversity, and Allee effect (the difficulty of 
individuals finding one another), particularly where populations are 
small (Lande 1988, pp. 1456-1457; Stephens et al. 1999, p. 186; 
Frankham et al. 2002, pp. 312-317). The best estimates for the Bi-State 
DPS of the greater sage-grouse place the spring breeding population 
between 2,000 and 5,000 individuals annually (Gardner 2008, pers. 
comm.; Espinosa 2008, pers. comm.). Based on radio-telemetry and 
genetic data, the local populations of greater sage-grouse in the Bi-
State area appear to be isolated to varying degrees from one another 
(Farinha 2008, pers. comm.). Birds occurring in the White Mountains PMU 
as well as those occurring in the Long Valley and Parker Meadows area 
of the South Mono PMU are isolated from the remainder of the Bi-State 
populations, and apparently from one another (Casazza et al. 2009, pp. 
34, 41; Oyler-McCance 2009, pers. comm.). The isolation of populations 
occurring to the north of Mono Lake is less clear. Birds occurring in 
the Bodie and Mount Grant PMUs mix during parts of the year, as do 
birds occurring in the California and Nevada portions of the Desert 
Creek-Fales PMUs (Casazza et al. 2009, pp. 13, 21). Within the Mount 
Grant PMU, populations occurring on and around Mount Grant do not 
interact with populations in the remainder of the PMU. However, 
movement of birds between Mount Grant and Desert Creek-Fales or Bodie 
and Desert Creek-Fales PMUs appears less consistent. The interaction 
among birds occurring in the Pine Nut PMU with PMUs to the south is 
unknown. Based on about 150 marked individuals, no dispersal events 
were documented among any of the PMUs, suggesting that even though some 
populations were mixing during certain times of the year, there was no 
documented integration among breeding individuals (Farinha 2008, pers. 
comm.). While adults are unlikely to switch breeding populations, it is 
likely that genetic material is transferred among these northern 
populations through the natural movements of chicks or young of the 
year, as long as there are established populations available to 
emigrate into.
    We have concern regarding viability of populations within PMUs in 
the Bi-State area due to their small size (Table 12) and isolation from 
one another. Although there is disagreement among scientists and 
considerable uncertainty as to the population size adequate for long-
term persistence of wildlife populations, there is agreement that 
population viability is more likely to be ensured viability if 
population sizes are in the thousands of individuals rather than 
hundreds (Allendorf and Ryman 2002, p. 76; Aldridge and Brigham 2003, 
p. 30; Reed 2005, p. 565; Traill et al., 2009 entire). For example, 
Traill et al. (2009, pp. 30, 32-33) concluded that, in general, both 
evolutionary and demographic constraints on wildlife populations 
require sizes to be at least 5,000 adult individuals.
    The Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse is small and both 
geographically and genetically isolated from the remainder of the 
greater sage-grouse distribution, which increases risk of genetic, 
demographic, stochastic events. To date, however, available genetic 
data suggest genetic diversity in the Bi-State area is as high as or 
higher than most other populations of greater sage-grouse occurring in 
the West (Oyler-McCance and Quinn in press, p. 18). Thus, we currently 
do not have clear indications that genetic factors such as inbreeding 
depression, hybridization, or loss of genetic diversity place this DPS 
at risk. However, recent genetic analysis shows that greater sage-
grouse occupying the White Mountains display a unique allelic frequency 
in comparison to other populations in the Bi-State area suggesting 
greater isolation (Oyler-McCance 2009, pers. comm.). Additionally, 
recent field studies in the Parker Meadows area (a single isolated lek 
system located in the South Mono

[[Page 14006]]

PMU) documented a disproportionally high degree of nest failures due to 
nonviable eggs (Gardner 2009, pers. comm.).
    In addition to the potential negative effects to small populations 
due to genetic considerations, small populations such as those found in 
the Bi-State area are at greater risk than larger populations from 
stochastic events, such as environmental catastrophes or random 
fluctuations in birth and death rates, as well disease epidemics, 
predation, fluctuations in habitat available, and various other factors 
(see Traill et al., p. 29.). Interactions between climate change, 
drought, wildfire, WNv, and the limited potential to recover from 
population downturns or extirpations place significant impediments to 
the persistence of the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse.
Summary of Factor E
    Our analysis shows certain recreational activities have the 
potential to directly and indirectly affect sage-grouse and their 
habitats. However, based on the information available, it does not 
appear that current disturbances are occurring at such a scale that 
would adversely affect sage-grouse populations in the Bi-State area. 
While this determination is highly constrained by lack of data, 
populations in the South Mono PMU, which are arguably exposed to the 
greatest degree of recreational activity, appear relatively stable at 
present. When issues such as recreation and changes in habitat are 
considered in conjunction with other threats, it is likely that 
populations in the northern half of the Bi-State area will be 
extirpated. Reintroduction efforts involving greater sage-grouse have 
had very limited success elsewhere, and natural recolonization of these 
areas will be slow or impossible due to their isolation and the limited 
number of birds in surrounding PMUs, as well as the constraints 
inferred by the species' life history characteristics. Therefore, based 
on our evaluation of the best scientific and commercial data available, 
we find threats from other natural or manmade factors are significant 
to the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse.

Finding

    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial data 
available regarding the past, present, and future threats to the Bi-
State DPS of the greater sage-grouse. We have reviewed the petition, 
information available in our files, and other published and unpublished 
information, and consulted with recognized greater sage-grouse and 
sagebrush experts.
    Threats identified under Factors A, C, D, and E are a threat to the 
Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse. These threats are exacerbated 
by the small population sizes, isolated nature, and limited 
availability of important seasonal habitats for many Bi-State area 
populations. The major threat is current and future destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of habitats in the Bi-State area due to 
urbanization, infrastructure, mining, energy development, grazing, 
invasive and exotic species, pinyon-juniper encroachment, recreation, 
wildfire, and the likely effects of climate change. Individually, any 
one of these threats appears unlikely to severely affect persistence 
across the entire Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse. 
Cumulatively, however, these threats interact in such a way as to 
fragment and isolate, and will likely contribute to the loss of 
populations in the Pine Nut and Desert Creek-Fales PMUs and will result 
in a significant range contraction for the Bi-State DPS. The Bodie and 
South Mono PMUs currently comprise approximately 65 percent of the 
entire DPS and will likely become smaller but persist barring 
catastrophic events. In light of on-going threats, the northern extent 
of the Bi-State area including the Pine Nut, Desert Creek-Fales, and 
Mount Grant PMUs are and will be most at risk. We anticipate loss of 
populations and contraction of others which would leave them 
susceptible to extirpation from stochastic events, such as wildfire, 
drought, and disease.
    While sport hunting is currently limited and within harvest 
guidelines, if hunting continues it may add to the overall decline of 
adult populations in the Bodie and South Mono PMUs. Overall in the Bi-
State area hunting is limited to such a degree that it is not 
apparently restrictive to overall population growth. We have no 
information indicating poaching, non-consumptive uses, or scientific 
use significantly impact Bi-State greater sage-grouse populations. 
Therefore, we find that overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes is not a significant threat to the 
Bi-State area DPS.
    West Nile virus is a threat to the greater sage-grouse, and its 
occurrence and impacts are likely underestimated due to lack of 
monitoring. While the impact of this disease is currently limited by 
ambient temperatures that do not allow consistent vector and virus 
maturation, predicted temperature increases associated with climate 
change may result in this threat becoming more consistently prevalent. 
Predation facilitated by habitat fragmentation due to infrastructure 
(fences, powerlines and roads) and other human activities may be 
altering natural population dynamics in localized areas such as Long 
Valley. We find that disease and predation are threats to the Bi-State 
area DPS, although the impact of these threats is relatively low and 
localized at this time compared to other threats.
    An examination of regulatory mechanisms for both the Bi-State DPS 
of the greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats revealed that while 
some mechanisms exist, it appears that they are being implemented in a 
manner that is not consistent with our current understanding of the 
species' life history requirements, reaction to disturbances, and 
currently understood conservation needs. Therefore, we find the 
existing regulatory mechanisms are ineffective at ameliorating habitat-
based threats. Furthermore, certain threats (disease, drought, fire) 
may not be able to be adequately addressed by existing regulatory 
mechanisms.
    Our analysis under Factor E indicates the current level of 
recreational activities do not appear to be adversely affecting sage-
grouse populations in the Bi-State area. Populations in the South Mono 
PMU, which are arguably exposed to the greatest degree of recreational 
activity, appear relatively stable at present.
    The relatively low number of local populations of greater sage-
grouse, their small size, and relative isolation is problematic. The 
Bi-State area is composed of approximately 35 active leks representing 
4 to 8 individual populations. Research has shown fitness and 
population size are strongly correlated and smaller populations are 
more subject to environmental and demographic stochasticity. When 
coupled with mortality stressors related to human activity and 
significant fluctuations in annual population size, long-term 
persistence of small populations is always problematic.
    Given the species' relatively low rate of growth and strong site 
fidelity, recovery and repopulation of extirpated areas will be slow 
and infrequent. Translocation of this species is difficult and to date 
has not been successful, and given the limited number of source 
individuals, translocation efforts, if needed, are unlikely.
    Within 30 years it is likely that greater sage-grouse in the Bi-
State area will only persist in one or two populations located in the 
South Mono PMU (Long Valley) and the Bodie Hills PMU. These populations 
will likely be isolated from one another and due to decreased

[[Page 14007]]

population numbers, each will be at greater risk to stochastic events.
    As required by the Act, we have reviewed and taken into account 
efforts being made to protect the greater sage-grouse in the Bi-State 
area. Although some local conservation efforts have been implemented 
and are effective in small areas, they are neither individually nor 
collectively at a scale that is sufficient to ameliorate threats to the 
DPS as a whole, or to local populations. Other conservation efforts are 
being planned but there is substantial uncertainty as to whether, 
where, and when they will be implemented, and whether they will be 
effective.
    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the present and future threats to the 
Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse. We have reviewed the 
petitions, information available in our files, and other published and 
unpublished information, and consulted with recognized greater sage-
grouse and sagebrush experts. We have considered and taken into account 
efforts being made to protect the species. On the basis of the best 
scientific and commercial information available, we find that listing 
of the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse is warranted across its 
range. However, listing this DPS is precluded by higher priority 
listing actions at this time, as discussed in the Preclusion and 
Expeditious Progress section below.
    We have reviewed the available information to determine if the 
existing and foreseeable threats render the Bi-State DPS of the greater 
sage-grouse at risk of extinction now such that issuing an emergency 
regulation temporarily listing the species as per section 4(b)(7) of 
the Act is warranted. We have determined that issuing an emergency 
regulation temporarily listing the Bi-State DPS is not warranted at 
this time (see discussion of listing priority for this DPS, below). 
However, if at any time we determine that issuing an emergency 
regulation temporarily listing the Bi-State DPS is warranted, we will 
initiate this action at that time.

Preclusion and Expeditious Progress

    Preclusion is a function of the listing priority of a species in 
relation to the resources that are available and competing demands for 
those resources. Thus, in any given fiscal year (FY), multiple factors 
dictate whether it will be possible to undertake work on a proposed 
listing regulation or whether promulgation of such a proposal is 
warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing actions.
    The resources available for listing actions are determined through 
the annual Congressional appropriations process. The appropriation for 
the Listing Program is available to support work involving the 
following listing actions: proposed and final listing rules; 90-day and 
12-month findings on petitions to add species to the Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants (Lists) or to change the 
status of a species from threatened to endangered; annual 
determinations on prior ``warranted but precluded'' petition findings 
as required under section 4(b)(3)(C)(i) of the Act; critical habitat 
petition findings; proposed and final rules designating critical 
habitat; and litigation-related, administrative, and program-management 
functions (including preparing and allocating budgets, responding to 
Congressional and public inquiries, and conducting public outreach 
regarding listing and critical habitat). The work involved in preparing 
various listing documents can be extensive and may include, but is not 
limited to: gathering and assessing the best scientific and commercial 
data available and conducting analyses used as the basis for our 
decisions; writing and publishing documents; and obtaining, reviewing, 
and evaluating public comments and peer review comments on proposed 
rules and incorporating relevant information into final rules. The 
number of listing actions that we can undertake in a given year also is 
influenced by the complexity of those listing actions; that is, more 
complex actions generally are more costly. For example, during the past 
several years, the cost (excluding publication costs) for preparing a 
12-month finding, without a proposed rule, has ranged from 
approximately $11,000 for one species with a restricted range and 
involving a relatively uncomplicated analysis, to $305,000 for another 
species that is wide-ranging and involved a complex analysis.
    We cannot spend more than is appropriated for the Listing Program 
without violating the Anti-Deficiency Act (see 31 U.S.C. Sec.  
1341(a)(1)(A)). In addition, in FY 1998 and for each FY since then, 
Congress has placed a statutory cap on funds which may be expended for 
the Listing Program, equal to the amount expressly appropriated for 
that purpose in that fiscal year. This cap was designed to prevent 
funds appropriated for other functions under the Act (for example, 
recovery funds for removing species from the Lists), or for other 
Service programs, from being used for Listing Program actions (see 
House Report 105-163, 105\th\ Congress, 1st Session, July 1, 1997).
    Recognizing that designation of critical habitat for species 
already listed would consume most of the overall Listing Program 
appropriation, Congress also put a critical habitat subcap in place in 
FY 2002, and has retained it each subsequent year to ensure that some 
funds are available for other work in the Listing Program: ``The 
critical habitat designation subcap will ensure that some funding is 
available to address other listing activities'' (House Report No. 107-
103, 107\th\ Congress, 1st Session, June 19, 2001). In FY 2002 and each 
year until FY 2006, the Service has had to use virtually the entire 
critical habitat subcap to address court-mandated designations of 
critical habitat. Consequently, none of the critical habitat subcap 
funds have been available for other listing activities. In FY 2007, we 
were able to use some of the critical habitat subcap funds to fund 
proposed listing determinations for high-priority candidate species. In 
FY 2009, while we were unable to use any of the critical habitat subcap 
funds to fund proposed listing determinations, we did use some of this 
money to fund the critical habitat portion of some proposed listing 
determinations, so that the proposed listing determination and proposed 
critical habitat designation could be combined into one rule, thereby 
being more efficient in our work. In FY 2010, we are using some of the 
critical habitat subcap funds to fund actions with statutory deadlines.
    Thus, through the listing cap, the critical habitat subcap, and the 
amount of funds needed to address court-mandated critical habitat 
designations, Congress and the courts have, in effect, determined the 
amount of money available for other listing activities. Therefore, the 
funds in the listing cap, other than those needed to address court-
mandated critical habitat for already-listed species, set the limits on 
our determinations of preclusion and expeditious progress.
    Congress also recognized that the availability of resources was the 
key element in deciding, when making a 12-month petition finding, 
whether we would prepare and issue a listing proposal or instead make a 
``warranted but precluded'' finding for a given species. The Conference 
Report accompanying Public Law 97-304, which established the current 
statutory deadlines for listing and the warranted-but-precluded finding 
requirements that are currently contained in the Act, states (in a 
discussion on 90-day petition findings that by its own terms also 
covers 12-month findings) that the

[[Page 14008]]

deadlines were ``not intended to allow the Secretary to delay 
commencing the rulemaking process for any reason other than that the 
existence of pending or imminent proposals to list species subject to a 
greater degree of threat would make allocation of resources to such a 
petition [i.e., for a lower-ranking species] unwise.''
    In FY 2010, expeditious progress is that amount of work that can be 
achieved with $10,471,000, which is the amount of money that Congress 
appropriated for the Listing Program (that is, the portion of the 
Listing Program funding not related to critical habitat designations 
for species that are already listed). However these funds are not 
enough to fully fund all our court-ordered and statutory listing 
actions in FY 2010, so we are using $1,114,417 of our critical habitat 
subcap funds in order to work on all of our required petition findings 
and listing determinations. This brings the total amount of funds we 
have for listing actions in FY 2010 to $11,585,417. Our process is to 
make our determinations of preclusion on a nationwide basis to ensure 
that the species most in need of listing will be addressed first and 
also because we allocate our listing budget on a nationwide basis. The 
$11,585,417 is being used to fund work in the following categories: 
compliance with court orders and court-approved settlement agreements 
requiring that petition findings or listing determinations be completed 
by a specific date; section 4 (of the Act) listing actions with 
absolute statutory deadlines; essential litigation-related, 
administrative, and listing program-management functions; and high-
priority listing actions for some of our candidate species. In 2009, 
the responsibility for listing foreign species under the Act was 
transferred from the Division of Scientific Authority, International 
Affairs Program, to the Endangered Species Program. Starting in FY 
2010, a portion of our funding is being used to work on the actions 
described above as they apply to listing actions for foreign species. 
This has the potential to further reduce funding available for domestic 
listing actions, although there are currently no foreign species issues 
included in our high priority listing actions at this time. The 
allocations for each specific listing action are identified in the 
Service's FY 2010 Allocation Table (part of our administrative record).
    In FY 2007, we had more than 120 species with a Listing Priority 
Number (LPN) of 2, based on our September 21, 1983, guidance for 
assigning an LPN for each candidate species (48 FR 43098). Using this 
guidance, we assign each candidate an LPN of 1 to 12, depending on the 
magnitude of threats (high vs. moderate to low), immediacy of threats 
(imminent or nonimminent), and taxonomic status of the species (in 
order of priority: monotypic genus (a species that is the sole member 
of a genus); species; or part of a species (subspecies, DPS, or 
significant portion of the range)). The lower the listing priority 
number, the higher the listing priority (that is, a species with an LPN 
of 1 would have the highest listing priority).
    Because of the large number of high-priority species, we further 
ranked the candidate species with an LPN of 2 by using the following 
extinction-risk type criteria: International Union for the Conservation 
of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red list status/rank, Heritage 
rank (provided by NatureServe), Heritage threat rank (provided by 
NatureServe), and species currently with fewer than 50 individuals, or 
4 or fewer populations. Those species with the highest IUCN rank 
(critically endangered), the highest Heritage rank (G1), the highest 
Heritage threat rank (substantial, imminent threats), and currently 
with fewer than 50 individuals, or fewer than 4 populations, comprised 
a group of approximately 40 candidate species (``Top 40''). These 40 
candidate species have had the highest priority to receive funding to 
work on a proposed listing determination. As we work on proposed and 
final listing rules for these 40 candidates, we are applying the 
ranking criteria to the next group of candidates with LPNs of 2 and 3 
to determine the next set of highest priority candidate species. There 
currently are 56 candidate species with an LPN of 2 that have not 
received funding for preparation of proposed listing rules.
    To be more efficient in our listing process, as we work on proposed 
rules for these species in the next several years, we are preparing 
multi-species proposals when appropriate, and these may include species 
with lower priority if they overlap geographically or face the same 
threats as a species with an LPN of 2. In addition, available staff 
resources also are a factor in determining high-priority species 
provided with funding. Finally, proposed rules for reclassification of 
threatened species to endangered are lower priority, since as listed 
species, they are already afforded the protection of the Act and 
implementing regulations.
    We assigned the greater sage-grouse an LPN of 8 based on our 
finding that the species faces threats that are of moderate magnitude 
and are imminent. These threats include the present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat, and the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to address such threats. 
Under the Service's LPN Guidance, the magnitude of threat is the first 
criterion we look at when establishing a listing priority. The guidance 
indicates that species with the highest magnitude of threat are those 
species facing the greatest threats to their continued existence. These 
species receive the highest listing priority. We consider the threats 
that the greater sage-grouse faces to be moderate in magnitude because 
the threats do not occur everywhere across the range of the species at 
this time, and where they are occurring, they are not of uniform 
intensity or of such magnitude that the species requires listing 
immediately to ensure its continued existence. Although many of the 
factors we analyzed (e.g, disease, fire, urbanization, invasive 
species) are present throughout the range, they are not to the level 
that they are causing a significant threat to greater sage-grouse in 
some areas. Other threats are of high magnitude in some areas but are 
of low magnitude or nonexistent in other areas such that overall across 
the species' range, they are of moderate magnitude. Examples of this 
include: oil and gas development, which is extensive in the eastern 
part of the range but limited in the western portion; pinyon-juniper 
encroachment, which is substantial in some parts of the west but is of 
less concern in Wyoming and Montana; and agricultural development which 
is extensive in the Columbia Basin, Snake River Plain, and eastern 
Montana, but more limited elsewhere. While sage-grouse habitat has been 
lost or altered in many portions of the species' range, substantial 
habitat still remains to support the species in many areas of its range 
(Connelly et al. in press c, p. 23), such as higher elevation 
sagebrush, and areas with a low human footprint (activities sustaining 
human development) such as the Northern and Southern Great Basin (Leu 
and Hanser in press, p. 14) indicating that threats currently are not 
high in these areas. The species has a wide distribution across 11 
western states. In addition, two strongholds of contiguous sagebrush 
habitat (the southwest Wyoming Basin and the Great Basin area 
straddling the States of Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho) contain the highest 
densities of males in the range of the species (Wisdom et al. in press, 
pp. 24-25; Knick and Hanser (in press, p. 17). We believe that the 
ability of these strongholds to maintain high densities

[[Page 14009]]

in the presence of several threat factors is an indication that the 
magnitude of threats is moderate overall.
    We also lack data on the actual future location of where some 
potential threats will occur (e.g., wind energy development exact 
location, location of the next wildfire). If these threats occur within 
unoccupied habitat, the magnitude of the threat to greater sage-grouse 
is greatly reduced. The likelihood that some occupied habitat will not 
be affected by threats in the foreseeable future leads us to consider 
the magnitude of threats to the greater sage-grouse as moderate. This 
likelihood is evidenced by our expectation that two strongholds of 
contiguous habitat will still remain in fifty years even though the 
threats discussed above will continue there.
    Under our LPN Guidance, the second criterion we consider in 
assigning a listing priority is the immediacy of threats. This 
criterion is intended to ensure that the species facing actual, 
identifiable threats are given priority over those for which threats 
are only potential or that are intrinsically vulnerable but are not 
known to be presently facing such threats. We consider the threats 
imminent because we have factual information that the threats are 
identifiable and that the species is currently facing them in many 
portions of its range. These actual, identifiable threats are covered 
in great detail in factor A of this finding and include habitat 
fragmentation from agricultural activities, urbanization, increased 
fire frequency, invasive plants, and energy development.
    The third criterion in our LPN guidance is intended to devote 
resources to those species representing highly distinctive or isolated 
gene pools as reflected by taxonomy. The greater sage-grouse is a valid 
taxon at the species level, and therefore receives a higher priority 
than subspecies or DPSs, but a lower priority than species in a 
monotypic genus.
    We will continue to monitor the threats to the greater sage-grouse, 
and the species' status on an annual basis, and should the magnitude or 
the imminence of the threats change, we will re-visit our assessment of 
LPN.
    Because we assigned the greater sage-grouse an LPN of 8, work on a 
proposed listing determination for the greater sage-grouse is precluded 
by work on higher priority candidate species (i.e., entities with LPN 
of 7 or lower); listing actions with absolute statutory, court ordered, 
or court-approved deadlines; and final listing determinations for those 
species that were proposed for listing with funds from FY 2009. This 
work includes all the actions listed in the tables below under 
expeditious progress (see Tables 13 and 14).
    We also have assigned a listing priority number to the Bi-State DPS 
of the greater sage-grouse. As described above, under the Service's LPN 
Guidance, the magnitude of threat is the first criterion we look at 
when establishing a listing priority. The guidance indicates that 
species with the highest magnitude of threat are those species facing 
the greatest threats to their continued existence. These species 
receive a higher listing priority. Many of the threats to the Bi-State 
DPS that we analyzed are present throughout the range and currently 
impact the DPS to varying degrees (e.g. urbanization, invasive grasses, 
habitat fragmentation from existing infrastructure), and will continue 
into the future. The northern extent of the Bi-State area including the 
Pine Nut, Desert Creek-Fales, and Mount Grant PMUs are now and will 
continue to be most at risk. We anticipate loss of some local 
populations, and contraction of the range of others which would leave 
them susceptible to extirpation from stochastic events, such as 
wildfire, drought, and disease. Occupied habitat will continue to be 
affected by threats in the future and we expect that only two isolated 
populations in the Bodie and South Mono PMUs may remain in thirty 
years. The threats that are of high magnitude include: the present or 
threatened destruction, modification or curtailment of its habitat and 
range; the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and other 
natural or manmade factors affecting the DPS's continued existence, 
such as the small size of the DPS (in terms of both the number of 
individual populations and their size) which increases the risk of 
extinction, particularly for the smaller local populations. Also the 
small number and size and isolation of the populations may magnify the 
impact of the other threats. We consider disease and predation to be 
relatively low magnitude threats compared to other existing threats.
    The Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse is composed of 
approximately 35 active leks representing 4 to 8 individual local 
populations, based on current information on genetics and connectivity. 
While some of the threats do not occur everywhere across the range of 
the DPS at this time (e.g. habitat-based impacts from wildfire, WNv 
infections), where threats are occurring, the risk they pose to the DPS 
may be exacerbated and magnified due to the small number and size and 
isolation of local populations within the DPS. We acknowledge that we 
lack data on the precise future location of where some impacts will 
manifest on the landscape (e.g., effects of climate change, location of 
the next wildfire). To the extent to which these impacts occur within 
unoccupied habitat, the magnitude of the threat to the Bi-State DPS is 
reduced. However, to the extent these impacts occur within habitat used 
by greater sage-grouse, due to the low number of populations and small 
size of most of them, the effects to the DPS may be greatly magnified. 
Due to the scope and scale of the high magnitude threats and current 
and anticipated future loss of habitat and isolation of already small 
populations, leads us to determine that the magnitude of threats to the 
Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse is high.
    Under our LPN Guidance, the second criterion we consider in 
assigning a listing priority is the immediacy of threats. This 
criterion is intended to ensure that the species facing actual, 
identifiable threats are given priority over those for which threats 
are only potential or that are intrinsically vulnerable but are not 
known to be presently facing such threats. We have factual information 
the threats imminent because we have factual information that the 
threats are identifiable and that the DPS is currently facing them in 
many areas of its range. In particular these actual, identifiable 
threats are covered in great detail in factor A of this finding and 
include habitat fragmentation and destruction due to urbanization, 
infrastructure (e.g. fences, powerlines, and roads), mining, energy 
development, grazing, invasive and exotic species, pinyon-juniper 
encroachment, recreation, and wildfire. Therefore, based on our LPN 
Policy the threats are imminent (ongoing).
    The third criterion in our LPN guidance is intended to devote 
resources to those species representing highly distinctive or isolated 
gene pools as reflected by taxonomy. We have determined the Bi-State 
greater sage-grouse population to be a valid DPS according to our DPS 
Policy. Therefore under our LPN guidance, the Bi-State DPS of the 
greater sage-grouse is assigned a lower priority than a species in a 
monotypic genus or a full species that faces the same magnitude and 
imminence of threats.
    Therefore, we assigned the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse 
an LPN of 3 based on our determination that the DPS faces threats that 
are overall of high magnitude and are imminent (i.e. ongoing). We will 
continue to monitor the threats to the Bi-State DPS of the greater 
sage-grouse, and the DPS' status

[[Page 14010]]

on an annual basis, and should the magnitude or the imminence of the 
threats change, we will re-visit our assessment of LPN.
    Because we assigned the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse an 
LPN of 3, work on a proposed listing determination for this DPS is 
precluded by work on higher priority candidate species (i.e., entities 
with LPN of 2 or lower); listing actions with absolute statutory, court 
ordered, or court-approved deadlines; and completion of listing 
determinations for those species for which work already has been 
initiated but is not yet completed. This work includes all the actions 
listed in the tables below under expeditious progress (see Tables 13 
and 14).
    As explained above, a determination that listing is warranted but 
precluded also must demonstrate that expeditious progress is being made 
to add or remove qualified species to and from the Lists of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. (Although we do not discuss it in 
detail here, we also are making expeditious progress in removing 
species from the list under the Recovery Program, which is funded by a 
separate line item in the budget of the Endangered Species Program. As 
explained above in our description of the statutory cap on Listing 
Program funds, the Recovery Program funds and actions supported by them 
cannot be considered in determining expeditious progress made in the 
Listing Program.) As with our ``precluded'' finding, expeditious 
progress in adding qualified species to the Lists is a function of the 
resources available and the competing demands for those funds. Given 
that limitation, we find that we are making progress in FY 2010 in the 
Listing Program. This progress included preparing and publishing the 
following determinations (Table 13):

                              Table 13--Fiscal year 2010 completed listing actions.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
          Publication  Date                     Title                   Actions                  FR Pages
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
10/08/2009                             Listing Lepidium         Final Listing            74 FR 52013-52064
                                        papilliferum             Threatened
                                        (Slickspot
                                        Peppergrass) as a
                                        Threatened Species
                                       Throughout Its Range...
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
10/27/2009                             90-day Finding on a      Notice of 90-day         74 FR 55177-55180
                                        Petition To List the     Petition Finding, Not
                                        American Dipper in the   substantial
                                        Black Hills of South
                                        Dakota as Threatened
                                        or Endangered
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
10/28/2009                             Status Review of Arctic  Notice of Intent to      74 FR 55524-55525
                                        Grayling (Thymallus      Conduct Status
                                        arcticus) in the Upper  Review.................
                                        Missouri River System
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
11/03/2009                             Listing the British      Proposed Listing         74 FR 56757-56770
                                        Columbia Distinct        Threatened
                                        Population Segment of
                                        the Queen Charlotte
                                        Goshawk Under the
                                        Endangered Species
                                        Act: Proposed rule.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
11/03/2009                             Listing the Salmon-      Proposed Listing         74 FR 56770-56791
                                        Crested Cockatoo as      Threatened
                                       Threatened Throughout
                                        Its Range with Special
                                        Rule.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
11/23/2009                             Status Review of         Notice of Intent to      74 FR 61100-61102
                                        Gunnison sage-grouse     Conduct Status
                                        (Centrocercus minimus)  Review.................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
12/03/2009                             12-Month Finding on a    Notice of 12 month       74 FR 63343-63366
                                        Petition to List the     petition finding, Not
                                        Black-tailed Prairie     warranted
                                        Dog as Threatened or
                                        Endangered
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
12/03/2009                             90-Day Finding on a      Notice of 90-day         74 FR 63337-63343
                                        Petition to List         Petition Finding,
                                        Sprague's Pipit as      Substantial............
                                        Threatened or
                                        Endangered
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
12/15/2009                             90-Day Finding on        Notice of 90-day         74 FR 66260-66271
                                        Petitions To List Nine   Petition Finding,
                                        Species of Mussels      Substantial............
                                        From Texas as
                                        Threatened or
                                       Endangered With
                                        Critical Habitat.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
12/16/2009                             Partial 90-Day Finding   Notice of 90-day         74 FR 66865-66905
                                        on a Petition to List    Petition Finding, Not
                                        475 Species in the       substantial and
                                        Southwestern United      Substantial
                                        States as Threatened
                                        or Endangered With
                                        Critical Habitat;
                                        Proposed Rule
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
12/17/2009                             12-month Finding on a    Notice of 12 month       74 FR 66937-66950
                                        Petition To Change the   petition finding,
                                        Final Listing of the    Warranted but precluded
                                        Distinct Population
                                        Segment of the Canada
                                        Lynx To Include New
                                        Mexico
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1/05/2010                              Listing Foreign Bird     Proposed                 75 FR 605-649
                                        Species in Peru and      ListingEndangered
                                        Bolivia as Endangered
                                        Throughout Their Range
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1/05/2010                              Listing Six Foreign      Proposed                 75 FR 286-310
                                        Birds as Endangered      ListingEndangered
                                       Throughout Their Range.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1/05/2010                              Withdrawal of Proposed   Proposed rule,           75 FR 310-316
                                        Rule to List Cook's      withdrawal
                                        Petrel
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1/05/2010                              Final Rule to List the   Final Listing            75 FR 235-250
                                        Galapagos Petrel and     Threatened
                                        Heinroth's Shearwater
                                        as Threatened
                                       Throughout Their Ranges
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 14011]]

 
1/20/2010                              Initiation of Status     Notice of Intent to      75 FR 3190-3191
                                        Review for Agave         Conduct Status
                                        eggersiana and Solanum  Review.................
                                        conocarpum
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2/09/2010                              12-month Finding on a    Notice of 12 month       75 FR 6437-6471
                                        Petition to List the     petition finding, Not
                                       American Pika as          warranted
                                        Threatened or
                                        Endangered;.
                                       Proposed Rule..........
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2/25/2010                              12-Month Finding on a    Notice of 12 month       75 FR 8601-8621
                                        Petition To List the     petition finding, Not
                                        Sonoran Desert           warranted
                                        Population of the Bald
                                        Eagle as a
                                       Threatened or
                                        Endangered Distinct
                                        Population.
                                       Segment................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2/25/2010                              Withdrawal of Proposed   Withdrawal of Proposed   75 FR 8621-8644
                                        Rule To List the         Rule to List
                                       Southwestern Washington/
                                        Columbia River
                                        Distinct Population
                                        Segment of Coastal
                                        Cutthroat Trout
                                        (Oncorhynchus clarki
                                        clarki) as Threatened.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Our expeditious progress also includes work on listing actions that 
we funded in FY 2010, and for which work is ongoing but not yet 
completed to date. These actions are listed below (Table 14). Actions 
in the top section of the table are being conducted under a deadline 
set by a court. Actions in the middle section of the table are being 
conducted to meet statutory timelines, that is, timelines required 
under the Act. Actions in the bottom section of the table are high-
priority listing actions. These actions include work primarily on 
species with an LPN of 2, and selection of these species is partially 
based on available staff resources, and when appropriate, include 
species with a lower priority if they overlap geographically or have 
the same threats as the species with the high priority. Including these 
species together in the same proposed rule results in considerable 
savings in time and funding, as compared to preparing separate proposed 
rules for each of them in the future.

    Table 14--Listing actions funded in fiscal year 2010 but not yet
                               completed.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 Species                               Action
------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Actions Subject to Court Order/Settlement Agreement
------------------------------------------------------------------------
6 Birds from Eurasia                       Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Flat-tailed horned lizard                  Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
6 Birds from Peru                          Proposed listing
                                            determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sacramento splittail                       Proposed listing
                                            determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mono basin sage-grouse                     12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Greater sage-grouse                        12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Big Lost River whitefish                   12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
White-tailed prairie dog                   12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gunnison sage-grouse                       12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Wolverine                                  12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Arctic grayling                            12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Agave eggergsiana                          12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Solanum conocarpum                         12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mountain plover                            12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hermes copper butterfly                    90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Thorne's hairstreak butterfly              90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    Actions with Statutory Deadlines
------------------------------------------------------------------------
48 Kauai species                           Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 14012]]

 
Casey's June beetle                        Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Georgia pigtoe, interrupted rocksnail,     Final listing determination
 and rough hornsnail
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2 Hawaiian damselflies                     Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
African penguin                            Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
3 Foreign bird species (Andean flamingo,   Final listing determination
 Chilean woodstar, St. Lucia forest
 thrush)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
5 Penguin species                          Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Southern rockhopper penguin - Campbell     Final listing determination
 Plateau population
------------------------------------------------------------------------
5 Bird species from Colombia and Ecuador   Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
7 Bird species from Brazil                 Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Queen Charlotte goshawk                    Final listing determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Salmon crested cockatoo                   Proposed listing
                                            determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Black-footed albatross                     12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mount Charleston blue butterfly            12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Least chub\1\                              12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mojave fringe-toed lizard\1\               12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pygmy rabbit (rangewide)\1\                12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kokanee - Lake Sammamish population\1\     12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Delta smelt (uplisting)                    12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl\1\            12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tucson shovel-nosed snake\1\               12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Northern leopard frog                      12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tehachapi slender salamander               12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Coqui Llanero                              12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Susan's purse-making caddisfly             12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
White-sided jackrabbit                     12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jemez Mountains salamander                 12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dusky tree vole                            12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Eagle Lake trout\1\                        12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
29 of 206 species                          12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Desert tortoise - Sonoran population       12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gopher tortoise - eastern population       12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Amargosa toad                              12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Wyoming pocket gopher                      12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pacific walrus                             12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Wrights marsh thistle                      12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
67 of 475 southwest species                12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 14013]]

 
9 Southwest mussel species                 12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
14 parrots (foreign species)               12-month petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Southeastern pop snowy plover & wintering  90-day petition finding
 pop. of piping plover\1\
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Eagle Lake trout\1\                        90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Berry Cave salamander\1\                   90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ozark chinquapin\1\                        90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Smooth-billed ani\1\                       90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bay Springs salamander\1\                  90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mojave ground squirrel\1\                  90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
32 species of snails and slugs\1\          90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Calopogon oklahomensis\1\                  90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Striped newt\1\                            90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Southern hickorynut\1\                     90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
42 snail species                           90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
White-bark pine                            90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Puerto Rico harlequin                      90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Fisher - Northern Rocky Mtns. population   90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly\1\         90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
42 snail species (Nevada & Utah)           90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
HI yellow-faced bees                       90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Red knot roselaari subspecies              90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Honduran emerald                           90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Peary caribou                              90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Western gull-billed tern                   90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Plain bison                                90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Giant Palouse earthworm                    90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mexican gray wolf                          90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Spring Mountains checkerspot butterfly     90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Spring pygmy sunfish                       90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
San Francisco manzanita                    90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bay skipper                                90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Unsilvered fritillary                      90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Texas kangaroo rat                         90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Spot-tailed earless lizard                 90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Eastern small-footed bat                   90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Northern long-eared bat                    90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Prairie chub                               90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 14014]]

 
10 species of Great Basin butterfly        90-day petition finding
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           .............................
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    High Priority Listing Actions\3\
------------------------------------------------------------------------
19 Oahu candidate species\3\ (16 plants,   Proposed listing
 3 damselflies) (15 with LPN = 2, 3 with
 LPN = 3, 1 with LPN =9)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
17 Maui-Nui candidate species\3\ (14       Proposed listing
 plants, 3 tree snails) (12 with LPN = 2,
 2 with LPN = 3, 3 with LPN = 8)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sand dune lizard\3\ (LPN = 2)              Proposed listing
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2 Arizona springsnails\3\ (Pyrgulopsis     Proposed listing
 bernadina (LPN = 2), Pyrgulopsis
 trivialis (LPN = 2))
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2 New Mexico springsnails\3\ (Pyrgulopsis  Proposed listing
 chupaderae (LPN = 2), Pyrgulopsis
 thermalis (LPN = 11))
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2 mussels\3\ (rayed bean (LPN = 2),        Proposed listing
 snuffbox No LPN)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2 mussels\3\ (sheepnose (LPN = 2),         Proposed listing
 spectaclecase (LPN = 4),)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ozark hellbender\2\ (LPN = 3)              Proposed listing
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Altamaha spinymussel\3\ (LPN = 2)          Proposed listing
------------------------------------------------------------------------
5 southeast fish\3\ (rush darter (LPN =    Proposed listing
 2), chucky madtom (LPN = 2), yellowcheek
 darter (LPN = 2), Cumberland darter (LPN
 = 5), laurel dace (LPN = 5))
------------------------------------------------------------------------
8 southeast mussels (southern kidneyshell  Proposed listing
 (LPN = 2), round ebonyshell (LPN = 2),
 Alabama pearlshell (LPN = 2), southern
 sandshell (LPN = 5), fuzzy pigtoe (LPN =
 5), Choctaw bean (LPN = 5), narrow
 pigtoe (LPN = 5), and tapered pigtoe
 (LPN = 11))
------------------------------------------------------------------------
3 Colorado plants\3\ (Pagosa skyrocket     Proposed listing
 (Ipomopsis polyantha) (LPN = 2),
 Parachute beardtongue (Penstemon
 debilis) (LPN = 2), Debeque phacelia
 (Phacelia submutica) (LPN = 8))
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Funds for listing actions for these species were provided in
  previous FYs.
\2\ We funded a proposed rule for this subspecies with an LPN of 3 ahead
  of other species with LPN of 2, because the threats to the species
  were so imminent and of a high magnitude that we considered emergency
  listing if we were unable to fund work on a proposed listing rule in
  FY 2008.
\3\ Funds for these high-priority listing actions were provided in FY
  2008 or 2009

    We have endeavored to make our listing actions as efficient and 
timely as possible, given the requirements of the relevant laws and 
regulations, and constraints relating to workload and personnel. We are 
continually considering ways to streamline processes or achieve 
economies of scale, such as by batching related actions together. Given 
our limited budget for implementing section 4 of the Act, the actions 
described above collectively constitute expeditious progress.
    The greater sage-grouse and the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-
grouse will each be added to the list of candidate species upon 
publication of these 12-month findings. We will continue to monitor 
their status as new information becomes available. This review will 
determine if a change in status is warranted, including the need to 
make prompt use of emergency listing procedures. We acknowledge we must 
reevaluate the status of the Columbia Basin population as it relates to 
the greater sage-grouse; we will conduct this analysis as our 
priorities allow. Other populations of the greater sage-grouse, as 
appropriate, will be evaluated to determine if they meet the distinct 
population segment (DPS) policy prior to a listing action, if necessary 
and appropriate.
    We intend that any proposed listing action for the greater sage-
grouse or Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse will be as accurate 
as possible. Therefore, we will continue to accept additional 
information and comments from all concerned governmental agencies, the 
scientific community, industry, or any other interested party 
concerning these findings.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited is available on the Internet at 
http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the Wyoming Ecological 
Services Office (see ADDRESS section).

Author

    The primary authors of this notice are the staff members of the 
Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon Ecological Services 
Offices.

    Authority:  The authority for this section is section 4 of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: March 3, 2010
Daniel M Ashe,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
[FR Doc. 2010-5132 Filed 3-22- 10; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-S