Colorado county signals plan to sue feds over protections for Gunnison sage grouse

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GUNNISON, Colorado — A western Colorado county in the heart of Gunnison sage grouse habitat took the first step toward suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing the bird as a threatened species, officials said Monday.

Gunnison County filed a formal notice of intent to sue, arguing the listing wasn't necessary because the population is growing and local conservation efforts are working.

The notice, dated Dec. 22, is required by federal law before a lawsuit can be filed.

About 5,000 Gunnison grouse live in Colorado and Utah. The bird was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act last month, which could result in restrictions on oil and gas drilling, agriculture and other land uses.

The chicken-sized bird is related to the more common greater sage grouse, which is at the center of a separate and larger debate over federal protection across 11 Western states.

The states of Colorado and Utah and environmental groups also have notified the Fish and Wildlife Service that they intend to sue over the Gunnison grouse.

Colorado and Utah argued the listing was unnecessary and improper, while the environmental groups said the bird should have been given the more protective endangered status.

Such lawsuits are often filed after Endangered Species Act decisions.

Congress this month restricted spending on rules to protect both types of grouse. Federal officials said that could keep them from implementing protections for the greater sage grouse if they do designate the bird as threatened or endangered. The deadline for that decision is September.

The officials said the legislation does not reverse the threatened listing for the Gunnison grouse but could interfere with work on landowners' exemptions from restrictions.

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