DENVER — A rare bird found only in Colorado and Utah will stay on the endangered species list, at least for now, a U.S. district judge said Friday.
The judge upheld a 2014 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Gunnison sage grouse as a threatened species and to designate more than 2,200 square miles (5,800 square kilometers) of land as critical habitat.
State and county governments and in Colorado and Utah as well as a Colorado ranching group had challenged the decision, arguing the best scientific data did not support threatened status.
They also questioned whether all of the land classified as critical habitat was suitable for the birds.
"We're disappointed that the court didn't recognize efforts of Gunnison County (Colorado), landowners and the state to help the species, and it's a significant effort," said John Swartout, a policy adviser to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Swartout and others said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.
A Fish and Wildlife spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but environmental groups that intervened in the case to defend the listing said they were pleased.
"We're relieved that desperately needed protection for these unique birds will stand," said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said only about 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse remained in 2014. Some environmental groups say the number is much smaller now.
The Gunnison grouse is related to the larger and more numerous greater sage grouse.1 comment on this story
Greater sage grouse can be up to 2 feet (61 centimeters) tall and weigh 5 pounds (2.25 kilograms). The Gunnison birds are about one-third smaller.
Both are ground-dwelling birds known for the males' elaborate mating rituals.
Under the Endangered Species Act, a threatened species is considered likely to be pushed to the brink of extinction soon. It is less serious than endangered, which means a species is on the verge of extinction now and requires stronger protection.
This story has been corrected to show the government estimated 4,700 birds remained in 2014, not 5,000.