The historical distribution of Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus minimus) in Colorado is described based on published literature, observations, museum specimens, and the known distribution of sagebrush (Artemisia spp.). Historically, Gunnison Sage-Grouse were widely but patchily distributed in up to 22 counties in south-central and southwestern Colorado. The historical distribution of this species was south of the Colorado-Eagle river drainages primarily west of the Continental Divide. Potential contact areas with Greater Sage-Grouse (C. urophasianus) were along the Colorado-Eagle river system in Mesa, Garfield, and Eagle counties, west of the Continental Divide. Gunnison Sage-Grouse historically occupied habitats that were naturally highly fragmented by forested mountains and plateaus/mesas, intermountain basins without robust species of sagebrush, and river systems. This species adapted to use areas with more deciduous shrubs (i.e., Quercus spp., Amelanchier spp., Prunus spp.) in conjunction with sagebrush. Most areas historically occupied were small, linear, and patchily distributed within the overall landscape matrix. The exception was the large intermountain basin in Gunnison, Hinsdale, and Saguache counties. The documented distribution east of the Continental Divide within the large expanse of the San Luis Valley (Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, and Rio Grande counties) was minimal and mostly on the eastern, northern, and southern fringes. Many formerly occupied habitat patches were vacant by the mid 1940s with extirpations continuing to the late 1990s. Counties from which populations were recently extirpated include Archuleta and Pitkin (1960s), and Eagle, Garfield, Montezuma, and Ouray (1990s).
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Vol. 126 • No. 2