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Proposed Endangered Listing for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse

On Jan. 13, 2013, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed the Gunnison Sage-grouse (GUSG) for listing as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The GUSG is only found in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. The GUSG is a unique species of bird, and in 2000 became the first new North American bird species in over 100 years as recognized by the American Ornithological Union.

There are a total of seven separate populations of this species, two of which are in Saguache County. The western portion of Saguache County is part of the Gunnison Basin population. The Gunnison Basin population is the largest and most stable population of GUSG with approximately 5,000 birds. About one third of the total population (1,600) and one third of the habitat for the Gunnison Basin population is in western Saguache County. At the northern end of Saguache County, one of the smallest populations of GUSG resides at Poncha Pass. The Poncha Pass population is currently estimated to be about 15 birds that occupy the sagebrush habitat from the summit of Poncha Pass south approximately 15 miles and on both sides of Highway 285. In the FWS proposed rule, critical habitat was also identified and was mapped to include all currently occupied and suitable habitat.

The proposed rule for endangered status and the critical habitat boundaries are not final. The FWS listing process allows for a 60-day comment period and a re-evaluation of the species status before making a final decision. Comments may be sent to the FWS until March 12, 2013, and a final rule will be announced on Sept. 30, 2013.

For more information on submitting comments to FWS, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: or contact Patty Gelatt, Western Colorado Supervisor, FWS, Western Colorado Field Office at 970-243-2778. – By Barbara Tidd


Mistrial Declared in Murder Case

Murder trials are a rare event in Central Colorado. So rare, in fact, that a recent trial which ended in a hung jury might be the first murder trial to come out of Lake City since the famous episode of Alfred Packer and his cannibalism in the early 1880s. Frederick Mueller, 51, was charged with first degree murder, accused of murdering his wife Leslie back in 2008.

The trial in Gunnison was reportedly the first involving murder in roughly 20 years, and although Hinsdale County has had murder since the days of Packer, none were around Lake City.

The incident in question took place on the banks of Cottonwood Creek near Lake City. Responders found the victim under a log where she had drowned. Frederick Mueller was arrested in 2012 at his Texas business and had been in custody since.

Four days after beginning deliberations, and working on a Saturday, jury members said Feb. 9 they were at an impasse. They jury had three options: guilty of first degree murder, guilty of second degree murder or not guilty. Evidently, one juror had enough doubt.

After the mistrial, Mueller was released on $150,000 bond. On Feb. 19, prosecutors said they would retry the case beginning April 29 in Gunnison County. The first trial was moved from Hinsdale County for logistical reasons, including the fear that there wouldn’t be enough jurors who could commit to spending five weeks listening to testimony.

During the trial, the defendant was supported by his three daughters, his parents, his ex in-laws and his new wife. The case also gathered interest from CBS and NBC with the Gunnison Country Times devoting much ink and time to the trial. — By Christopher Kolomitz


Spruce Beetle Warnings

The San Isabel and Rio Grande National Forests and the Colorado State Forest Service recently observed significant new spruce beetle activity in Chaffee, Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Las Animas, Pueblo and Saguache Counties. While bark beetles are a natural part of the ecosystem, officials with the U.S. Forest Service Forest Health Protection Unit in Gunnison say the new activity signals an expansion of the ongoing epidemic.

“We expect profound changes to occur in stands of spruce forests due to the actions of these native insects,” said Tom Eager, entomologist with the Forest Health Protection Unit. Already there are significant numbers of dead trees in affected spruce forests.

Spruce beetle activity in Colorado has been on the rise since 2002, with substantial population growth continuing to occur. In a 2012 USFS-CSFS aerial survey, spruce beetle activity was observed on more than 311,000 acres of land in Colorado.


No to Oil and Gas Leases

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it will defer 20 parcels in the North Fork Valley that were scheduled for a Feb. 14, 2013 oil and gas lease sale.

Located in Gunnison and Delta Counties, the parcel leases drew heated opposition from many locals. The BLM made the decision after gathering public comments and studying the impacts of the lease sale.


Wascally Wabbits

Denver International Airport has a problem and the TSA is powerless to stop it. Rabbits. Yes, neighborhood rabbits are eating the wires under the hoods of the many parked cars at DIA and the USDA Wildlife Service is trying to put a stop to it. They’ve removed hundreds of bunnies but, as rabbits will be rabbits, they keep coming back.

Authorities are trying everything from new perches for predator birds to coating the wires with fox or coyote urine to keep the bunnies out, according to KCNC-TV.

Shorts …

• Bill Forrest, climbing legend, mountain gear innovator and Salida resident, passed away while snowshoeing on Monarch Pass, Dec. 21, 2013. We hope to run a profile of Mr. Forrest in a future issue.

• Gunnison resident Dave Wiens was named the 2012 BLM Volunteer of the Year for his efforts in trailbuilding and land stewardship.

• Speaking of trails, the first phase of construction of the Arkansas River Ranch Trail in Lake County has been completed. The trail runs nearly parallel to U.S. 24 near Hayden Meadows and is open to the public.

• A community band is being formed for Custer and surrounding counties. For info email:

• Salida residents rejected a home rule measure with nearly 77 percent of voters saying no.

• Former Fairplay resident James P. Burg is facing fraud charges stemming from a scheme to defraud customers of his gold coin business of nearly $2.4 million. He was arrested in California in November and appeared in federal court in Denver in January.

• Lifelong Salida resident Stan Provenza died Jan. 23 at the age of 95. He served on city council and the school board and was also a city treasurer. He was also a member of the 1933-36 state champion football teams.

• Three short residencies for artists, composers or writers will be offered in 2013 at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. For more details and an application, please visit: Call park ranger Patrick Myers with questions at 719-378-6343.


“Notable Quotes”

“There has been absolutely no movement on the part of the Democrats. They’ve voted straight party lines on all the regulations.” – Newly elected House Dist. 60 Rep. Jim Wilson on four gun-control measures passed in the House. Republican members of the House also showed no “movement.” – The Mountain Mail, Feb. 19, 2013.

“You can drink it. We did drink it around the table, almost ritual-like, in a funny way.” – Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, testifying before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that he actually drank fracking fluid. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, asked if the experience was part of some bizarre occult practice. “No, there were no religious overtures” Mr. Hickenlooper responded. – The Washington Times. Feb. 12, 2013.