By Tim Devaney - 11/12/14 02:25 PM EST
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is moving to protect the threatened Gunnison sage-grouse from extinction, the agency announced Wednesday.
Distinct from the Greater sage-grouse, which is also being considered for protection, the smaller Gunnison sage-grouse is threatened by low numbers and a disparate population, the agency warned.
The FWS says there are only about 4,700 of these birds remaining in Colorado and Utah.
"The species is likely to become endangered of extinction in the future," FWS Director Dan Ashe during a press call to announced the new protections for the Gunnison sage-grouse.
The FWS is backing off from an earlier proposal to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered, and is also designating a smaller critical habitat of 1.4 million acres.
Ashe said the decision to protect the Gunnison sage-grouse will not influence the agency's pending decision on whether to protect the Greater sage-grouse.
"The Greater sage-grouse is a much different situation, which involves a species that exists across 11 range states," Ashe said. "This is a bird where the population is much bigger."