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A decision on whether or not the Gunnison sage grouse of southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado should be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act will be delayed for six months, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials announced Tuesday

The deadline extension, granted by the D.C. District Court, brought immediate criticism.

"The Gunnison sage grouse needed protection 14 years ago, not another six-month delay — and certainly not a delay with the sole purpose of watering down protections," Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a prepared release.

"It's well past time for Fish and Wildlife's foot-dragging to end," her statement continued. "If the Gunnison sage grouse is to have any chance at survival, it needs firm protections immediately."

The Fish and Wildlife Service said the new deadline will give it time to consider information received during the public review process.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project claim the federal agency is "bowing to political pressure from oil and gas and other industries."

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there is a population of 4,621 Gunnison sage grouse, which are recognized as separate species from the greater sage grouse. The vast majority of Gunnison sage grouse are located in Colorado.

The greater sage grouse is on a list of candidate species for Endangered Species Act protection. Found throughout Utah, its listing would have a far greater impact, and the Bureau of Land Management has released a proposed plan to safeguard it without that level of protection.

Twitter: @BrettPrettyman