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FWS moving ahead to relist lesser prairie chicken

FWS moving ahead to relist lesser prairie chicken

After removing lesser prairie chicken from Endangered Species Act in July, Fish & Wildlife Services starts fresh review of the listing.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) filed a petition to list the lesser prairie chicken species, saying it had substantial information to warrant a Species Status Assessment that could lead to an eventual Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing.

Map of current and historical range of the lesser prairie-chicken, showing sites surveyed during the 2015 range-wide aerial survey. The data from this survey was used to assess the occupancy of lesser prairie-chickens. Source: USDA

In July 2016, the lesser prairie chicken was removed from the ESA List of Endangered & Threatened Wildlife following a September 2015 court order from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, which vacated the FWS 2014 listing rule. In the spring of 2015, FWS began assessing the biological status of the lesser prairie chicken to ensure that future actions related to the species are based on the best available science. That assessment is expected to be completed in the summer of 2017, FWS said.

On June 9, 2014, the Permian Basin Petroleum Assn. and several New Mexico counties filed a lawsuit challenging FWS’s 2014 listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under ESA. In September 2015, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and vacated the final listing rule, effectively ending ESA protections for the bird.

In an attempt to avoid the bird’s ESA listing, farmers, ranchers, energy developers and other stakeholders in the region came together to develop a local, voluntary conservation plan. However, the plan was not given the opportunity to prove its effectiveness because FWS chose to list the bird as a threatened species in March 2014.

The Obama Administration dropped the appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in May 2016, which vacated the FWS listing of the bird as a threatened species.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, said he was disappointed in FWS’s decision to move ahead to relist the lesser prairie chicken.

“Just last year, the Western District of Texas appropriately overturned the lesser prairie chicken’s previous listing, noting that the service did not adequately consider the effectiveness of the states’ conservation plans when it assessed the species’ need for federal protection,” Inhofe said. “It is important that we let the multi-state conservation plan have time to work before bringing down the full force of the Endangered Species Act.

“The ESA should be a last resort; local, cooperative efforts -- as seen in Oklahoma and her partner states -- could set a precedent for a way to move forward on species conservation without the heavy hand of the federal government. I am confident that the Trump Administration is aware that state conservation is sufficient to protect the lesser prairie chicken, and I will work with the new administration to ensure local efforts are given the chance to work,” Inhofe added.

The bird's habitat is found in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.


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