Federal government reviews listing of Little Prairie chicken as endangered and protected
A long-standing effort to identify the little prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act has taken off once again.
The little prairie chicken, a species of prairie grouse commonly recognized for its colorful spring matings and sturdy build, lives in parts of five states: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. Bird populations have been in decline for years, largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation, some of which is attributed to the installation of energy infrastructure in the region.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the species under the law, reversing the course of a decision made by agency officials several years ago that left the fate of the bird. . in the hands of conservation programs adopted by non-profit organizations and businesses.
Agency officials said they believed the southern segment of the species’ population, which is found in the brilliant oak prairie areas of eastern New Mexico and southwestern Texas Panhandle, is threatened with extinction.
The agency also proposes to classify the segment of the northern chicken population found in the grasslands and sagebrush that cover parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado as threatened under the law.
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Once numbered by the hundreds of thousands, its estimated population has fallen to less than 30,000 in the southern Great Plains. Aerial survey results from 2012 to 2020 estimate that habitat for small prairie chickens has declined by approximately 90% within its historical range.
“The loss of prairies and native grasslands from South America to the Great Plains has resulted in sharp declines for little grassland chicken and other grassland birds,” said Amy Leuders, regional director of the service.
Leuders said a peer-reviewed status assessment of the species does not predict a bright future for the bird unless more is done.
The protection of the little prairie chicken has been the subject of numerous federal lawsuits for almost 20 years. Problems with the bird’s ability to adapt to oil and gas activity are frequently cited as the reason for the population decline by activists of the species.
“The little prairie chicken has to deal with oil rigs, pipelines and deadly heat waves that cause everything oil and gas to burn to burn,” Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological once said. Diversity.
The conversions of grasslands to farms and ranches and the construction of poles supporting power lines and telecommunications services are also cited as the reasons for the lesser loss of prairie chicken populations. These power lines and poles provide convenient perches for other bird species that prey on chickens.
These encroachments have forced the chickens to retreat to increasingly small areas, Robinson said.
The story of the little prairie chicken with the Endangered Species Act
The Little Prairie Chicken became a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1998.
In March 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service classified the Little Prairie Chicken as “threatened,” requiring additional protections from energy production, agriculture, and other activities in states where the bird lives.
The Permian Basin Petroleum Association and other oil and gas industry groups have sued the agency in several federal courts, arguing that the designation was too strong and that their voluntary efforts to preserve the species’ habitat were sufficient. .
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Three environmental groups also filed a lawsuit, claiming the government had not gone far enough and that the little prairie chicken should have been classified as “endangered” instead of “threatened”.
The Oklahoma congressional delegation and others got involved, attempting legislative tactics to remove the species from the endangered species list.
In September 2015, a Texas federal court judge ruled in favor of the oil industry and overturned the final listing rule. Fish and Wildlife officials announced in March 2016 that the agency would not appeal the judge’s ruling.
At the time, the president of an organization representing Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry called Wildlife’s move a positive development.
This week, Brook A. Simmons, president of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma, said its members have supported public-private partnerships to protect the species from the start.
“The oil and gas industry has already committed over $ 60 million to voluntary conservation programs for smaller prairie chickens, and we remain open to working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize the impacts. negatives on oil and natural gas development while protecting efforts to increase prairie chicken populations, ”Simmons said.
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The US Fish and Wildlife Service submitted its draft rule to the Federal Register on Wednesday. It gives the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry or any other interested party the opportunity to comment or submit information regarding the proposal within 60 days of its publication in the registry.
Officials said information on how to submit comments will be available at: www.regulations.gov.
Information on how to request a hearing is also included in the Federal Register Notice.
The Service is also planning virtual public hearings to collect public comments on the nomination.
Zoom meetings are scheduled for 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Central Time on July 8. Go here to register for the first, and here to register for the second.