The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wants to re-list the Lesser Prairie-Chicken under the Endangered Species Act, six years after a federal court struck down the original listing.
The new proposal aims to list the southern population segment, found in eastern New Mexico and across the southwest Texas Panhandle, as endangered. The northern population segment, which occurs in southeastern Colorado, south-central to southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and the northeast Texas Panhandle, would be listed as threatened.
“The loss of America’s native grasslands and prairies of the southern Great Plains has resulted in steep declines for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and other grassland birds,” said Amy Lueders, a regional director for FWS. “For more than two decades, the Service has supported and encouraged our partners’ voluntary efforts to conserve the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Together, we have made great strides in conserving key habitat and raising awareness about threats to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, but we still have much work to do to ensure we have viable Lesser Prairie-Chicken populations. The Service will continue to closely partner with diverse stakeholders across the Lesser Prairie-Chicken’s range to restore this iconic species.”
Vast numbers reduced to fewer than 30,000
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken is a species of prairie grouse commonly recognized for its colorful spring mating display and stout build. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, its population has declined, due largely to habitat loss and fragmentation, across the southern Great Plains. Aerial survey results from 2012 through 2020 estimate a five-year average population of 27,384 across the five-state region. It is estimated that the bird’s habitat has diminished across its historical range by about 90 percent.
The prairie-chicken became a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1998 and was listed as a threatened species in 2014. The listing was vacated in 2015 following a lawsuit. In September 2016, FWS received a new petition to list the bird as endangered, and in November 2016, it made a substantial 90-day petition finding that listing may be warranted.
“We’re thrilled to see these magnificent dancing birds finally getting the strong Endangered Species Act protection they need to survive,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Lesser Prairie-Chicken has to deal with drilling rigs, pipelines, and the deadly heat waves that burning all that oil and gas brings about. These safeguards are coming not a moment too soon.”
FWS will host two public hearings to gather public comments on the proposal. They’re slated for July 8 and 14 on Zoom. Learn more here.