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Group sues to save Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken
Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Update: On November 17, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will protect the Lesser Prairie-Chicken under the Endangered Species Act

On June 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed a deadline to finalize a proposal to protect the embattled Lesser Prairie-Chicken, so in late October, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the agency over its lack of action.

In 2021, FWS proposed adding a Texas and New Mexico population of the prairie-chicken to the endangered species list, and a separate northern population in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado to the threatened list. But a final rule to enact the listings is nearly five months overdue.

“It’s haunting to think that videos of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken’s intricate dance may be all that’s left for future generations if these fascinating birds don’t get the protections they’ve been promised,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the center. “The oil and gas industry has fought for decades against safeguards for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is late issuing its final rule. The agency has slow-walked every step, and these imperiled birds keep losing more habitat.”

The prairie-chicken’s decline to a fraction of its original numbers results from the degradation and fragmentation of the southern Great Plains. Conversion to crops, cattle grazing, the raising of powerlines and telephone poles, oil and gas drilling, and the incursion of woodlands — as well as drought and high temperatures linked to global warming — all harm the bird.


Under the June 2021 proposal, the two populations of Lesser Prairie-Chickens would each have their own recovery actions, goals, and timelines. But the agency didn’t finalize the proposal by June 1, 2022, as it was required to do.

“The Lesser Prairie-Chicken needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Robinson. “With no dispute about the bird’s long-term decline and near-term peril, and all the bureaucratic excuses for not listing it having already been used up, we’re left with baffling agency inaction that calls for court intervention.”

Decades of stalling over Lesser Prairie-Chicken

1995: The Center’s predecessor organization, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, petitioned to list the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as a threatened species.

2014: FWS finally listed the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as threatened. But the following year, the oil and gas industry successfully challenged the listing in Midland, Texas, based on a poorly implemented and largely ineffective conservation agreement.


2016: The Center and its allies petitioned for an endangered listing for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The subsequent lawsuit by the Center and allies, and comments submitted in April 2021, led to last year’s proposed rule, which faced opposition from the oil and gas industry.

Thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity for providing this news.

Originally Published