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Lesser Prairie Chicken Should be Listed as Endangered

With extinction imminent, environmental group calls for decisive action

LARAMIE, Wyo. – Noting the drastic recently-documented decline of the lesser prairie chicken across Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, WildEarth Guardians today called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (or “Service”) to list the bird as an “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, and protect habitat critical to the survival and recovery of the species.

“In 1905, one hunter shipped 20,000 lesser prairie chickens out of a single county in Texas,” said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with WildEarth Guardians. “In 2013, only 17,616 were found across the species’ entire five-state range, down from 34,440 just the year before. Clearly, local efforts aren’t yielding recovery, and Endangered Species Act protections would inject some much-needed backbone into conservation efforts.”

In comments submitted today to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WildEarth Guardians highlighted the proposed Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) covering oil and gas drilling in lesser prairie chicken habitat as an example of voluntary efforts that might or might not be employed in practice.  CCAAs lack firm commitments to reduce industrial impacts needed to assure the survival of impacted lesser prairie chicken populations. The approach to oil and gas in the proposed Conservation Agreement is symptomatic of the five-state plan generally: conservation measures that are voluntary rather than required, and no guarantees that projects clearly harmful to lesser prairie chickens will not occur.

“Without concrete, enforceable limits on activities in lesser prairie chicken habitat, this beautiful bird will disappear from the landscape,” said Molvar.  “The federal plan relies heavily on the failing efforts of state and local governments to protect the lesser prairie chicken from continuing habitat loss.”

The Service’s proposal to exempt activities performed under such plans and agreements from the responsibility to comply with the Endangered Species Act is highly problematic, removing the teeth from the Act.  Moreover, despite abundant data on lesser prairie chicken habitat, the Service failed to propose designation of critical habitat needed to protect the vanishing bird.

“Instead of stepping up with adequate regulations to protect the lesser prairie chicken, many state and local governments seem bent on blocking regulations necessary to assure that the most sensitive habitat is protected,” said Molvar. “In the absence of adequate protections, the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat will continue to disappear.”

The Guardians comment letter submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is available upon request.


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