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Feds Propose Lesser Prairie-chicken for Protection

Energy Development, Agriculture Threaten Prairie Grouse

Additional Contact:

Jay Lininger, Center for Biological Diversity * 928-853-9929

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has proposed to list the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The western grouse has been a candidate for listing since 1998 and is among the most imperiled species on the candidate list. The Service identified continued population declines and a myriad of land uses as threats to the species’ persistence. 

“Listing cannot come soon enough for the lesser prairie-chicken,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Threats are increasing, the species’ range is contracting, and current conservation efforts are too little, too late to conserve the species.”

The lesser prairie-chicken is a medium-sized, gray-brown grouse. The species inhabits shinnery oak and sand sagebrush grasslands in parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. An indicator species for the Southern Great Plains, the range of lesser prairie-chicken has been reduced by over 90 percent and its population has declined by approximately 85 percent since the 1800s.

“The lesser prairie-chicken will disappear forever without protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Voluntary measures that preserve a little habitat are convenient for some, but they won’t be effective for the prairie-chicken.”

The lesser prairie-chicken is threatened by habitat loss and degradation from livestock grazing, agriculture, oil and gas extraction, herbicides, and unnatural fire as primary threats to the lesser prairie-chicken. Habitat fragmentation from fences and powerlines, and disturbance from roads, mining, and wind energy production also affect the species. Climate change and drought are increasingly important threats. The potential loss of habitat on private land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program may have severely negative effects on current populations.

Like other western grouse, male lesser prairie-chickens engage in a unique, communal breeding display each spring to attract females. Both males and females congregate at breeding grounds (leks), where the males strut (“dance”), vocalize (“boom”) and physically confront other males to defend their territories and court females. The male repertoire will include displaying their bright yellow eye combs, inflating their red air sacs, flutter jumping, cackling and stamping their feet.

The lesser prairie-chicken occurs in southeastern Colorado; the southwestern quarter of Kansas; and in patchy areas in the panhandle and northwest counties of Oklahoma. The species also occurs in east-central New Mexico, and in small areas in the northeastern and southwestern corners of the Texas Panhandle. Kansas has the largest population of lesser prairie-chicken, where the species relies heavily on habitat on private lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

Read the Service's press release here


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