The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday officially removed the lesser prairie-chicken from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
The action to remove the prairie-chicken from the list fulfilled a court ruling. It does not constitute a biological determination on whether or not the lesser prairie-chicken warrants federal protection. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is undertaking a thorough re-evaluation of the bird’s status and the threats it faces using the best available scientific information to determine anew whether listing under the ESA is warranted.
“The storied prairie landscape of the Southwest is of tremendous economic and cultural importance. It is also a critical area for the birds, mammals, reptiles and other animals that rely on this unique habitat,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “Responding to this court ruling by removing the bird from the federal list does not mean we are walking away from efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken.”
On June 9, 2014, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and several New Mexico counties filed a lawsuit challenging the FWS’s 2014 listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species under the ESA. In September 2015, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and vacated the final listing rule, effectively ending ESA protections for the bird.
Despite the ruling, the FWS continues to engage in a number of major initiatives to conserve lesser prairie-chicken populations. Prime among these is the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan developed and administered by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; others include the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program and Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, the joint Bureau of Land Management Candidate Conservation Agreement and Center of Excellence in Hazardous Materials Management Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances in New Mexico and other individual conservation agreements with private landowners.
The lesser prairie-chicken, a species of prairie grouse renowned for its colorful spring mating display, has been considered a species in trouble for almost two decades. Once abundant across much of the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the lesser prairie-chicken’s historical range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84%. As such, the lesser prairie-chicken serves as a key indicator of the health of native grasslands that support local economies and countless wildlife, such as migratory birds, scaled quail, pronghorn and mule deer.
The direct final rule will be available in the Federal Register Reading Room on July 19, 2016, and publish on July 20, 2016. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FWS-R2-ES-2016-0028-0001, for additional information.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service