Lesser Prairie Chickens Gain Protection Under US Endangered Species Act

The new listing aims to prevent further loss of habitat for the flamboyant, stocky birds, which have drastically dwindled in population.

A male lesser prairie chicken climbs a sage limb at a breeding area near Follett, Texas. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the birds under the Endangered Species Act.<br/><br/><br/><br/>
Source: David Crenshaw/Tulsa World via Associated Press

After more than 2 decades of pleas from conservation groups, the US Fish and Wildlife Service on 17 November announced protections for the lesser prairie chicken, a flamboyant, stocky bird that once covered America’s grasslands in the hundreds of thousands but whose population has since dwindled to roughly 30,000.

Two populations of the chicken, which are a type of grouse, will be listed under the Endangered Species Act, providing the species federal protection when the rule takes effect in January, the wildlife agency said in a news release.

The birds’ northern population—which are spread across the grasslands of central and western Kansas, central Oklahoma, and the northeast panhandle of Texas—were designated as “threatened.”

That status is less urgent than “endangered,” but it will essentially grant the northern population chickens the same protections as those that comprise the southern population in eastern New Mexico and Southwest Texas, where the chickens have been designated as “endangered” because officials determined the birds had less habitat in those parts, officials said.

“The lesser prairie chicken’s decline is a sign our native grasslands and prairies are in peril,” Amy Lueders, the agency’s southwest regional director, said in a statement.

She added that the agency would work with all stakeholders to ensure that the protections roll out smoothly.

The fate of the lesser prairie chickens has long been entangled with the pursuits of oil and gas producers. The companies have long claimed that federal protections for the lesser prairie chickens would curtail oil production, with the law limiting where an oil rig can be placed if officials were to determine that it could result in a further loss of habitat for the birds.

Read the full story here.