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Lesser Prairie Chicken Listed as Threatened, Energy Groups in Five States Worry

Lesser Prairie Chicken Endangered

On Thursday, the Obama administration listed the lesser prairie chicken, a small grassland bird native to parts of the country’s oil and gas belt, as “threatened.”

“The lesser prairie chicken is in dire straits,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, citing a “rapid and severe decline” in the species’ population.

The bird is a gray-brown grouse, smaller and lighter than the closely related greater prairie chicken. Once common across much of Southeastern Colorado, Eastern New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Western Oklahoma and Western Kansas, the bird’s habitat range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84 percent mostly because of human activity such as oil and gas drilling, ranching and construction of power lines and wind turbines, Ashe said.

The bird, which weighs from 1-1/2 to 2 pounds, has also been severely impacted by the region’s ongoing drought.

Last year, the prairie chicken’s population across the five states declined to fewer than 18,000 birds — nearly 50 percent lower than 2012 population estimates.

Ashe says he knows the decision will be unpopular with governors in the five affected states, but said the agency was following the best science available.

The move could affect agriculture, oil and gas drilling, wind farms and other activities in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico and Kansas.

Fish and Wildlife officials had refused nearly two years ago to list the species as threatened, and efforts across the region have brought about conservation agreements and habitat protection plans from landowners, the oil and gas industry and those aiming to increase the prairie chicken’s numbers.

The listing decision, which will take effect May 1, includes a special rule that will allow officials and private landowners in the five affected states to manage conservation efforts. The rule, which Ashe called unprecedented, specifies that activities such as oil and gas drilling and utility line maintenance that are covered under a five-state conservation plan adopted last year will be allowed to continue.

Oil and gas companies, ranchers and other landowners have pledged to devote more than 3 million acres in the five states toward conserving the bird’s habitat. Most of the acreage was set aside with the aim to prevent the bird from being given federal protection as a threatened species, but Ashe said states and private landowners will play a significant role after the listing decision.

“The key thing is, states will remain in the driver’s seat in management and conservation of this bird,” he said.

Lesser Prairie Chicken Listed as Threatened

On Thursday, the Obama administration listed the lesser prairie chicken, a small grassland bird native to parts of the country’s oil and gas belt, as “threatened.”

Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative

How ranchers have worked with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to bring back the Lesser Prairie Chicken while improving their land for livestock.

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