Environmental groups sue FWS over lesser prairie chicken designation

Three environmental organizations sued the US Fish and Wildlife Service over its Mar. 27 decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened, but not endangered, species (OGJ Online, Mar. 28, 2013).

The ruling included an unprecedented use of a final special rule under Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act to let oil and gas producers and others in five Midcontinent states continue their environmental impact mitigation efforts under a range-wide conservation plan.

That left the bird unprotected from death or injury by oil and gas drilling, power line maintenance, livestock grazing, and other human activities within its habitat in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado, Defenders of Wildlife, The Center for Biological Diversity, and Wildlife Guardians said in their June 17 action in US District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Habitat destruction and drought are continuing to devastate the small remaining population of this magnificent grassland bird,” said Jay Lininger, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These unenforceable, proindustry agreements fail to ensure the level of protection required by the [ESA] to avert extinction.”

The listing helped fuel a surge in oil and gas enrollments to help preserve the bird, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which is spearheading the voluntary environmental impact mitigation efforts, said on June 3.

“To date, 160 oil, gas, wind, electric, and pipeline companies have enrolled about 9 million acres across the five states that contain habitat for the bird’s survival, committing more than $43 million for habitat conservation over the next 3 years, the Cheyenne, Wyo.-based organization said.

The environmental groups’ lawsuit also listed US Sec. of the Interior Sally Jewell and FWS Director Daniel M. Ashe as defendants.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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