Judge vacates FWS listing of lesser prairie chicken as threatened

A federal district judge in Texas vacated the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species after finding that the US Department of the Interior agency failed to follow its own evaluation procedures for conservation efforts that already were under way (OGJ Online, Mar. 24, 2014).

The decision potentially could affect FWS’s long-anticipated decision whether to list the greater sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species, which is expected by the end of this month. Both birds dwell in oil and gas producing areas, so listing either or both species as threatened would have a profound effect on operations.

Robert Junell, senior judge for US District Court for Western Texas’s Midland-Odessa Division, said in his Sept. 1 decision that FWS acted arbitrarily and capriciously in disregarding conservation efforts on millions of acres across five states to improve habitat and diminish threats to the bird.

“This ruling serves as vindication of the unprecedented stakeholder participation across the lesser prairie chicken range,” Permian Basin Petroleum Association Pres. Ben Shepperd said on Sept. 2.

“Our members’ good faith efforts to conserve [lesser prairie chicken] habitat and recover the species through the Range-wide Plan began long before this listing decision was made, and will continue unabated now that the court has thrown it out,” he said.

US House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said that Junell’s ruling showed that “by listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened, [FWS] has been illegally steamrolling states by [its] own secret rules.”

Bishop said, “The Obama administration has been merciless in its quest to list species—even when the science says otherwise. This is exactly why the House passed provisions to stop FWS from undoing the states’ conservation work on both the lesser prairie chicken and the greater sage grouse.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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