FWS: Fresh ESA bid to list lesser prairie chicken may be warranted

The US Fish & Wildlife Service announced that it completed an initial review of a fresh petition to list the lesser prairie chicken as an endangered species, and found sufficient evidence that the petition may be warranted. This will trigger a thorough status review, the US Department of the Interior agency said on Nov. 29.

The initial review came in response to a Sept. 8 petition by WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife that the bird be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Its habitat includes areas of oil and gas drilling and production in parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.

The petition also asked that the sand sage and shinnery oak prairie populations be emergency listed under the ESA, FWS said. The agency said that it will accept comments for 60 days following the notice’s scheduled publication in the Nov. 30 Federal Register.

Responding to the announcement, US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) expressed disappointment that FWS was moving ahead to consider the new petition. “It is important that we let the multistate conservation plan have time to work before bringing down the full force of the Endangered Species Act,” he said.

“The ESA should be a last resort and local, cooperative efforts, as seen in Oklahoma and her partner states, could set a precedent for a way to move forward on species conservation without the heavy hand of the federal government,” Inhofe said. “I am confident that the Trump administration is aware that state conservation is sufficient to protect the lesser prairie chicken and I will work with the new administration to ensure local efforts are given the chance to work.”

A federal district judge in Texas vacated FWS’s original listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in September 2015 after finding the agency failed to follow its own evaluation procedures for conservation efforts that already were under way (OGJ Online, Sept. 3, 2015).

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies encouraged oil and gas companies to enroll leases and pipelines in its voluntary lesser prairie chicken conservation program despite the court’s decision (OGJ Online, Nov. 12, 2015).

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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