The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made it official today by removing the lesser prairie chicken from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife, the agency announced in a news release Tuesday.
The agency took the action has part of a court action, and emphasized in the release it does not constitute a biological determination on the bird.
“This administrative action and the decision not to appeal the court’s ruling do not constitute a biological determination on whether or not the lesser prairie-chicken warrants federal protection,” USFWS said. “The service is undertaking a thorough re-evaluation of the bird’s status and the threats it faces using the best available scientific information to determine anew whether listing under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) is warranted.”
USFWS Director Dan Ashe emphasized in a statement his agency would continue to pursue protections for the bird. Agriculture interests have expressed concern such a listing would place a burden on agriculture to comply.
“The storied prairie landscape of the Southwest is of tremendous economic and cultural importance,” Ashe said. “It is also a critical area for the birds, mammals, reptiles and other animals that rely on this unique habitat. Responding to this court ruling by removing the bird from the federal list does not mean we are walking away from efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken. Far from it. We are undertaking a new status review to determine whether listing is again warranted, and we will continue to work with our state partners and others on efforts to protect vital habitat and ensure this flagship of the prairies survives well into the future.”
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On June 9, 2014, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and several New Mexico counties filed a lawsuit challenging the service’s 2014 listing. In September 2015, a court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and vacated the final listing rule, effectively ending ESA protections for the bird.
The ruling also invalidated USFWS’s rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that tailored regulations governing take of the species to focus on activities that are threats to the species’ survival.
“Despite the ruling, the service continues to engage in a number of major initiatives to conserve lesser prairie-chicken populations,” USFWS said in a news release.
The lesser prairie-chicken has been considered to be a species in trouble for almost two decades. Once abundant across much of the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the bird’s historical range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84%, according to USFWS.
“As such, the lesser prairie-chicken serves as a key indicator of the health of native grasslands that support local economies and countless wildlife, such as migratory birds, scaled quail, pronghorn and mule deer,” USFWS said.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement Tuesday it was good USFWS is going back to the drawing board.
“The agency’s original listing was rushed and failed to properly take into consideration the facts on the ground,” Inhofe said.
“Because of the hard work of industry, stakeholders and local leaders, like ODWC Director Richard Hatcher, the states’ conservation plan exceeds the expectations of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, committing more than 9 million acres and $43 million to conservation projects.
“As the court ruled, there clearly was no need for the federal government to interfere.”
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