Questions from Tiffany’s Desk: What’s Going on with the Lesser Prairie Chicken

Question:  I keep reading about a five-state plan that was approved last week involving the lesser prairie chicken.  What is going on?  Is it an endangered species now?

Photo via Sally Paez, Santa Fe, NM

Answer:  The lesser prairie chicken is a species of prairie grouse located in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.  The chicken was proposed initially proposed to be listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”)  in 1995, but the current proposal was filed on December 11, 2012.  Initially, a determination was set to be made by September 30, 2013, but after comments received during the designated public comment period expressed concerns related to the data used in the proposal, the deadline was extended until March 2014 to allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek additional scientific information.  Thus, at the present time, the lesser prairie chicken is not listed as a threatened species under the ESA.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to determine whether to list the chicken under the Act next March.

Last week, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed a voluntary conservation plan for the lesser prairie chicken that was drafted by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in an attempt to provide a conservation plan to protect the chicken, while precluding the need for the chicken to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.  “The goal of the [plan] is to conserve the [chicken] for future generations while facilitating continued and uninterrupted economic activity” throughout the five states where the lesser prairie chicken exists.The plan, titled the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan, was developed by a group of five states working together:  Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado.  The plan provides financial incentives to landowners who voluntarily manage their land to benefit the chicken, and seeks to mitigate potentially harmful effects to the chicken from development.  Further, if the chicken is listed under the ESA, the plan provides a mechanism that would establish than any actions taken under the plan would be compliant with the ESA.  [Read plan here.]

The endorsement of the plan does not, however, mean that the plan’s implementation will lead to a decision that the chicken should not be listed as a threatened species.  The plan and the effectiveness of its implementation, however, will be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when it makes its final determination on whether to list the lesser prairie chicken under the ESA next March.  If listed as a threatened species, the ESA will limit the kinds of activities that may be conducted in the species’ habitat.  [Read article here.]

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