Lesser prairie chicken off threatened list | TSLN.com

Lesser prairie chicken off threatened list

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today removed the lesser prairie chicken from the agency's list of endangered and threatened species.

The Federal Register notice is expected to be published Wednesday.

Fish and Wildlife, a division of the Interior Department, took the action in response to a court order, but the Center for Biological Diversity said the agency should have proposed an alternative protection plan.

Five states — New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado — created a voluntary plan to conserve the lesser prairie chicken, but Fish and Wildlife maintained it failed to reduce threats to the birds and in 2014 listed the bird as threatened.

Oil and gas groups and counties in New Mexico sued to stop the listing, and on September 1, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of West Texas issued an order vacating the final listing rule for the lesser prairie-chicken.

"Despite the voluntary plan, habitat loss, fragmentation and conversion remain major threats to the birds, isolating them in smaller populations as their numbers continue to drop," the center said.

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Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said the USFWS did not give the voluntary plan an opportunity to prove its effectiveness, and that he fears the service will start the listing process again.

"It's critical that we do not let our guard down and allow the USFWS to restart the listing process," Moran said.

"I will continue advocating for policies to conserve the species through locally-driven efforts to avoid additional and unnecessary federal mandates."

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said "Only time will tell if this is anything more than a temporary, court-ordered reprieve for the administration, before they revert back to the same old ways."

–The Hagstrom Report