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Feds reviewing status of lesser prairie chicken

Gary Kramer
Texas Wildlife and Parks

Earlier this year, the lesser prairie chicken was removed from the threatened and endangered species list, but in response to a petition by environmentalists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to review the bird’s status.

According to the Topeka Capital Journal, environmentalists argued that the bird was in need of emergency protections for isolated populations of the lesser prairie chicken along the Texas-New Mexico border, in Colorado and in western Kansas.

The bird’s habitat has shrunk by more than 80 percent since the 1800s and to keep it off the endangered species list, the states have organized their own conservation programs, CJonline reports, offering economic incentives to landowners and companies that set aside land for the bird that equated to 10 million enrolled acres and $60 million in investments by the oil and gas industry, which opposed the Fish and Wildlife’s 2015 move to designate the bird as threatened, one step below endangered. 

In federal court, oil and gas groups argued that the listing would impede operations and result in hundreds of millions of costs to companies in the Permian Basin in western Texas and eastern New Mexico and the judge ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly evaluate the multi-state conservation plan.

Ben Sheppard, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, expressed disappointment in the Fish and Wildlife’s decision to review the lesser prairie chicken’s listing and oil and gas industry and state officials worry that if the bird is once again listed, it could put a damper on drilling, renewable energy development and agricultural operations in the area, Yahoo News reports.

Sheppard said the chicken’s populations have increased over the past four years and that the trend is expected to continue under the conservation plan currently in place.