The Fish and Wildlife Service is delaying its listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act in order to give cattle producers time to enroll in conservation agreements.

Delaying the effective date from Jan. 24 to March 27 “will allow for additional pre-listing enrollment in conservation plans that are beneficial to the species and will allow the service to continue to work with interested parties to expand our list of approved parties to develop site-specific grazing management plans,” the agency said in a Federal Register notice to be published Tuesday.

In November, FWS listed the northern distinct population of the bird as threatened and issued a 4(d) rule allowing exemptions from the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition against “take” of the species. Specifically, the agency said the exception is for take that is “incidental to grazing management when land managers are following a site-specific grazing plan developed by a party that has been approved by the service.”

The northern population covers southeastern Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and the northeast Texas Panhandle. The service also delayed the effective date for the listing of the southern distinct population segment of the bird as endangered. That segment includes New Mexico and the southwest Texas Panhandle, and the 4(d) exceptions do not apply.

Lawmakers whose districts include the northern habitat sent a letter to the agency Jan. 12 seeking an extension of the effective date until April 1.

“While we strongly urge the service to revoke the listing, at minimum it is necessary to delay the effective date for involved parties to effectively comply with the rule,” they said. “An extension of the effective date will give industry stakeholders more time to participate in or expand voluntary conservation prior to the primary nesting season of the (lesser prairie chicken) and give ranchers time to comply with the new 4(d) rule for grazing activities or establish Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).”

After Monday's announcement, 13 lawmakers issued a joint statement saying they're happy about the delay, but their preference "continues to be that this listing of the lesser prairie-chicken be dropped.

"Each party that is targeted by this listing must take advantage of this opportunity to continue to engage in their longstanding voluntary conservation efforts, a fact that went completely ignored by the federal government when it came to this decision," their statement said. "We commend Secretary Haaland for the additional time, but we will continue to do what we can at the federal level to stop the rule from going into effect.” 

The statement was issued by Sens. Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran of Kansas, and James Lankford and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma. Reps. Tracey Mann, Jake LaTurner and Ron Estes of Kansas; August Pfluger and Ronny Jackson of Texas; Stephanie Bice, Frank Lucas and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, and Dan Newhouse of Washington also signed on. 

Until March 27, FWS said it would review pending enrollments to conservation efforts and requests to become service-approved providers of grazing management plans, "coordinate with federal agencies under section 7 of the (Endangered Species Act) Act, and coordinate directly with stakeholders to provide clarity regarding potential implications of the listing on their operations."

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