WASHINGTON, March 27, 2014-- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today announced its final listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

FWS said it determined that the lesser prairie-chicken is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future and warrants listing as “threatened” under the ESA. Under the law, a “threatened” listing means the species is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future; it is a step below “endangered” under the ESA.

“The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. The lesser prairie-chicken population, due largely to habitat loss and ongoing drought in the southern Great Plains, has been reduced in the past 15 years by an estimated 84 percent.

“Our determination that it warrants listing as a threatened species with a special rule acknowledges the unprecedented partnership efforts and leadership of the five range states for management of the species,” Ashe said in the notification.

FWS also included a final special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that is supposed to limit regulatory impacts on landowners and businesses from the listing. The rule will allow the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, to continue to manage conservation efforts for the species and avoid further regulation of activities such as oil and gas development and utility line maintenance that are covered under the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA) range-wide conservation plan.

The special rule also says conservation practices through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and through “ongoing normal agricultural practices on existing cultivated land” are in compliance with the ESA and not subject to further regulation.

The agency said it placed this rule in recognition of “the significant and ongoing efforts of states and landowners to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken.”

Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who is part of an ESA Working Group formed by House Republicans, said he is “incredibly disappointed” with FWS’s decision.

“The timing of this decision is being driven by activist lawsuits, instead of what’s best for the species and the communities near its habitat,” he said. 

Neugebauer, who helped introduce a bill that requires FWS to provide states with the data they are using to justify their listing decisions, said the listing of the lesser prairie-chicken is unnecessary because the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ developed the Range-Wide Conservation Plan as a collaboration between farmers, ranchers, energy producers, and governments across five states.

“But instead of cooperative conservation, we’re getting more Washington-Knows-Best regulations,” he said. “Decisions like this will discourage innovative conservation efforts in the private sector, and ultimately do more harm than good.”

The Natural Resources Committee will consider H.R. 4317, the State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act in a full committee hearing on April 8, 2014. 


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