WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2016 - The lesser prairie chicken (LPC) has cleared the first hurdle on a path that could lead to another listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday it has issued a positive 90-day finding on a petition filed in September by WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, who are seeking an endangered listing.

FWS cited habitat loss, a lack of adequate regulations and “other natural or manmade factors” as reasons for launching a status review, which is due in nine months. At that time, FWS will decide whether LPC deserves to be listed under the ESA.

The bird, which can be found in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas, had been listed as threatened until a federal judge in Texas determined last year that FWS had improperly evaluated the impact of voluntary conservation efforts, including a plan administered by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four New Mexico counties.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he was disappointed with the FWS decision, adding that the agency should have given more consideration to the states’ voluntary conservation plans.

“The ESA should be a last resort,” Inhofe said in a release. “Local, cooperative efforts, as seen in Oklahoma and her partner states, could set a precedent for a way to move forward on species conservation without the heavy hand of the federal government. I am confident that the Trump administration is aware that state conservation is sufficient to protect the lesser prairie-chicken and I will work with the new administration to ensure local efforts are given the chance to work.”

The FWS decision is “ridiculous,” says U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan. “They are simply ignoring the fact that the bird’s population has increased by 50 percent in recent years,” she said in a release, adding that she also plans to work with the incoming administration “to ensure state-led volunteer conservation practices remain the best approach for success.”

Jenkins is right about the increase. In 2013, the LPC’s total population was put at 17,615, and now it’s estimated at 25,651 – nearly a 50 percent jump. But if you begin calculating in 2012, when the population was said to be 34,440, then bird numbers saw a 25 percent decline.

The petitioners said in a press release that despite three years of voluntary protection efforts, LPC populations have not rebounded. “The bird is severely threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation caused by oil and gas development, cropland conversion, wind turbines, livestock grazing and roads and power lines,” they said.

“The science is clear: lesser prairie chickens are gravely imperiled, and unenforceable, voluntary conservation efforts alone have proven incapable of saving this unique bird,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director with WildEarth Guardians. “The lesser prairie chickens needs strong, enforceable protections to ensure it not only survives, but recovers in the face of worsening climate change and habitat destruction.”


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