FWS Proposes Threatened and Endangered Listing for Lesser Prairie-Chickens

FWS Proposes Threatened and Endangered Listing for Lesser Prairie-Chickens

On June 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a Federal Register Notice proposing to list two distinct population segments (DPS) of lesser prairie-chickens under the Endangered Species Act. The Southern DPS consists of the shinnery oak ecoregion in New Mexico and Texas, and the Northern DPS consists of the sand sagebrush ecoregion, the mixed grass ecoregion, and the short grass/Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) ecoregion in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas; these regions make up the entirety of the range of lesser prairie-chickens. According to the FWS, habitat loss and fragmentation have caused declines of up to 90% from historic levels. As a result, the agency determined that the Southern DPS is warranted for listing as endangered and the Northern DPS is warranted for listing as threatened.

The announcement states: “The primary threat impacting both DPSs is the ongoing loss of large, connected blocks of grassland and shrubland habitat. The Southern DPS has low resiliency, redundancy, and representation and is particularly vulnerable to severe droughts due to being located in the dryer and hotter southwestern portion of the range… (A)s a result of habitat loss and fragmentation, resiliency has been much reduced across two of the ecoregions in the Northern DPS when compared to historical conditions. However, this DPS still has redundancy across the three ecoregions and genetic and environmental representation. We expect habitat loss and fragmentation across the Northern DPS to continue into the foreseeable future, resulting in even further reduced resiliency.”

“This announcement is emblematic of the loss of prairie habitats across North America, making prairies the most threatened ecosystem on the continent,” said Ted Koch, Executive Director of the North American Grouse Partnership. “The decline of chickens is consistent with unprecedented loss of other grassland birds, pollinators, and other prairie ecosystem functions including soil health, water quality and even carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change.”

The publishing of the proposed listing decision opens a public comment period that closes on August 2, 2021. Comments can be submitted electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal and searching for docket number FWS-R2-ES-2021-0015.

June 15, 2021