Lesser Prairie Chicken Threatened Status Stripped by Federal Court

Lesser Prairie Chicken Threatened Status Stripped by Federal Court

A U.S. District Court in Texas ruled on September 1 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately evaluate the states' range-wide conservation plan (RWP) when it listed the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The decision on the lawsuit that was filed by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association removes the protected status from the bird. In his analysis, District Judge Robert Junell stated that the FWS did not follow their Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions (PECE) when analyzing the RWP developed by the state fish and wildlife agencies and being implemented by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

"[The Fish and Wildlife Service] failed to properly apply PECE to its evaluation of the RWP resulting in material error," Judge Junell wrote in his decision. "This caused FWS to arbitrarily and capriciously list the [Lesser Prairie Chicken] as a threatened species. Accordingly, the Court vacates the final rule."

According to WAFWA, since the plan went into effect in 2014, more than 96,000 acres of lesser prairie-chicken habitat has been conserved through 10-year landowner agreements. In addition, more than 180 oil, gas, wind, electric and pipeline companies have enrolled about 11 million acres across five states and have committed $47.5 million for habitat conservation. The combination of abundant spring rainfall and the conservation efforts helped increase bird populations by 24 percent since 2014, though WAFWA cautions that numbers are still low compared to historic populations and there continue to be threats to the bird and its habitat.

In response to the ruling, PBPA President, Ben Shepperd stated, "The PBPA applauds Judge Junell's decision in our suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior. This ruling serves as vindication of the unprecedented stakeholder participation across the Lesser Prairie Chicken range. Our members' good faith efforts to conserve LPC habitat and recover the species through the Range-wide Plan began long before this listing decision was made and will continue unabated now that the court has thrown it out."

September 15, 2015