FWS considers listing lesser prairie chicken as endangered species

The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will consider listing the lesser prairie chicken, a bird whose habitat is in five US Midcontinent states with oil and gas production, as an endangered species.

FWS noted that state conservation agencies already are working to preserve the bird’s grasslands and prairie habitat with the US Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal agencies; and the George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center in Bartlesville, Okla., and other private partners on a voluntary conservation effort across Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.

FWS Director Dan Ashe said the US Department of the Interior agency was encouraged by those efforts. “More work needs to be done to reverse [the bird’s] decline,” he continued. “Similar to what state and federal partners in this region accomplished when the dunes sagebrush lizard was proposed, we must redouble our important work to identify solutions that provide for the long-term conservation of the species and also help working families remain on the land they have stewarded for generations.”

The Independent Petroleum Association of America immediately condemned the move. “The decision is the start of a slippery slope that sets a dangerous precedent for future energy production, economic growth, and working conservation efforts,” it said on Nov. 30. “America’s heartland is flourishing due to oil and gas development in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. It is no accident that the antidevelopment movement is pressing to list a species in this resource-rich region.”

Officials from regional and state oil and gas associations also were critical. “Once again, the federal government has decided to reduce the land available for the production of food and energy for humans, because [FWS] estimates that the number of lesser prairie chickens is declining,” Texas Alliance of Energy Producers Pres. Alex Mills told OGJ. “This is the most recent indication that the Endangered Species Act needs major revisions.”

Ed Cross, president of the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association, said, “We have been working with industry groups in other states and our own state’s regulatory agencies to address the lesser prairie chicken habitat question in a constructive fashion. We hope we will get the necessary information to prevent it from being listed.”

FWS said it will accept public comments on the proposal for 90 days following its Nov. 30 listing in the Federal Register. It also has scheduled public hearings on the matter in Woodward, Okla., on Feb. 5, 2013; Garden City, Kan., on Feb. 7; and Lubbock, Tex., on Feb. 11.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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