This administrative action and the decision not to appeal the court’s ruling do not constitute a biological determination on whether or not the lesser prairie-chicken warrants federal protection. The Service is undertaking a thorough re-evaluation of the bird’s status and the threats it faces using the best available scientific information to determine anew whether listing under the ESA is warranted.
“The storied prairie landscape of the Southwest is of tremendous economic and cultural importance. It is also a critical area for the birds, mammals, reptiles and other animals that rely on this unique habitat,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Responding to this court ruling by removing the bird from the Federal List does not mean we are walking away from efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken. Far from it. We are undertaking a new status review to determine whether listing is again warranted, and we will continue to work with our state partners and others on efforts to protect vital habitat and ensure this flagship of the prairies survives well into the future.”
On June 9, 2014, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and several New Mexico counties filed a lawsuit challenging the Service’s 2014 listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species under the ESA. In September 2015, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and vacated the final listing rule, effectively ending ESA protections for the bird. The ruling had the effect of also invalidating the Service’s rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that tailored the regulations governing take of the species under the ESA to focus on those activities that are threats to the species’ survival.
Despite the ruling, the Service continues to engage in a number of major initiatives to conserve lesser prairie-chicken populations. Prime among these is the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan developed and administered by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; others include the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program and Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, the joint Bureau of Land Management Candidate Conservation Agreement and Center of Excellence in Hazardous Materials Management Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances in New Mexico and other individual conservation agreements with private landowners.
The lesser prairie-chicken, a species of prairie grouse renowned for its colorful spring mating display, has been considered a species in trouble for almost two decades. Once abundant across much of the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the lesser prairie-chicken’s historical range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84 percent. As such, the lesser prairie-chicken serves as a key indicator of the health of native grasslands that support local economies and countless wildlife, such as migratory birds, scaled quail, pronghorn and mule deer.
The direct final rule will be available in the Federal Register Reading Room on July 19, 2016, and publish on July 20, 2016. Please go to www.regulations.gov, Docket No. FWS-ES-R2-2016-0028, for additional information.
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