Story at a glance

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on Wednesday proposed listing the lesser prairie chicken’s population in the southwest Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico as endangered.
  • According to FWS, the five-year average population across the range of the species is about 27,000 birds.
  • It’s estimated the bird’s habitat has shrunk across its historical range by about 90 percent.

The Biden administration has proposed federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act, arguing the animal faces a number of threats and a decline in numbers. 

The lesser prairie chicken is a species of prairie grouse that lives across a five-state range that includes Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. 


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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on Wednesday proposed listing the lesser prairie chicken’s population in the southwest Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico as endangered and birds in the northern part of the species’ range as threatened. 

Public meetings on the proposal will be held in July and the public will have 60 days to make comments. It could be a year before a decision is made. 

According to FWS, the five-year average population across the range of the species is about 27,000 birds. It’s estimated the bird’s habitat has shrunk across its historical range by about 90 percent. 

The decline in the species numbers has been fueled by the degradation and fragmentation of the southern Great Plains due to oil and gas development, agriculture and increasingly warmer temperatures. 

“The loss of America’s native grasslands and prairies of the southern Great Plains has resulted in steep declines of the lesser prairie-chicken and other grassland birds,” FWS Regional Director Amy Lueders said in a statement

The move by the Biden administration could have big consequences for the fossil fuel industry as the range of the species that could be federally protected overlaps with the oil and gas-rich Permian Basin. 

Federal protections would likely impose restrictions on new oil and gas developments in the region where the birds roam. 

The Washington Post reports FWS biologist Clay Nichols said actions that could lead to the killing of prairie chickens or loss of their habitat could be prohibited. 

Conservationists note that man-made structures such as powerlines, telephone poles and drilling rigs provide perches for birds of prey to target the prairie chickens, making the species vulnerable. 

The FWS in 2014 listed the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species, but that decision was overturned in court and a voluntary habitat conservation agreement was put in its place. 

Environmental groups in 2016 filed a petition for the endangered listing, arguing the voluntary conservation programs have fallen short. 


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Published on May 26, 2021