Energy Industry Lawsuit Prompts Feds To De-List Lesser Prairie Chicken

Photo: Lesser prairie chicken
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed the lesser prairie chicken from the Endangered Species List

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed a brown chicken-sized bird that lives in Colorado and four other states from the Endangered Species List.

But the agency says the lesser prairie chicken’s future may still be in peril.

The move comes after a 2015 court challenge by the oil and gas industry requested the agency remove the bird from the list, whose status was listed as threatened. The industry claimed that the Fish and Wildlife service didn't properly evaluate conservation plans for the bird.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials decided not to appeal the court’s ruling. That move prompted outcry from environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity.

FWS biologist Clay Nichols said the bird’s habitat remains fragmented across Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

“The lesser prairie chicken is a grouse, and their flights are usually relatively short,” he said. “So you begin to get this situation where you have isolated pockets of birds that then become more susceptible to drought or wildfire.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the bird’s historic range has been significantly reduced over the years. Some estimates indicate that number is as high as 84 percent.

On Tuesday, the agency stressed that partnerships with states and nonprofits will continue to be important to the bird’s survival. It's even possible that the bird could be re-listed.

“As we move forward we’ll be working with them to have the best science available to determine whether or not we go forward with determining whether or not the bird needs to be placed on the Endangered Species List,” said FWS spokesperson Lesli Gray.

As of Tuesday, Gray said the agency doesn’t have a firm timeline for when it will make the decision.