The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday officially removed the lesser prairie-chicken from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
The action to remove the prairie-chicken from the list fulfilled a court ruling. It does not constitute a biological determination on whether or not the lesser prairie-chicken warrants federal protection. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife 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 FWS 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.”
On June 9, 2014, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and several New Mexico counties filed a lawsuit challenging the FWS’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.
A report on ABC.com noted that about 95 percent of the bird's range is on private lands and that each of the primary five states had organized their own conservation program to preempt any official listing.
Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, said she's worried the agency still is re-evaluating the bird's status. “The agency did choose not to appeal the listing in this particular case, but it is not precluded from trying to list a second time,” she said.
Despite the ruling, the FWS 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 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 direct final rule will be available in the Federal Register Reading Room on July 19, 2016, and publish on July 20, 2016. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FWS-R2-ES-2016-0028-0001, for additional information.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ABC.com