Lesser Prairie Chicken loses protection

Posted by Christine, September 3, 2015

Devin Henry writes for The Hill,  – 09/02/15 01:52 PM EDT

A court has vacated federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken, a Great Plains bird that was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act last year.

The court said the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) did not properly consider active conservation efforts for the bird when listing it last March.

Animals are granted “threatened” status when they’re in danger of becoming endangered. In the prairie chicken’s case, regulators listed the bird after determining not enough landowners and companies operating in its territory had enrolled in a voluntary protection program.

An oil and gas association challenged the listing in federal court, arguing the voluntary program would have done enough to protect the bird.

The court ruled that the FWS should have better predicted how many people would participate in the protection program before moving forward with an Endangered Species Act listing.

“The Court finds FSW did conduct an analysis,” U.S. District Judge Robert Junell wrote in a decision released Tuesday, “however this analysis was neither ‘rigorous’ nor valid as FWS failed to consider important questions and material information necessary to make a proper … evaluation.”

The endangered status of the prairie chicken is contentious, with Republicans and some industries arguing that protections for the bird are too burdensome for the energy sector.

Oklahoma lawmakers looked to attach a provision to this year’s defense authorization bill blocking its re-listing under the ESA until at least 2021.

“The U.S. District Court decision ruled that by listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been illegally steamrolling states by their own secret rules,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said.

“The Obama administration has been merciless in its quest to list species – even when the science says otherwise.”

The judge’s decision to vacate the listing angered conservation groups on Wednesday.

“This decision turns the Endangered Species Act on its head by concluding the Fish and Wildlife Service should have given the benefit of the doubt to the oil and gas industry, rather than a species that has seen its habitat and populations vanish,” Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.