Judge Says No to Lesser Prairie Chicken Threatened StatusThu, 03 Sep 2015 04:18:56 CDT
An attempt to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened under the Endangered Species Act has been invalidated because the agency did not consider the conservation efforts of the landowners in the five states where the chicken resides.
In a 29-page ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Junell found the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t follow their own rule for evaluating conservation efforts when making listing decisions about the lesser prairie chicken. You can review the full order by clicking on the PDF link at the bottom of this story.
Junell says not following their own rules caused the agency to arbitrarily and capriciously” list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.
The plaintiffs in the case were the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four New Mexico counties. Defendants were the Fish and Wildlife Service, FWS Director Daniel Ashe, the Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
The plaintiffs challenged whether the FWS followed its own rules, properly explained its decision and responded to the plaintiffs’ concerns. While the judge sided with the plaintiffs on the first claim, he ruled in favor of the defendants in the other two claims.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has said the “threatened” listing last year was the result of a steep decline in the bird’s population in recent years. Five states are home to the lesser prairie chicken: Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
However, a recent aerial survey by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Association found an estimated 29,162 lesser prairie chickens, an increase from 19,643 in 2013 and 23,363 in 2014.
House Natural Resources Committee chair Rob Bishop, R-Utah, released a statement today in support of the court and accusing FWS of “illegally steamrolling states by their own secret rules.”
“This is exactly why the House passed provisions to stop FWS from undoing the states' conservation work on both the lesser prairie chicken and the sage grouse,” Bishop said. An FWS listing decision on the greater sage grouse is due by Sept. 30.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair and Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe concurred with Bishop, claiming the lesser prairie chicken's population has actually grown by 20 percent since 2014.
“The increase in LPC (lesser prairie chicken) population shows that states, industry, and farmers have proven their ability to steward their land and successfully conserve the LPS population without the need for big government interference,” Inhofe said.
In addition, he continued, “Oklahoma and four other states in the LPC's range established non-federal conservation plans prior to the administration's decision to list the species” that FWS should have given more consideration.
Earlier this year- four of the five US House members from Oklahoma promoted an amendement that would have tied the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Service in additional actions that could result in the species being declared endangered. The group of Oklahoma Republicans proposed an amendment that would block the re-listing of the prairie chicken on the endangered species list until 2021, unless the Interior secretary determines that a conservation plan is not working.
The measure was touted by Oklahoma Republican Reps. Frank Lucas, Jim Bridenstine, Markwayne Mullin, and Steve Russell- it was approved by the House in May of this year.
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