Photos by USDA NRCS

Photos by USDA NRCS

Texas judge says ESA listing for lesser prairie chicken is a no-go

Ruling invalidates ESA listing for the lesser prairie chicken.

A federal district judge in Midland, Texas threw a high hard one Wednesday when he invalidated the listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). U.S. District Judge Robert Junell found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) didn’t consider its own rules in considering the conservation efforts of landowners in the five states where the bird resides.

The suit was filed by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four counties in New Mexico. The plaintiffs alleged that FWS didn’t follow its own rules for evaluating conservation efforts when it made the decision to list the lesser prairie chicken, didn’t properly explain its decision and didn’t respond to plaintiff’s concerns. While the judge agreed with the plaintiffs on the first point, he ruled in favor of FWS on the other two, according to the Oklahoma Farm Report.

However, the ruling on the first point, that FWS “arbitrarily and capriciously” listed the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species, is sufficient to block the listing.

Populations of the lesser prairie chicken are found in portions of five states—Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. FWS listed the bird as threatened last year due to declines in the bird’s population. However, aerial surveys estimate the population around 29,162 in 2015, up from 23,363 in 2014 and 19,643 in 2013.

Following the announcement last year that FWS would list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened, several state attorneys general filed suit, as did several agricultural organizations in the affected states. The status of those suits is unclear.

“The combination of replenishing rains and strategic habitat management practices by landowners, we believe, has boosted numbers of this bird,” says Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening. “This ruling serves as a warning that these efforts need to be considered before attempts for listing species as threatened or endangered are made.”

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