The bird lives in the grasslands of the Texas panhandle, as well as in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado. The proposal to list it as “threatened” rather than “endangered” allows Fish and Wildlife more flexibility in crafting conservation measures for the animal.
Under the listing, “we can tailor ‘take’ prohibitions under section 4d of the Act,” Leslie Gray, Texas Public Affairs Specialist with the Service, told StateImpact Texas.
A “take” is an action that harms, harasses or kills the animal.
Gray says the Service has crafted special rules for other animals in the past.
“We’ve done that for species such as the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse and the California Tiger Salamander. And basically in those 4d rules it allows ‘takes’ associated with routine farming and ranching operations because it was determined that that ‘take’ was not significant to the species,” said Gray.
She said the service would now investigate whether similar rules could be crafted for the Lesser Prairie Chicken.
While some conservationists may have preferred a proposal for the more stringent “endangered” listing, many politicians as well as business interests had lobbied against that move.
Conservative Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe called the listing “very good news,” according to NewsOK.
Some are hoping the species wont end up being listed at all.
The Environmental Defense Fund has held up the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a prime candidate for protection under a system of Wildlife Habitat Exchanges. It’s a system of voluntary compliance much like the program that kept the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard off the endangered species list.
EDF is working with landowners, developers and energy companies to design a new, cooperative approach to conservation that promises ample habitat protection at low cost – potentially enough habitat to reverse dwindling populations and avert a final listing under the law. This approach, known as Wildlife Habitat Exchanges, enlists private landowners like ranchers and farmers to create and maintain vital habitat, which energy companies and other developers can in turn use to meet their obligations to protect wildlife.
Under the rules, U.S. Fish and Wildlife will take 90 days to seek public comment and gather information on the bird. The Service has until September 30, 2013 to make a decision on whether to list the species.
The Lesser Prairie Chicken is just one of 251 species the Service has agreed to propose as threatened or endangered under the terms of a legal settlement reached last year between the Service and conservation groups.
Many more species in Texas will be proposed for listing under that settlement in the future.