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SCB Calls for Listing Lesser Prairie Chicken as an Endangered Species

March 11, 2013.  Today the Society for Conservation Biology submitted comments on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) proposed rule to list the Lesser Prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, a lower degree of protection than being listed as “endangered.”  Since 1999, the best available science has clearly indicated that the Lesser Prairie-chicken should be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The only reason that the Prairie-chicken has not yet been listed sooner was due to a lack of funding within the listing division of the FWS. 

SCB explains that a listing as endangered is appropriate because the Prairie-chicken has declined between 84-92% from its historic population levels, and has had a similar decrease in its geographic range.  In particular, the Prairie-chicken has declined over 81% in Texas (from 236,000 sq km to 12,000 sq km) and 94% in New Mexico (mostly in the mixed-grass prairie BCR), which clearly qualifies the species for protection as endangered based on threats within a “significant portion of its range.”

SCB also raised substantive concerns regarding the failure of the FWS to propose critical habitat for the Prairie-chicken at the time of the listing proposal.   The FWS has monitored for 15 years, has been the subject of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, and the biology of the species is very-well understood.  Because Prairie-chickens depend on communal leks, where males display to attract breeding females, SCB recommended that all known, active leks be designated as critical habitat along with a buffer area around each lek.

Finally, SCB provided comments on the FWS’s unprecedented proposal that the existence of four “strongholds” for the Prairie-chicken might obviate the need for listing.  Under the FWS proposal, a “stronghold” is defined as a contiguous area that supports 6-10 active leks with 6 male birds displaying at each lek, or 60 adult males.  In other words, a species which may have numbered 2 million individuals can be “secured” by the presence of 240 adult male Prairie-chickens. SCB believes that a conservation strategy, which permits a 99% decline in current abundance, is not adequate to defer listing under the ESA.

Read the full comments HERE.