Swift Action Required to Save Species Down by 13 Percent Since 2015
Photo courtesy USFWS.
TUCSON, Ariz.—(ENEWSPF)–July 19, 2016. In response to a court ruling last fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today removed Endangered Species Act protection for lesser prairie chickens without proposing a new protections for the birds, which have lost more than 90 percent of their prairie habitat. Last year’s legal ruling required the agency to vacate its 2014 decision to protect the rare grouse as “threatened” but in no way prohibited it from proposing much-needed new protections for the bird, whose population has dropped by more than 13 percent since last year.
“The Service’s own scientists have warned that losing even a small amount of suitable habitat could send these magical birds into a death spiral,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Yet, even with populations declining and habitat dwindling to dangerous levels, the agency is giving up and failing to propose new protections critical to this unique bird’s survival.”
For centuries lesser prairie chickens have displayed their unusual springtime courtship rituals across eastern New Mexico, the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, Kansas and southeastern Colorado. But their populations have now declined by up to 99 percent from historic levels.
To try to head off the 2014 Endangered Species Act protections for the birds, the five states banded together to create a “range-wide plan” for conserving the grouse. The Fish and Wildlife Service said the voluntary plan failed to reduce threats to the birds. Still a Texas judge last year, responding to a lawsuit brought by oil and gas interests and several counties in New Mexico, ordered the Service to get rid of the listing and to reconsider the voluntary plan. Despite the voluntary plan, habitat loss, fragmentation and conversion remain major threats to the birds, isolating them in smaller populations as their numbers continue to drop.
“It’s clear the voluntary plans created by state agencies and energy interests have failed to give lesser prairie chickens the help they desperately need,” said Sanerib. “Without Endangered Species Act protections there’s an ever-escalating chance we’ll lose these rare birds forever.”
After conservation groups petitioned the Service to protect the birds in 1995, they were put on the candidate waiting list for protection in 1998, and listed as a “threatened” species in 2014.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org
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