On November 30, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a proposed rule (pdf) to list the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). While voluntary conservation planning efforts are ongoing, the Service decided (pdf) to move forward with the proposed rule based on “scientific evidence that the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat are in decline.” The Service encouraged the public and scientific community to comment on the proposed rule during the 90-day comment period. The Service will make its final determination based on the best available science.
As previously reported, stakeholders are working towards reaching voluntary agreements to protect the lesser prairie-chicken in lieu of listing the species under the ESA. The Service acknowledged these efforts and stated “we are encouraged by current multi-state efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat, but more work needs to be done to reverse its decline.” In a letter (pdf) encouraging the Service to consider these efforts when making its decision to list the species, Senator Tom Udall (D – N.M.) expressed concern over the impact of a listing decision on landowners, ranchers and other industries in New Mexico. Others, including Senator Jim Inhofe (R – Okla.), are pleased with the Service’s proposal to list the species as threatened, rather than endangered, because it will have less impact on agriculture, highway construction and wind energy development projects in Oklahoma. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), however, is committed to protecting the lesser prairie-chicken without assistance from the ESA. Today, BLM announced that it purchased 1,789 acres of private land in southeastern New Mexico as additional habitat for the species. (San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 7, 2012).