On May 6, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed (pdf) a limited exception to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections currently being considered for the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). The special rule is proposed pursuant to section 4(d) of the ESA, and would allow take of lesser prairie-chickens as long as such take is incidental to activities performed under a conservation plan that the Service has determined will provide a net benefit to the species.

The lesser prairie chicken is a small, grayish-brown grouse that inhabits grasslands and prairie habitat in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. As previously reported, the Service proposed listing the species as threatened under the ESA in December. The Service reopened the comment period for this proposed rule for an additional 45 days.

The special rule would only be implemented if the lesser prairie-chicken receives ESA protections. According to the Service, the special rule is proposed “in recognition of the significant conservation planning efforts occurring throughout the range of the lesser prairie-chicken for the purpose of reducing or eliminating threats affecting the species.”

The Service also announced the availability of a draft conservation plan that was developed by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Working Group, which is comprised of states, landowners, and energy developers who have partnered to prevent the bird from becoming listed. The proposed special rule discusses the draft plan, explaining: “For the Service to approve coverage of a comprehensive conservation program under this 4(d) special rule, the program must provide a net conservation benefit to the lesser prairie-chicken population.”

Comments on the proposed special rule, the proposed listing, and the draft conservation plan (as such comments relate to the Service’s listing determination) are due June 20, 2013.