USFWS finalizes ESA protections for lesser prairie chicken

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced Endangered Species Act protections for two distinct population segments of the lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), a grassland bird that has been the focus of conservation efforts for decades.

The species, once widespread and abundant, has dwindled in population size due to habitat alteration and fragmentation, partially attributed to the species long-time entanglement with oil and gas development. Today, the species range has diminished by almost 90%, resulting in only a small remaining patch of shortgrass prairie habitat in the southern Great Plains.

“The lesser prairie chicken’s decline is a sign our native grasslands and prairies are in peril,” said USFWS Southwest Regional Director Amy Lueder in a press release. “These habitats support a diversity of wildlife and are valued for water quality, climate resilience, grazing, hunting and recreation.”

The final rule lists two distinct population segments (DPS) under the ESA. The Northern DPS, which can be found in certain regions of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas was granted a threatened designation, while the Southern DPS, ranging from the Texas panhandle to New Mexico, received a more severe endangered designation.

The listing does not include critical habitat designation for either distinct population but will apply the Section 4(d) rule for the Northern DPS. This rule will allow for management flexibilities associated with routine agricultural practices on existing cultivated lands, prescribed burns for grassland management, and prescribed grazing approved by the USFWS.

The final rule will go into effect on Jan. 24, 2023

Read TWS’ Standing Position on Threatened and Endangered Species in the U.S. and Position Statement on the U.S. Endangered Species Act