Thursday, September 03, 2015

District Court vacates 'threatened' status for lesser prairie chicken

A U.S. District Court on Tuesday vacated federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken, which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act last year by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Devin Henry reports for The Hill. U.S. District Judge Robert Junell said FWS "did not properly consider active conservation efforts for the bird when listing it last March." The oil and gas industry has challenged the listing of the bird, arguing that the voluntary program would have done enough to protect the bird, which lives mainly in Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado. (Encyclopedia of Earth map: location of lesser prairie chickens)

"The court ruled that the FWS should have better predicted how many people would participate in the protection program before moving forward with an Endangered Species Act listing," Henry writes. The judge wrote, “The Court finds FSW did conduct an analysis; however, this analysis was neither ‘rigorous’ nor valid as FWS failed to consider important questions and material information necessary to make a proper . . . evaluation.”

Republicans, who have been critical of the listing, applauded the ruling, Henry writes. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told Henry, "The U.S. District Court decision ruled that by listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been illegally steamrolling states by their own secret rules."

Conservationists criticized the decision, Henry writes. Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement, “This decision turns the Endangered Species Act on its head by concluding the Fish and Wildlife Service should have given the benefit of the doubt to the oil and gas industry, rather than a species that has seen its habitat and populations vanish." (Read more)

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