Court Decision: Lesser Prairie-Chicken

The lesser prairie-chicken was once plentiful in the Great Plains, but conservationists suggest the species has lost over 80% of its habitat to oil and gas operations, wind farms and power lines.  <b>On September 1, 2015, a summary judgment decided otherwise.</b><b> </b>

<span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN</span>

According to the association leading the industry case, the listing of the lesser prairie-chicken on the endangered species list <i>“would impede operations and cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas development in one of the country’s most prolific basins, the Permian Basin in the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico.”</i>

Plaintiffs in the case undertook a cooperative effort with the lead association, Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA), and included:  Lea County, Chavez County, Eddy County, and Roosevelt County, NM.

<b>LEA COUNTY CHAIRMAN GREGG FULFER</b> stated, “<i>we felt it necessary to coordinate efforts to file the motion to stop the listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species.  This listing would be extremely detrimental to Lea County, resulting in the loss of a critical number of jobs.”</i>

<span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>PBPA president, Ben Shepperd</span>, said earlier this month the ruling <i>“serves as vindication of the unprecedented stakeholder participation across the lesser prairie-chicken range.”</i>

In a bid to keep the bird off the endangered species list, the five states in the lesser prairie-chicken’s range – including New Mexico – <b><i>organized their own conservation program</i></b>, offering economic incentives to landowners and companies that set aside land. Despite those efforts, the lesser prairie- chicken was designated as threatened last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one step beneath endangered status under the Endangered Species Act.

After this spring’s rains, the bird population increased by 25 percent to 29,000 birds, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

<b>On September 1, the United States District Court of Western Texas Midland-Odessa Division, granted a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs’ claim</b> that the Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) did not follow their own rule for evaluating conservation efforts when FWS published a final rule on April 10, 2014 listing the lesser prairie-chicken as endangered.

<b>LEA COUNTY MANAGER, MIKE GALLAGHER</b> further stated, <i>“We are very pleased at the court’s vacating the FWS final rule.  FWS’s failure to properly follow its own rule when conducting (their analysis) was the judge’s basis for his decision to vacate the FWS’s final rule.”</i>

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