Fish and Wildlife Service Gives Free Pass on Failed Conservation Deadline
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 2, 2015
Contact: Courtney Sexton, 202.772.0253, email@example.com
WASHINGTON— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) granted the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) a waiver from a legally-bound conservation deadline on Tuesday that was designed to conserve the lesser prairie chicken. The association failed to meet a March 31st deadline to acquire enough permanently-protected property to offset habitat loss from oil and gas drilling in the lesser prairie chicken’s dwindling range. Broad exemptions were included for oil and gas developers when the birds were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2014, under the condition that WAFWA commit to a minimal amount of permanent conservation protection to offset further impacts to the species’ habitat. The Service gave WAFWA until March 31st to ensure that 25 percent of the mitigation for oil and gas development came from permanently-protected mitigation credits that were consistent with approved conservation banking standards. WAFWA failed to meet this legal deadline. But instead of holding the association accountable for this violation, the Service simply extended the deadline for two more years, a decision that could have serious adverse impacts on the already threatened grouse population.
The following is a statement from Jamie Rappaport Clark, President, Defenders of Wildlife:
“The lesser prairie-chicken population plummeted and the species got the short end of the stick when the ESA listing included broad exemptions for the oil and gas industry to continue activities that destroy the birds’ habitat. Now, states and developers aren’t even being held accountable for failing to meet the key conservation provisions that allowed such broad exemptions in the first place.
“By giving WAWFA a free pass and two more years to implement basic conservation commitments, the Fish and Wildlife Service is essentially signaling that legal agreements don’t matter, and that offsetting adverse impacts to our country’s endangered wildlife can be allowed to slide.
“The oil and gas industry has continued to destroy lesser prairie-chicken habitat with no permanent conservation measures in place as of March 31st to offset those impacts, nor consequences for WAFWA failing to implement them. This is a prime example of why writing listing decisions based on future expectations and promises is inherently risky for imperiled wildlife.”
The lesser prairie-chicken is a unique species of grassland grouse and is highly imperiled throughout its declining range in the Western US. The bird saw a 50% decline in population numbers in 2013 alone. In March 2014 the birds were listed as threatened under the ESA. The threatened listing is weakened by overly broad exemptions for land uses that continue to threaten the struggling populations. These exemptions are included in the threatened listing regulation known as a special “section 4(d) rule”, which allows excessive land use development to continue throughout the bird’s habitat – weakening the protections provided by the ESA and further jeopardizing the lesser prairie chicken’s survival. The section 4(d) rule waives key ESA protections for the lesser prairie chicken based on untested voluntary conservation plans with inadequate conservation measures and minimal oversight and accountability by the Service. The listing decision came more than 15 years after the Service first determined the bird warranted federal protection under the ESA, during which time the bird’s population has continued to decline and development has continued to destroy its habitat.