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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Review Imperiled Status of Lesser Prairie Chicken

Defenders of Wildlife Calls for an Endangered Listing for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken


Contact: Jennifer Witherspoon, 202.772.0269, jwitherspoon@defenders.org

WASHINGTON (July 19, 2016) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today fulfilled a court ruling and vacated its Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decision for the lesser prairie-chicken from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

The following is a statement from Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO, Defenders of Wildlife:

“We recognize that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was required to comply with the court’s order, but today’s announcement that the Service is removing the lesser prairie-chicken from its protected status under the Act is nonetheless deeply concerning. 

“The Service has known for seventeen years that this icon of the Southern Plains is in “dire straits,” as they said when they listed the species as threatened in 2014.  Extensive habitat destruction has put the bird in peril throughout its range; it needs the protections of the Act now, not a year from now. 

“We therefore urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move as quickly as possible through its status review and species assessment for the lesser prairie-chicken, and to recognize that the same threats that warranted listing the species two years ago are, if anything, more severe today. We believe that those threats warranted giving the bird the full protections of the Act as an endangered species two years ago, and that status is even more urgently needed now.”


Once abundant and numbering in the millions across its five-state range of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado, the lesser prairie-chicken’s historical range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84 percent. In 1998, the FWS determined that this grouse species warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but a final decision was delayed. In 2015 a U.S. district judge in Texas vacated the decision. The FWS dropped its appeal of that decision in 2016, and is now conducting a status review to revisit a listing decision. The latest aerial survey, conducted this spring, found just 25,261 birds in the five states they inhabit. In 2015, a similar survey found 29,162 birds.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.