Posted by: Sandy Steinman | December 1, 2012

Lesser Prairie Chicken Proposed for Federal Protection

Press Release from Center for Biological Diversity

Lesser Prairie Chicken Proposed for Federal Protection

Energy Development, Agriculture Threaten Prairie Grouse

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to list the lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The western grouse has been a candidate for listing since 1998 and is among the most imperiled species on the federal candidate list, where species await needed protection; the proposed rules comes as a result of a 2011 settlement between conservation groups and the Service to speed protections for hundreds of species around the country.

Lesser prairie chicken
Photo courtesy USFWS. This photo isavailable for media use.

“The lesser prairie chicken will disappear forever without the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Voluntary measures that preserve a little remaining habitat may be more convenient for industry, but they won’t save the species from extinction.”

The lesser prairie chicken, an indicator species for the southern Great Plains, is a medium-sized, gray-brown grouse that lives in shinnery oak and sand-sagebrush grasslands in parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Its range has been reduced by more than 90 percent, and its population has declined by approximately 85 percent, since the 1800s; the Fish and Wildlife Service identified continued population declines and myriad land uses as threats to the species’ persistence.

“Listing cannot come soon enough for the lesser prairie-chicken,” said Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate with WildEarth Guardians. “Threats are increasing, the species’ range is contracting, and current conservation efforts are too little, too late to conserve the species.”

The lesser prairie chicken is threatened by habitat loss and degradation from livestock grazing, agriculture, oil and gas extraction, herbicides and unnatural fire. Habitat fragmentation from fences and power lines and disturbance from roads, mining and wind energy production also affect the species. Climate change and drought are increasingly important threats. The potential loss of habitat on private land enrolled in the “Conservation Reserve Program” may have severe negative impacts as well.

Like other western grouse, male lesser prairie chickens engage in a unique, communal breeding display each spring to attract females. Both males and females congregate at breeding grounds (leks), where the males strut (“dance”), vocalize (“boom”) and physically confront other males to defend their territories and court females. The male repertoire will include displaying bright yellow eye combs, inflating red air sacs, flutter-jumping, cackling and stamping their feet.

The lesser prairie chicken occurs in southeastern Colorado; the southwestern quarter of Kansas; and in patchy areas in the panhandle and northwest counties of Oklahoma. The species also occurs in east-central New Mexico and in small areas in the northeastern and southwestern corners of the Texas Panhandle. Kansas has the largest population of lesser prairie chickens, where the species relies heavily on habitat on private lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

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