On March 21, 2014, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) promulgated a final rule which lists the Lesser Prairie-Chicken (LPC) as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the ESA, a species is threatened if it is likely to become endangered (and facing extinction) throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Once a species is listed, the ESA prohibits the “taking” of a protected species, as well “harm” to a protected species. The FWS broadly defines “harm” to include habitat modification that kills or injures wildlife.2 Consequently, federal agencies must consult with the FWS to ensure that their actions—including permit approvals and other authorizations—do not jeopardize listed species or adversely modify their “critical habitat.” The law also authorizes federal agencies to take affirmative actions that “seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species.”
According to the agency, the LPC occupies a five-state range that includes rural portions of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The numbers of the species have been dwindling, and it is estimated that in 2012, only 45,000 of these birds populated these areas. Later estimates further reduced that number to 18,000. The primary threats to the LPC are habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from conversion of grasslands to agricultural uses, wind energy development (with their large and loud facilities), the ongoing drought in the southern Great Plains, the presence of roads and other man-made structure, and oil and gas exploration and production activities.