Lesser Prairie Chickens Numbers Up, Controversy Expected to Continue

- LUBBOCK, TX -- A recent aerial survey showed the Lesser Prairie Chicken population increased by 20 percent in 2014 which, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, seems to coincide with recent rainfall. 

The issue has been highly controversial because the federal government listed the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species and some are encouraging the federal government to list it as endangered.  Such listings carry a regulatory burden for farmers & ranchers as well as the oil and gas industry.

Some groups such as the Permian Basin Petroleum Association have sued the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service saying it went too far to protect the chickens.  Other groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity have sued federal regulators for not doing enough.  Those lawsuits are pending and there is no reason to think the recent aerial study will make them go away.  

“Just as with last year’s population decrease, we shouldn’t read too much into short-term fluctuations over one or two years,” said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA grassland coordinator.

Pelt also said, “This population response underscores the importance of implementing the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.”  

In other words WAFWA opposes a heavy-handed federal approach – instead favoring voluntary cooperation among landowners to protect habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chickens.  The habitat includes parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

WAFWA said as of early June, about 160 oil, gas, wind, electric and pipeline companies had enrolled about 9 million acres and committed more than $43 million for habitat conservation over the next three years.

WAFWA said more information about its conservation plan could be found at wafwa.org.

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