AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – After a recent decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to delay implementing a final rule listing the lesser prairie-chicken as an endangered species, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar advised those who will be impacted by the listing, including private landowners and stakeholders in energy and agriculture, to use the extra time to prepare.

According to the FWS decision from January, the lesser prairie-chicken’s new designation under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, listing the southern population as “endangered” and the northern population as “threatened,” will take effect on March 27. This change established what the agency phrased as a 60-day “grace period” from Jan. 24, which was the day that the change was initially going to go into effect.

In the final rule from the FWS, the agency said that the delay was “necessary for the Service to finalize conservation tools and guidance documents to avoid confusion and disruption with Federal agencies… and to avoid disruption to the public who would be regulated by the rule.”

Further, the FWS noted that the grace period “will still require that grazing management plans be in place before the lesser prairie-chicken’s primary nesting and brooding seasons.”

The lesser prairie-chicken, as noted in the rule, is a grassland bird that inhabits parts of Colorado, Kansas, eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle. In previous reports, officials noted that its habitat has diminished across about 90% of its historical range, with environmentalists considering the species at risk due to oil and gas development, livestock grazing, farming, and the construction of roads and power lines. WT associate professor and Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Rangeland Management Specialist, Tim Steffens says, “To have a viable population, you need to have about 12,000 acres of habitat all in one chunk…there’s a whole lot of different habitat components that all have to come at exactly the right time in exactly the right place.”

Steffens says, “It’s like playing a game of Jenga. You can keep pulling those little sticks out and for a while it’s no big deal, until you pull the wrong stick out and then the whole thing comes falling apart”, as he explained how the decrease of population can decline the vitality of prairie ecosystems.

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are required to consult with the FWS to be sure that projects that they fund or authorize won’t jeopardize a listed species. This means that agricultural development, such as establishing new grazing areas or cropland, could be impacted.

To prepare for these changes, the FWS advised in its rule that the delay will allow for the review of pending enrollments to conservation efforts, requests to become Service-approved providers of grazing management plans, and organizing with other Federal agencies. It noted that it is developing “conservation tools and guidance documents” for landowners, business interests, and other agencies.

“We are committed to working proactively with stakeholders to conserve and recover lesser prairie-chickens while reducing impacts to landowners, where possible and practicable,” the service said.

Among those other conservation efforts, as also noted by Hegar, include Texas’ 2006 Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, which is intended to help private landowners and industry stakeholders in managing lesser prairie-chicken habitats. Hegar encouraged landowners and stakeholders to contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Panhandle Division for information on enrolling in the CCAA and complying with the FWS’ new rule.

A range of lawmakers from the impacted states previously pushed for the effective date to be delayed, though the delay has drawn ire from both environmentalist groups that support the designation and lawmakers that were against it altogether. Opponents of the designation criticized the extra regulatory pressure on industries, as noted in previous reports, while some supporters still accused the FWS of ceding to political pressure in agreeing to the delay.