Lesser prairie chicken, © Larry Lamsa

When Protection Doesn’t Protect

Lesser prairie-chicken listing contains massive loopholes

This is the story of a little-known bird in great need of help. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) first placed the lesser prairie-chicken on its “candidate list” for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1998. A candidate species is one that FWS has determined meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species, but cannot be formally protected under the ESA due to lack of funding and other priorities. The years went by, and the bird remained in limbo as a candidate species, even as threats to its existence continued to increase. Finally, after wait-listing the bird for 15 years (and after legal pressure from conservation groups), the FWS listed the lesser-prairie chicken as a threatened species in March of this year.

Unfortunately, it was a hollow victory. While lingering in administrative purgatory for 15 years, the lesser prairie-chicken population declined from 35,000 birds in 2012 to only 17,616 in 2013 — that’s a loss of 50% in only one year! Historically, the birds ranged widely across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, but today they are only present in about 16% of this historic range. Given these glaring statistics, one would think the lesser prairie-chicken meets the textbook ESA definition of endangered: “in danger of extinction in all or a significant portion of its range.” But despite the overwhelming evidence, FWS decided to list the lesser prairie-chicken as threatened, a lesser degree of protection, along with a so-called “special 4(d) rule” that would all but cancel out many ESA protections.

Lesser prairie chickens, © Larry Lamsa

This rule means that the listing decision contains, in the words of one of Defenders’ senior attorneys, “a loophole so big you could drive a truck through it.” ESA listing is meant to protect a species from serious threats. But thanks to this 4(d) rule, many of the primary threats to the species and its habitat would be allowed to continue, including agriculture, livestock grazing, oil and gas activities, and development.

So how can officials claim that this listing decision will help? Instead of depending on the protections offered by the ESA, this listing relies on voluntary conservation efforts that have no proven track record of actually preventing harm to species. After more than a decade on a waiting list, and with half its population already gone, this imperiled species deserves better. So we’ve joined forces with our conservation allies to challenge the listing in court. We are asking a federal judge to order the FWS to reconsider its decision to list the lesser prairie-chicken as threatened instead of granting it the endangered status it so clearly needs. We are also seeking to have the 4(d) rule invalidated to close the loopholes in this listing and grant the lesser prairie chicken real protection from the activities that threaten its survival. Hopefully, we can help keep this rare and beautiful bird from teetering on the edge of extinction. We’ll keep you updated as the case moves forward.

Anne Russell Gregory is the Conservation Law Coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife

3 Responses to “When Protection Doesn’t Protect”

  1. Alexander Yeung

    This hope if we acted now and protect these prairie chicken from extinction.

  2. Sharon Toscano

    Please really protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Do what you can to get funding. These birds are a part of the prairie systems and they are being monitored. Can we not help these valuable birds during their fragile time? Can we make a refuge and not let oil, development and other interests into those areas?

    • Heoof

      Stand near the political water ceoolr the past few months, you’re sure to hear a common rumbling amongst the media and political insiders trying to figure out why Jim Dinning’s campaign lacks substance on policy and why it hasn’t been the political juggernaut that we were all expecting. Sure Dinning tried to shock and awe out of the gate showcasing his 20+ MLA’s supporting him, but low and behold, the rest of the candidates didn’t pack up their campaign tents and run to the hills. Even Oberg, who had been severely spanked for speaking up against “Dad” picked himself up off the mat and launched his own campaign and others followed.Well, worry no more my friends; I have come up the answer to the “Where’s Waldo” err “Where’s Jim’s Policy mystery. Let’s not forget the very first policy announcement that Jimbo finally uttered. It was the brilliant: let’s divide our province by offering an income tax rate cut for those under 30. Just had your 30th birthday? sucks to be you!This was the brainchild of Dinning policy guru, Ken Bossenkool. Well like a field goal kicker who couldn’t put it through the uprights from 20 yards away, Kenny was quickly benched and appears to have been riding the political pine ever since.Cue the Wizard of Oz music. Enter the Master Puppeteer himself — Rod Love who has taken it upon himself to pull the policy strings.Dinning is a decent enough fellow himself, engaging and friendly, albeit a little disingenous and arrogant, but on policy he is an empty vessel.The claim that Dinning wrote Betkowski’s 200 Days of Change in 1992 is bogus. The claim that Dinning was responsible for the program to get Alberta’s finances in order is bogus as well. The man behind both of those initiatives was Dinning’s brain, Paul Taylor, who now works for the Insurance Bureau of B.C. If you look at what Taylor did for Campbell in BC as the senior public servant in the province before he went over to IBBC, you’ll understand Paul’s brilliant mind. Without Taylor working behind the scenes as the intellectual lifeblood for Dinning in 2006, Dinning looks lost on policy. Let’s face it, Morton, Oberg, Hancock, Norris, et al, are not really running against Jim Dinning in this race. They are really running against Rod Love. Jim is just the puppet in this theatrical production.Let’s face it, Rod Love has been Premier for the past thirteen years and is now using Dinning as his prop to continue his reign. This is all about Rod remaining in power, plain and simple. His control over the media in Alberta remains impeccable and his reward and punishment system with the media is legendary. Nothing will really change in Alberta under Dinning’s leadership. We need fresh ideas. Fresh policies and for goodness sake, some fresh stagehands behind the curtain!

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