The U.S. government says it won’t appeal recent court
rulings in Texas that stripped the lesser prairie chicken of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wild Service said Wednesday that it’s dropping it appeals of rulings that found the agency failed to make a proper evaluation of a multi-state conservation plan when it listed the lesser prairie chicken as threatened.
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) issued the following statement regarding the Obama Administration’s decision to drop the appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today, which vacates the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listing of the lesser prairie chicken (LPC) as a threatened species.
“The decision today to drop the appeal highlights this administration’s flawed approach to listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in the first place,” Sen. Moran said. “Stakeholders in Kansas need certainty on the listing. I hope the decision is recognition by the USFWS that increased rainfall and locally-driven, voluntary conservation is the best approach to preserving this species – not more burdensome regulations from the federal government.
An aerial survey conducted by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) estimates the bird’s population to be 29,162 birds – a nearly 50 percent increase since 2013. The bird’s population decreased largely as a result of the historic, multi-year drought impacting the habitat area. Every county in Kansas with habitat area was experiencing a D3-Extreme Drought or D4-Exceptional Drought in 2013 at the time of the WAFWA annual aerial population survey, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. As rainfall returned to more historic norms since 2014, the bird’s population has correspondingly increased.
In an attempt to avoid the bird’s listing under the Endangered Species Act, farmers, ranchers, energy developers and other stakeholders in the region came together to develop a locally-driven, voluntary conservation plan. However, the plan was not given the opportunity to prove its effectiveness because the USFWS chose to list the bird as a threatened species in March 2014.
Since the listing, Sen. Moran has led the effort in Congress to reverse the misguided decision. His amendment to the FY2016 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill to restrict the use of funds for enforcement of the listing passed with a majority vote. In January 2015, Sen. Moran also successfully secured a vote on a similar LPC amendment to Keystone XL pipeline legislation (S.1), which received the support of a bipartisan majority of senators.
Statement by Ethan Lane, executive director, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Federal Lands and Public Lands Council regarding the decision by the Obama Administration to drop their appeal of the federal court decision that overturned the listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
“We are pleased that the Administration has elected not to proceed with their appeal of Judge Junell’s substantive ruling vacating last year’s unfounded listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken under the Endangered Species Act. Voluntary conservation efforts like the Range-Wide Plan are working to recover the species and must be given an opportunity to succeed without the unnecessary burden of a federal ESA listing.”
In the case of Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA) et al. v. Department of the Interior (DOI), et al., Judge Junell in the U.S District Court for the Western District of Texas concluded that the listing was arbitrary and capricious and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly follow its own process for listing determinations in this matter. Further, conservation efforts have already been undertaken across millions of acres over five states to improve habitat and diminish threats to the Lesser Prairie Chicken. The Court determined these conservation efforts, which have resulted in a 25 percent increase in the population of Lesser Prairie Chicken from 2014 to 2015, were ignored by the Administration.