Little Bird – Big Impact
The lesser prairie-chicken (LPC) is a small bird that is causing huge ripples throughout the legal and conservation communities. No less than five lawsuits followed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision in April 2014 to list the LPC as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Some of the lawsuits challenged not only the listing decision, but also the settlement agreements that the FWS entered into with WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity that forced the FWS to remove the LPC from the candidate species list. Those settlement agreements also resulted in the FWS’s commitment to make a decision whether to propose the listing of the greater sage grouse on or before September 30th of this year.
On September 1st, federal district court Senior Judge Robert Junell of the Western District of Texas invalidated and set aside the listing of the LPC. The judge ruled that the FWS, when it determined to list the LPC, had not complied with its own policy for evaluating the conservation efforts of states and private entities. Although the ruling came from only one of the multiple courts currently considering the legality of the listing, Judge Junell’s ruling likely applies throughout the U.S. This means that LPCs in its range states – Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado –are back under state management and no longer federally protected. It is still unclear how the ruling will impact the four other LPC cases ongoing in other courts. The ruling also comes just before the FWS makes its final decision as to whether to propose a rule to list the greater sage grouse and the New England cottontail, both game species. The ruling will likely have an impact on the FWS’s consideration of the significant conservation efforts in which the states and the public have engaged to prevent the need for a listing of these two species.