Three conservation groups today announced a legal challenge to force full protection of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision last week to protect the highly imperiled bird only as “threatened” while providing special exemptions that would allow ongoing destruction of the birds and their dwindling grassland habitat.
The Service has increasingly relied on the Endangered Species Act to create exemptions that allow continued habitat destruction and the incidental take of species listed as “threatened,” weakening protections. The special exemptions for the lesser prairie-chicken allow participants in a state organized conservation plan or other voluntary plans, to kill lesser prairie-chickens and destroy their habitat.
“Drought and habitat destruction are devastating the small remaining population of this magnificent grassland bird,” said Jay Lininger, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The unenforceable state-level plan and voluntary measures are too little, too late, and will not get traction fast enough to prevent extinction. The lesser prairie-chicken needs the full protection of the Endangered Species Act to stem the tide of habitat destruction.”