WASHINGTON — The federal government will begin a yearlong review to determine whether the lesser prairie chicken, whose habitat is concentrated in western Oklahoma and four other states, should be listed as a threatened species.
Oklahoma elected officials, who had been concerned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would pursue a path toward listing the bird as an endangered species, hailed the decision Friday and said the proposed protection would mean fewer restrictions on energy development, agriculture and other activities in the bird's habitat.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who has been working with Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe for several months on the issue, said, “Given the tough odds that we faced originally, a proposed listing as ‘threatened' is the best possible outcome at this time because it brings us one step closer to achieving a ‘not-warranted' decision in the coming months.”
A not-warranted decision would mean the bird, a species of prairie grouse, would not have federal protection.
Members of the public will have 90 days to comment on the agency's plan to list the bird as threatened. A hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 5 in Woodward to take public input. Hearings also are scheduled for February in Kansas, Texas and New Mexico.
Scientific evidence shows the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat are in decline, prompting the decision to seek a listing as a threatened species, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported.
“We are encouraged by current multistate efforts to conserve the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat, but more work needs to be done to reverse its decline,” Ashe said Friday.
Gov. Mary Fallin said the state has invested $26 million since 1996 for conservation efforts in more than 563,000 acres to protect the bird.
“While I believe the decision to classify the lesser prairie chicken as ‘threatened' is overly cautious, the fact that it was not listed as ‘endangered' is a sign the federal government appreciates our efforts to protect this animal and its habitat,” Fallin said.