Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

Conservation groups file lawsuit in hopes of protecting lesser prairie chicken

OKLAHOMA CITY- Conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in hopes of protecting a bird that is often found in Oklahoma.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians have filed a lawsuit after they petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to protect the lesser prairie chickens in September of 2016.

“The iconic lesser prairie chicken could go extinct if we do not take meaningful steps to save it,” said Jason Rylander, senior counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. “Endangered Species Act protection could make all the difference, but the Trump administration refuses to act. The lesser prairie chicken has waited long enough for a decision.”

In 2014, the lesser prairie chicken was listed as "threatened" by the Fish and Wildlife Service. However, that distinction was overturned on procedural grounds after a lawsuit from the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four counties in New Mexico.

The birds live in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. They are severely threatened by habitat loss caused by oil and gas drilling, cropland conversion, livestock grazing and the formation of roads. Researchers say they are also threatened by climate change.

“Foot-dragging on this decision is not acceptable,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “Every day the lesser prairie chicken has to wait for protection, the species inches closer to extinction.”

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