Lesser Prairie-Chicken Listed Under Endangered Species Act

The lesser prairie-chicken,1 a bird species that is native to the Great Plains region of the United States, has been classified as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.2 Lesser prairie-chickens require a significant range to live and to breed in the native short grass prairie, which is rapidly disappearing due to development and agricultural practices.

According to the Audubon Society, populations of the lesser prairie-chicken have declined 97 percent across their range since the 1960s. This steep decline also signals an overall degradation of habitat health, which is a troubling sign for other species that dwell in the grasslands, and a signal that our prairie lands are on a downturn. This is why the lesser prairie-chicken may be referred to as an umbrella species, as its protection ultimately helps other imperiled species that also live within its habitat.

The ESA provides legal protection to endangered and threatened species, which includes restrictions on activities that can harm the species or their habitat. Land developers must adhere to these regulations when planning and conducting development activities in areas inhabited by the lesser prairie-chicken.

The states covered under the ESA regulations for the lesser prairie-chicken include Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. Developers in these states must obtain permits and follow strict guidelines before conducting any activities that may affect the habitat of the lesser prairie-chicken. The two subspecies of lesser prairie-chicken protected under the ESA are the Tympanuchus pallidicinctus and the Tympanuchus cupido attwateri.

Before beginning any development projects in areas inhabited by the lesser prairie-chicken, developers must conduct a habitat assessment and impact study to determine the potential effects of their activities on the species and their habitat. These studies must analyze the potential impact on the built environment and the species’ food supply, nesting areas, and breeding sites called leks. Lek identification surveys must be conducted during the period of mid-March into early May by certified biologists with documented experience in bird counting studies.

If the study determines that the new, or planned, development activities may negatively impact the species, the developer may be required to make changes to their plans or provide mitigation measures to minimize the harm to the lesser prairie-chicken and their habitat.

If you are looking to develop or expand your operations in a covered region, keep in mind that you will likely need to conduct impact studies to identify potential risks and potentially mitigate these risks. Apex can help you determine if you need to conduct impact studies, and if any other regulations may apply to your project. Contact us today for more information, or to connect with one of our subject matter experts!

1 National Audubon Society. 2023. Audubon Guide to North American Birds, Lesser Prairie-Chicken. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/lesser-prairie-chicken
2 United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). November 2022. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lists the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Under the Endangered Species Act. https://www.fws.gov/press-release/2022-11/lesser-prairie-chicken-listed-under-endangered-species-act

Apex Associated Press (Apex AP) represents contributions from various authors within the Apex professional community.


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