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Lesser prairie chicken no longer listed as threatened as Administration drops appeal

Lesser prairie chicken no longer listed as threatened as Administration drops appeal

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran issued the following statement regarding the Obama Administration’s decision to drop the appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today, which vacates the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listing of the lesser prairie chicken (LPC) as a threatened species.

“The decision today to drop the appeal highlights this administration’s flawed approach to listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in the first place,” Sen. Moran said. “Stakeholders in Kansas need certainty on the listing. I hope the decision is recognition by the USFWS that increased rainfall and locally-driven, voluntary conservation is the best approach to preserving this species – not more burdensome regulations from the federal government.

Sen. Moran continued, “My fear is USFWS made a strategic decision to restart the listing process for the bird instead of continuing to fight a losing battle in court. It is incumbent on USFWS to be open and transparent about its future intentions for the LPC listing. I have asked for answers from USFWS, and will continue to advocate for policies that prevent the service from pursuing future efforts to re-list the species.”

An aerial survey conducted by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) estimates the bird’s population to be 29,162 birds – a nearly 50 percent increase since 2013. The bird’s population decreased largely as a result of the historic, multi-year drought impacting the habitat area. Every county in Kansas with habitat area was experiencing a D3-Extreme Drought or D4-Exceptional Drought in 2013 at the time of the WAFWA annual aerial population survey, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. As rainfall returned to more historic norms since 2014, the bird’s population has correspondingly increased.

In an attempt to avoid the bird’s listing under the Endangered Species Act, farmers, ranchers, energy developers and other stakeholders in the region came together to develop a locally-driven, voluntary conservation plan. However, the plan was not given the opportunity to prove its effectiveness because the USFWS chose to list the bird as a threatened species in March 2014.

Since the listing, Sen. Moran has led the effort in Congress to reverse the misguided decision. His amendment to the FY2016 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill to restrict the use of funds for enforcement of the listing passed with a majority vote. In January 2015, Sen. Moran also successfully secured a vote on a similar LPC amendment to Keystone XL pipeline legislation (S.1), which received the support of a bipartisan majority of senators.