The Facts

Court Ruling Could Restrict Farming and Ranching in a 20 Million Acre Area Across 5 States

In March 2014 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie chicken (LPC) as a “threatened species.” A “threatened” listing is a step below “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act and allows more flexibility in how the Act protections are implemented. In June 2014 the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit to list the LPC as “endangered.” If the bird is listed as “endangered,” the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers and their rural communities will be significantly impacted.

Quick Facts

  • About half of the LPC current population lives in 39 counties in western Kansas.
  • The LPC protected habitat region spans 20 million acres across 85 counties in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico
  • The Center for Biological Diversity and others have filed suit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to have the LPC reclassified as “endangered."
  • The primary threats to the LPC are habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from conversion of grasslands to other uses; encroachment by invasive woody plants; wind energy development; petroleum production; the presence of roads and manmade vertical structures including towers, utility lines, fences, turbines, wells and buildings.
  • The agricultural industry, as well as others, could be drastically altered if the LPC is reclassified as an “endangered species."

20 Million Acres

Will be affected

85 Counties & 5 States

Will be affected

Documentation & Legal Information

In general, the Endangered Species Act makes it unlawful for a person to “take” a lesser prairie chicken without a permit or authorization. Take is defined as to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct.” Harm is defined to include significant habitat modification or degradation if it results in death or injury to a LPC by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering.

In June 2014 the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the LPC as an “endangered” species. The suit says the “threatened” listing does not do enough to protect the bird. If the bird is listed as “endangered,” farmers and ranchers will be forced to cut back on production and may even go out of business. Not only would their private property rights be violated, the rural community businesses that they support would also be impacted as farm and ranch incomes decrease.

Timeline of Events

December 2012 Proposed rule published
May 2013 Published proposed 4(d) special rule
July 2013 Ruling deadline extended to March 2014 to gather additional scientific information
October 2013 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed Range Wide Plan conservation strategy
December 2013 Revised 4(d) rule published and reopened for 30 day comment period
January 2014 Reopened comment period for 14 days on revised 4(d) rule
February 2014 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues CCAA for oil and gas activities
February 2014 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will prepare an evaluation of the impacts of, and alternatives to, the proposed Stakeholder Conservation Strategy for the Lesser Prairie Chicken developed by the American Habitat Center (AHC)
March 2014 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the LPC as a “threatened” species
June 2014 The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit to list the LPC as “endangered”
October 2014 Coalition files suit to stop the "endangered" listing of the LPC
July 2015 The 2015 range-wide aerial survey documented a 25 percent increase in the lesser prairie-chicken population, with an estimated total of 29,162 birds. This increase is attributed to an abundance of spring 2015 rainfall, along with ongoing efforts associated with the range-wide plan and other conservation initiatives.
Sept. 2015 A Sept. 1, 2015, a federal court decision vacated protection of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act, ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not thoroughly consider active conservation efforts in making their listing decision, specifically the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked Federal Judge Junell to reconsider the Sept. 1 decision.
Feb. 2016 Judge Junell denied the US’s motion to amend the judgment. The effect of the ruling was that, pending reversal on appeal, the Judge’s previous judgment vacating the listing rule remains unchanged, and the LPC listing decision remains vacated nationwide.
March 2016 On March 31, WAFWA submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service its second annual report detailing achievements under the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan. Among the highlights, is the estimated lesser prairie-chicken range-wide population increased by 25 percent to just over 29,000 birds, industry partners committed nearly $51 million in fees to pay for mitigation actions, and landowners across the range agreed to conserve more than 67,000 acres of habitat.
May 2016 Administration drops appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals vacating the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing of the LPC
June 2016 WAFWA finalized the purchase of approximately 30,000 acres of high-quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat in southwest Kansas. The purchase is to provide permanent protection and long-term conservation of lesser prairie-chicken habitat. Funding for this acquisition comes from the voluntary contributions of industry partners that are enrolled in the range-wide plan. According to WAFWA, the acquisition of Sunview Ranch is a significant positive development to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken.
July 2016 WAFWA - The latest lesser prairie-chicken survey shows bird population trends remain stable after five years of aerial survey data collection. The surveys indicated an estimated breeding population of 25,261 birds this year which scientists say is not significantly different from the 29,162 birds estimated in 2015 given the variability in the survey methodology. This spring’s breeding population remains significantly larger than the 17,616 birds that were estimated in 2013 following two years of severe drought.
FY16-18 USDA Conservation Strategy. USDA lays out their continued commitment to the LPCI partnership through 2018, the life of the current Farm Bill. They expect to see the amount of conserved habitat climb to 1.5 million as a result of new investments.