U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists lesser prairie chickens as threatened

A male lesser prairie chicken displaying for hens in Edwards County. The species has just been listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A male lesser prairie chicken displaying for hens in Edwards County. The species has just been listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Citing rapid population declines because of loss of habitat and an on-going severe drought over much of the bird’s range, Thursday afternoon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced they’ve listed lesser prairie chickens on their threatened species list. In fact, populations had dropped by about 50 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to surveys done last spring in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

A Fish and Wildlife press release estimated the range-wide population to be at about 18,000 birds, of which probably 80 percent, or more, are in Kansas.

“The lesser prairie chicken is in dire straits,” Dan Ashe, Fish and Wildlife director, said in the press release. “Our determination that it warrants listing as a threatened species with a special rule acknowledges the unprecedented partnership efforts and leadership of the five range states for management of the species.” Ashe was referring to an on-going working partnership that’s been formed between the five states, many conservation, ranching and energy groups.

In the past, Robin Jennison, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism secretary, said it was hoped the partnership, and its detailed plans for protecting millions of acres of lesser prairie chicken habitat, would be enough to keep the birds from being listed.