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Lesser Prairie Chicken Removed from Threatened and Endangered Species List


A bird whose habitat is prized by Oklahoma wind, gas and oil companies comes off the federal threatened and endangered species list.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting of the lesser prairie chicken is in response to a Texas court ruling last year that said the agency didn’t allow enough time to see whether state-level conservation plans were working before giving the birds "threatened" status.

Service biologist Clay Nichols said they aren’t walking away from the lesser prairie chicken.

"We're here to continue to work with our partners and try to enhance the conservation actions that are occurring on the ground," Nichols said. "Our endgame is the conservation of species."

An oil industry group sued the service in 2014. Five states, including Oklahoma, also challenged the lesser prairie chicken’s listing.

The service will restart its evaluation of the birds. Nichols said that will take time, because years of above-average precipitation produce population booms that could mask poor conservation efforts.

"Other years, even if we had really high conservation efforts on the landscape and we were experiencing drought and we were at below-average precipitation levels, we're likely to see population numbers decrease," Nichols said.

The lesser prairie chicken could be put back on the threatened and endangered species list in the future.

"It is critical that we get Endangered Species Act protection for the lesser prairie chicken, get it protected again so it doesn't end up in a situation like the heath hen or the Attwater's prairie chicken," said Tanya Sanerib with the Center for Biological Diversity. "One is extinct, and the other is greatly imperiled."

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.