"Threatened" Listing for Lesser Prairie Chicken Results in Lawsuit From Permian Basin Petroleum Association

"Threatened" Listing for Lesser Prairie Chicken Results in Lawsuit From Permian Basin Petroleum Association

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

WEST TEXAS - As of April, the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services put the Lesser Prairie Chicken on the list of endangered species now it has resulted in them getting sued.

According to the Permian Basin Petroleum Association who filed the lawsuit in conjunction with four New Mexico counties, the agency did not make the right decision in listing the animal as "threatened."

Ben Shepperd, President of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, argues that there's evidence the birds aren't dying out.

"Historically there have been at least three times when scientists have believed the bird was truly on the verge of extinction. What the data shows now is that the birds' numbers and range of habitat have continued to grow although they've slowed down some during this period of extended drought," Shepperd said.

According to the 52-page report, the department also violated their own policy on listing the bird as threatened because they failed, "to fairly consider the expected future benefits of conservation efforts," which ultimately led them to their "irrational conclusion."
Hundreds of companies volunteered and combined millions of acres to help prevent the listing, like planting native grass for them to graze on, agreeing to limit some of their activities during the birds' primary mating seasons during the year and other contracted directives.

The Service acknowledged that the continued help of local, state and private initiatives is crucial to preserving the population and has reduced the severity of the problem. But according to documents, they also said the effectiveness of the measures is unknown and that they're not implemented at a scale necessary to reduce threats to the species. 

The lawsuit contends no local or state government officials in the five states the bird predominately inhabits (Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas) support the decision. 

Shepperd said the listing will raise costs for farmers and ranchers and also could limit drilling for oil and gas. He estimates the potential economic impact of this, "threatened" listing is in the tens of millions of dollars."

But it's not about the money itself, it's that they believe they'll have to spend it for no reason.

Two years ago, the Service was considering listing the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard at the insistence of environmentalists. At the time, they decided against doing so, with the support of the PBPA in that litigation, which is still ongoing.

Shepperd said they're in a "David and Goliath relationship" with the feds at this point. Though they may be teaming up for one lawsuit from then, this one with the Lesser Prairie Chicken has them at odds.

But according to Shepperd, all they are hoping for is a fair trial to reconsider the bird's current listing.

NewsWest 9 contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who said they were made aware of the lawsuit on Tuesday but they don't comment on pending litigation.