Three Kansas Republicans in Congress want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend by 90 days the public comment period on a proposal to list the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. (Greg Kramos/USFWS)
TOPEKA — Three Kansas Republicans opposed to listing the lesser prairie chicken under the federal Endangered Species Act pleaded with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the comment period for at least 90 days to broaden public feedback.
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced May 26 the bird faced grave threats from degradation and fragmentation of its habitat in a five-state region of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado.
The lesser prairie chicken faces extinction in the southern range and was projected to become endangered in the northern range, which would justify imposition of federal protections with the goal of restoring a viable population of the species. The agency established a 60-day window to gather input, which would expire this month.
U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall and U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, all Kansas Republicans, requested the Fish and Wildlife Service allow for collection of input for an additional three months. It’s important for the agency to allow “sufficient time for the public to provide meaningful comments,” the lawmakers said in a letter.
“We are disappointed in the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to propose listing the lesser prairie chicken,” the letter said. “A listing will impose burdensome regulations on farmers and ranchers, oil and gas production, wind and solar projects, energy transmission, homebuilders, transportation and other sectors and activities across Kansas.”
In addition, they argued federal listing of the lesser prairie chicken would have a “chilling effect” on voluntary conservation initiatives.
Amy Lueders, regional director of the federal agency, said the bird commonly recognized for its colorful spring mating display was in jeopardy from loss of native grasslands and prairies on the Great Plains. The population previously numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but aerial surveys from 2012 to 2020 estimated the five-year average of the bird’s population was 27,300 across the five-state region. The population has declined 90% across its historical range.
Voluntary efforts to conserve habitat and raise awareness about threats to the lesser prairie chicken have been ongoing from two decades, she said, but “we still have much work to do to ensure we have viable lesser prairie chicken populations.”
The lesser prairie chicken was listed as a threatened species in 2014. The listing was vacated in 2015 following a lawsuit. In 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service received a new petition to list the lesser prairie chicken as endangered. That began the federal review process leading to the pending recommendation.
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