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Environmental Groups File Lawsuit to Protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken

First Posted: Jun 19, 2014 10:10 PM EDT

On Thursday, the Defenders of Wildlife along with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to further protect the lesser prairie chicken.

In October of 1995, the first petition to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species was brought to the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The endangered bird is currently listed as a 'threatened species', but these three environmental groups want the FWS to list it as 'endangered' to allow for greater protection efforts.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a survey in 2013 that found the lesser prairie chicken's population declined from 35,000 in 2012 to 17,600 in just one year. They're primarily located in southeastern Colorado, the southwestern quarter of Kansas, some areas in the Panhandle in and northwestern counties of Oklahoma, east-central New Mexico, and in small areas in the northeastern and southwestern corners of the Texas Panhandle.

Despite the endangered status of the lesser prairie chicken, farmers and ranchers are in opposition of the environmental groups' lawsuit. If the Fish and Wildlife Service were to step in to ensure protection efforts, they would be encroaching on the land of the farmers and ranchers since they own a lot of area where the lesser prairie chicken's habitat is located. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is one of those in opposition.

"It is not surprising that these extremist environmental organizations would file a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., that effectively attempts to shut down the energy and agriculture economies of western Kansas," he said in this Los Angeles Times article.

The problem is that much of the farmers' and ranchers' property isn't livable for the prairie chickens. Farmers and ranchers, along with wind power and oil companies have contributed to the loss of shortgrass prairie in Kansas, which is what the birds rely on for a habitat.

"The lesser prairie chicken is a highly imperiled species. It is our responsibility to protect our wildlife," said Jason Rylander, a senior staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, in this Los Angeles Times article.

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