The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) erred in spring 2014 when it listed the lesser prairie-chicken (LPC) as a "threatened" species, a U.S. District Court judge in Texas ruled. FWS failed to properly consider efforts implemented by states to protect the bird and failed to follow its own rules when arriving at the listing designation, he said.
"...[T]he court finds FWS acted arbitrarily and capriciously..." Judge Robert Junell said [MO-14-CV-50]. "Because these errors tainted critical findings and determinations, resulting in an unwarranted final rule listing the LPC as a threatened species, the court vacates the final rule and listing determination."
In March 2014 the U.S. FWS listed the LPC as "threatened," a designation that is one notch below "endangered" status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (see Daily GPI, March 28, 2014). Conservation groups wanting greater protection for the LPC sued, as did some states and others interested in protecting oil/gas and ranching interests (see Daily GPI, April 11, 2014). Plaintiffs in the lawsuit just decided were the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and several counties in New Mexico.
Junell found that FWS "...did conduct an analysis of all 15 criteria under the PECE [Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts], however, this analysis was neither 'rigorous' nor valid as FWS failed to consider important questions and material information necessary to make a proper PECE evaluation of the RWP [rangewide plan]."
RWP refers to a plan developed by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' in 2013 with input from various stakeholders. The special rule establishes that conservation practices carried out through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service's Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and through normal agricultural practices on existing cultivated land are all in compliance with the ESA and not subject to further regulation.