The Plight of the Lesser Prairie Chicken

Bullies. Nobody likes them. Who would ever hurt others for their own personal gain? A Texas Federal Court did just that when it decided that the highly threatened Lesser Prairie Chicken no longer belonged under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).


The Lesser Prairie Chicken is under Severe Threat Despite the Species’ Recent Removal from the Endangered Species Act

“Lesser Prairie-Chicken” by Nick Richter is licensed under CC 2.0

The Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC), or Tympanuchus pallidicinctus, is a species of grouse that lives in the southern Great Plains. This vast region spans across Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas. The stunning, unique species is graced with a beautiful red gular pouch and a characteristic set of bushy orange brows. With such aesthetic characteristics, one would think that we as humans would insure the LPC’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, reality shows otherwise.

Instead of appreciating this beautiful bird and nurturing its prosperity, humans have decimated their habitats.

Why? Well, the old saying that “money talks” proves to be historically true. And in America, “oil and gas” are synonymous with money. In a recent 2015 article from the University of Texas School of Law’s Texas Environmental Law Journal, Thomas Campbell says, “As the oil and gas industry continues to expand in the Southwest, it has encountered the LPC… Otherwise suitable LPC habitat adjacent to tall structures [like drilling equipment and telephone poles] is often uninhabited, and the birds may abandon their lekking grounds when oil and gas activity occurs nearby.”

When oil and gas drilling companies encroach upon LPC habitats, they significantly increase their risk of extinction by causing habitat fragmentation and land degradation. The LPC is especially sensitive to any disturbance, so the booming oil and gas industries pose a life-threatening problem.

Let the statistics speak for themselves. As of today, the LPC occupies a minute 8 percent of its original habitual range (Melcher). Since the 1990s, the LPC population has continuously declined in size. A “recent comprehensive LPC survey revealed an estimated 50 percent population decline from 34,440 birds in 2012 to 17,616 in 2013” (Melcher).

In addition to these terrifying numbers, conservation organizations have historically ignored the LPC as conservation targets. Being listed as “threatened” had provided some extent of protection for the LPC. But this was the last strand of hope for the LPC.

One truly wonders why the Texas federal court would even consider removing the LPC from the Endangered Species List. Its reasoning is simple, yet faulty. In the past year, due to abundant rainfall, the LPC population has momentarily increased by 25% (Court Strips). From a short-term perspective, this may seem to be great news. The court reasoned that the population increase reasonably means that the species has stabilized and no longer requires protection. Critics hold onto these recent statistics to justify stripping the LPC’s protection.

However, one must remember not to ignore past patterns. During the past hundred years, “The lesser prairie chicken has lost 85 percent of its habitat and 99 percent of its numbers. Remaining habitat continues to be destroyed by oil derricks, roads, pipelines and other development” (Greenwald). With this holistic mindset, it seems to be straight out stupidity to deem the LPC no longer in danger because of a temporary high in a historically steep decline. To be rational, the federal agencies should have waited longer to guarantee that the population increase remains consistent for at least five more years. Clearly, the federal court made the wrong decision, at the wrong time.

Since this beautiful creature is no longer federally protected, it is more than ever doomed to disappear off the face of the earth. Removing this essential layer of protection leaves the LPC at the mercy of money-hungry oil industries and ranchers. Essentially, the homes of the LPC can be destroyed at corporate companies’ discretion. As more and more oil fields are developed today, the habitats of the LPC will continue to be fragmented and destroyed.

Texas needs to wake up and realize the absurdity of their decision, and overrule it. On this earth, every species is connected through complex biological relationships. With this interconnected web of life, the extinction of the Lesser Prairie Chicken can and will have countless unforeseen consequences. This precious species must be preserved for generations to come.

This entry was posted in Conservation Biology Posts, Conservation Editorials 2015. Bookmark the permalink.

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