Endangered Prairie Chicken Suffers Death by 1,000 Cuts

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Tuesday, December 19, 2023
Chandra Rosenthal  (303) 898-0798

Endangered Prairie Chicken Suffers Death by 1,000 Cuts

New Mexico Oil & Gas Drilling Waivers Rubberstamped in LPC Range


New Mexico —An endangered American prairie grouse is beset by bureaucratic waivers allowing oil and gas drilling in the areas of its habitat where it is most vulnerable, according to a review by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) of recent actions by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The primary threat to the survival of the Lesser Prairie Chicken is continued fragmentation of its shrinking habitat, a trend abetted by the BLM. 

Records obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act show that during the two-year period between January 2020 to April 2023, BLM denied only one of the 76 industry-requested waivers, exemptions, and exceptions. There are seven requests without any agency response at all. These permissions circumvented protections like distance buffers and mating season timing restrictions which are crucial for safeguarding Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat.  

These waivers were all issued by BLM’s Carlsbad New Mexico Field Office where the bird’s status has been upgraded to endangered from threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

The Lesser Prairie Chicken is a species of prairie grouse commonly recognized for its colorful spring mating display. Once common throughout the American Southwest, its historic range has been diminished by 90%. Lesser Prairie Chickens need large tracts of intact native grasslands to thrive. As its populations have declined drastically, the bird’s continued survival depends upon enforcing use restrictions in its prime habitat, much of which is on lands supervised by the BLM.  

“These protections are entirely ineffective and will not help the Lesser Prairie Chicken’s recovery if they are simply waived,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, suggesting that records of all waivers should be publicly posted. “BLM had to compile these records for PEER because the agency is not monitoring the cumulative impacts of its own enforcement of these wildlife protections.” 

The Lesser Prairie Chicken currently occupies a five-state range. The bird’s northern Distinct Population Segment covering portions of Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The southern segment, occupying New Mexico (where PEER collected the records) and a portion of Texas, is now listed as endangered. 

The issue extends beyond a single species. PEER documented that BLM field offices in Wyoming granted approximately 85% of the 146 industry applications for exemptions from similar protective stipulations in prime habitat for sage grouse, a species that is hovering around an endangered status listing. In March of this year, ten major conservation organizations joined PEER’s call to BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning for a moratorium on the further issuance of such waivers but has yet to receive any reply. 

“These species that are now in jeopardy precisely because of historic BLM mismanagement,” added Rosenthal, pointing out that profligate issuance of waivers will lead to more litigation resulting in even greater land use restrictions being judicially imposed. “Unfortunately, as with their predecessors, the current BLM management does not appear responsive to pleas for wildlife protection until they are sued.” 


View record of BLM approvals in New Mexico 

See similar pattern of approvals with sage grouse habitat 

Most recent numbers found here

Look at background of Lesser Prairie Chicken endangered species status 

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