American Oil and Gas Reporter - August 2017 - 27

Lesser Prairie Chicken
Appears To Be Coming Back
"The lesser prairie chicken has rebounded from
As ESA Decision Looms
We are midway through 2017 and the lesser prairie chicken
is up for debate again in Washington. Despite the great strides
the oil and natural gas industry has made to conserve this landdwelling grouse, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expected
to release a new 12-month finding this fall about whether a new
listing of the bird under the federal Endangered Species Act is
warranted.
The lesser prairie chicken resides in the short grass regions
of Kansas, the sand sagebrush regions of Colorado, and in the
mixed grass prairie regions of Texas, Oklahoma, and New
Mexico. Oil and gas operators throughout the bird's five-state
range have protected millions of acres of its habitat voluntarily,
and greatly contributed to conservation funding and research
alongside local and regional partners to benefit the bird's population. Yet the new debate in Washington follows years of back
and forth on the species and its status.
In July 2016, USFWS officially removed the lesser prairie
chicken from the threatened list following a September 2015
court decision that vacated the listing decision. However, only
a few weeks later, WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife
and the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a petition
calling on the service "to issue an emergency rule listing the
bird as an endangered species. Then, in November 2016,
USFWS published a notice in the Federal Register in response
to the petition, finding it "presents substantial scientific or
commercial information indicating that listing the lesser prairie
chicken may be warranted," and initiating a 12-month review
process expected to conclude in September 2017. The service
also is conducting a species status assessment of the lesser
prairie chicken, expected this summer, "to ensure future actions
related to the species are based on the best available science."
As the Independent Petroleum Association of America highlighted in joint comments in January 2017 to USFWS, the best
scientific and commercial information available demonstrates
that the bird does not meet the ESA's definitions of either a
threatened or endangered species. In fact, the lesser prairie
chicken has rebounded from historic lows, and, through a combination of public and private efforts, is now better protected
than at any previous time.
Consider the released aerial survey data from the Western
Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, which shows an
increase of more than 10,000 individuals compared with 2016-
a 34 percent increase to 33,269 birds during the last year. According to the WAFWA survey's briefing, the lesser prairie
chicken population has remained stable, in no small part thanks
to the great conservation efforts that have been implemented by
state, local and industry partners.
The lesser prairie chicken rangewide plan, for instance, is a
collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies
of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. The
program was developed to ensure the lesser prairie chicken's
long-term viability through voluntary cooperation by landowners
and industry. The industry's plan enrollment stands at 7.8

historic lows, and, through a combination of pub-

lic and private efforts, is now better protected than

"

at any previous time.

million acres committed by 150 companies. One such effort is
from Occidental Petroleum Corporation, enrolling 1.8 million
acres of its oil and gas interests into programs that support
lesser prairie chicken conservation. According to WAFWA, industry has committed more than $63 million to pay for conservation actions.
In addition to the rangewide plan, industry supports the New
Mexico candidate conservation agreement and candidate conservation agreement with assurances, with 1.9 million acres enrolled by 52 companies. In spite of recent years' depressed oil
and gas prices, industry enrollment in conservation plans has
remained steady.
As new debate emerges in Washington around this issue, it
is key to educate policymakers that listing the lesser prairie
chicken as threatened or endangered will not provide any
additional conservation benefits beyond those that already exist.
IPAA has urged the administration to issue a finding that a
listing is unwarranted, but the result of that petition is yet to be
seen. Companies should continue to monitor this issue and look
for opportunities to engage and fight back against this listing
and its potential impacts on our industry.
r

SUSAN GINSBERG is vice

president of crude oil and natural gas regulatory affairs for
the Independent Petroleum
Association of America. She
covers legislation and regulation, focusing on the CFTC
and FERC. Her experience in
natural gas regulatory affairs
spans 25 years.
AUGUST 2017 27



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Contents
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