Prairie Chickens

Prairie Chickens IMG: via Shutterstock.

Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the federal government to make more aggressive protection efforts for the prairie chicken. The lawsuit comes from a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened, but not an endangered species.

The ruling included an unprecedented use of a final special rule under Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act to let oil and gas producers and others in five Midcontinent states continue their environmental impact mitigation efforts under a range-wide conservation plan.

These efforts left the bird unprotected from death or injury by oil and gas drilling, power line maintenance, livestock grazing, and other human activities within its habitat in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado, Defenders of Wildlife, The Center for Biological Diversity, and Wildlife Guardians said in their June 17th appeal in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“It’s a loophole so big you could drive a truck through it,” said Jason Rylander, a senior staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, who filed the lawsuit Tuesday with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. “The lesser prairie chicken is a highly imperiled species. It is our responsibility to protect our wildlife,” Rylander told the Los Angeles Timesearly last week.

The lesser prairie chicken is a medium-sized, gray-brown, round-bodied bird with alternating dark and white bands of plumage and a rounded tail. The males have bright yellow combs above their eyes. Males also have red air sacs and tufts of elongated feathers on each side of their necks that are displayed during courtship.

Learn more about this animal and others that are threatened by human interventions such as oil drilling by visiting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of endangered species.