The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that it is considering formally listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.
The announcement begins a yearlong review that will include public meetings in four of the five states, including Oklahoma, where the member of the prairie grouse family lives.
“The lesser prairie chicken is a species that is in peril and has been for some time,” said Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe.
State wildlife officials have been trying to save the small population of lesser prairie chickens in northwest Oklahoma for several years.
“We’ve seen this coming for quite a while,” said Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, of Friday’s announcement. “We’ve got people, that’s all they do is work on lesser prairie chickens.”
Peoples said the Wildlife Department is working with landowners to try and improve habitat for the birds.
State wildlife officials also are advising energy companies with projects in lesser prairie chicken country on best management practices for the birds, he said.
“All along, we have been trying to maintain state control (on management of the lesser prairie chickens),” Peoples said.
If the birds are formally listed for federal protection, there likely will be additional restrictions placed on all activities near lesser prairie chickens, Peoples said.
Ranchers, farmers and wind farm operators worry about a listing and increased regulations. Wind turbines, oil wells and fences are among the culprits biologists say have caused the chicken’s decline.
The lesser prairie chicken’s range includes parts of New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.