Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 2, 2015

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Texas Court Tosses Endangered Species Act Protections for Highly Imperiled Grassland Bird

Decision Is Victory for Oil and Gas Industry War Against Protections for
Endangered Species, Clean Water, Public Safety, Climate

MIDLAND, Texas— In response to a lawsuit led by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, a federal court in Texas has vacated endangered species protections for the highly imperiled lesser prairie chicken, arguing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly evaluate ongoing conservation efforts for the rare bird. 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.   

“This decision turns the Endangered Species Act on its head by concluding the Fish and Wildlife Service should have given the benefit of the doubt to the oil and gas industry, rather than a species that has seen its habitat and populations vanish,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The lesser prairie chicken was first identified as needing protection in 1995, yet the oil and gas industry did nothing to ensure its survival for 20 years until regulations were proposed to protect it.”

The lesser prairie chicken was first petitioned for protection in 1995. The Fish and Wildlife Service determined it warranted protection in 1998, but rather than provide that protection, put it on a candidate list. In accordance with a multi-species settlement with the Center and WildEarth Guardians, the Service proposed the species for protection in 2013. In response to the proposal, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies developed a rangewide, voluntary conservation plan. The Fish and Wildlife Service considered the plan in deciding to protect the prairie chicken as a threatened species in 2014, but concluded that because no landowners and only some oil and gas companies had enrolled in the plan that it did not ensure the survival of the bird. 

The court disagreed with this conclusion arguing the Service should have somehow predicted how many landowners were going to join and made their decision accordingly. The court also appeared to deny the fact that the bird is threatened by climate change and drought. 

“This court decision has no basis in law,” said Greenwald. “Christmas came early this year for the oil and gas industry with a court decision specially gift wrapped for them straight out of Midland, Texas.” 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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