Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 18, 2015

Contact: Tanya Sanerib, (971) 717-6407,

New Report: Lesser Prairie Chicken Among Top 10 Species
Threatened by Habitat Fragmentation in United States

Lack of Room to Roam Cited as Cause of Imperilment of Prairie Bird

DENVER— The decimation of lesser prairie chicken habitat by oil and gas drilling, ranching, agriculture and drought — and the resulting population declines — earned the species a spot among the top 10 most isolated wildlife species in the United States, according to a new analysis by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, No Room to Roam: 10 American Species in Need of Connectivity and Corridors, highlights wildlife species lacking safe, navigable corridors to connect them to important habitat or each other. 

Lesser prairie chicken
Photo courtesy USFWS. This photo is available for media use.

“Having already lost roughly 85 percent of their historic range, lesser prairie chickens are being squeezed into oblivion by unchecked oil and gas drilling, ranching and agriculture,” said Tanya Sanerib, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The birds rely on unique habitats that are in decline in the Southwest. Because of their history with bird predators, lesser prairie chickens are genetically wired to avoid tall structures, like oil and gas rigs, fence posts and power lines.”  

The lesser prairie chicken is a large, ground-nesting bird that inhabits shortgrass prairies, sand sage grasslands and shinnery oak shrubsteppe across eastern New Mexico, the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, Kansas and southeastern Colorado. Each spring, prairie chickens gather at traditional breeding sites called “leks” where males display their colorful plumage, emit unique mating calls and compete for the right to breed with females. These leks are the hub of nesting activity.

Lesser prairie chickens were protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in the spring of 2014 due to habitat loss and population declines. The Act is designed to recover imperiled species so they no longer require its protection. Oil and gas, ranching, farming and other interests challenged the threatened decision and a judge in Texas has decided that a new decision must be made.

“Fortunately, lesser prairie chicken populations have increased since the threatened listing,” said Sanerib. “But that doesn’t change the fact that their remaining habitat is like Swiss cheese, not the block of cheddar it once was.” 

The Endangered Species Act is a proven effective safety net for imperiled species: More than 99 percent of plants and animals protected under the Act persist today. The full No Room to Roam report, along with a slideshow, links to photos and species-specific info can be viewed and downloaded from the Endangered Species Coalition’s website.

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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