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Walking on eggshells; Debate over Lesser Prairie Chicken listing flares up

Walking on eggshells; Debate over Lesser Prairie Chicken listing flares up

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by Sept. 30 whether to propose listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken, a grayish-brown grouse that lives in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Texas Tech scientists have been at the forefront of research on the lesser prairie chicken for more than three decades. Now, their research and that of other universities could be square in the middle of this raging debate.

The petroleum industry has already raised concerns about the potential listing of the lesser prairie chicken, whose habitat, stretching across the Great Plains and Southwest, have been carved up by farms, oil exploration and other development.

“As we go forward with conservation plans and the relative risk that a species is facing, we need to look at risks across its distribution, not just have a one-size-fits-all for the prairie chicken’s entire distribution,” said Clint Boal, a professor in Texas Tech’s Department of Natural Resources Management and assistant leader of a Lubbock-based USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

If the lesser prairie chicken is added to the threatened list, it will restrict some land uses, Boal said. However, if landowners and producers – farmers and ranchers – have previously entered one of many cooperatives established by state and federal wildlife conservation agreements – which are managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife, they can continue whatever practices are already in place and are protected from some of these restrictions.

“What people need to understand is that it’s not just prairie chickens. It’s really the inter-connectedness of these biotic communities,” Boal said. “When we have indicators like a prairie chicken, and there’s something going wrong, that’s an indication of that biotic community as a whole.”

Reporting by Leslie Cranford

CONTACT: Clint Boal, Professor, Wildlife Ecology, Department of Natural Resources Management, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2851 or


Editor’s Note: For full text of story, go to


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