Lesser Prairie Chicken Is Officially Threatened

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It's finally happened. A chicken that you've probably never heard of, unless you're into environmental things, has formally been declared "threatened."

The lesser prairie chicken is a member of the grouse family and distinguished from its relative, the greater prairie chicken, by being a bit smaller. That's pretty much the only difference. The lesser prairie chicken is found in five states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. There's been talk of putting the bird on the threatened list for a while now since its natural habitat -- comprised of sandhills and prairies and places like the Llano Estacado -- is vulnerable to destruction.

Back in March, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pulled the trigger, so to speak, and announced the prairie chicken was going on the list.

Under the law, a "threatened" listing means the species is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future; it is a step below "endangered" under the ESA and allows for more flexibility in how the Act's protections are implemented, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officialdom.

When an animal lands on the threatened list, this changes the rules for how the animal can be handled. Killing it is not okay, and if you're known to have a bunch of lesser prairie chickens on your land this changes what you can do with the land. If a pipeline is being laid to tote oil, as is often happening in Texas these days with all the shale oil booms going, a lesser prairie chicken can severely cramp the pipeline project's style. Protected birds and other animals have to be considered and being considered according to federal guidelines can cost money and time, which is why a lot of people in Texas have been less than thrilled with the idea of protecting this particular brand of chicken.

So there are lots of reasons why it's taken this long to get the lesser prairie chicken --the birds have lost more than 80 percent of their habitat and their numbers have dropped to a record-low of about 17,000 birds in 2012 -- on the list, even as merely threatened. But the chickens are there now, so we'd all best act accordingly.

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