Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 11, 2017

Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

New Study Shows Lesser Prairie Chicken Decline Continues

Endangered Species Protection Would Buffer Rare Birds Against Climate Change, Habitat Loss

SILVER CITY, N.M.— A study released today by the U.S. Geological Survey found that lesser prairie chickens — rare grasslands dancing birds — continue to decline and will be threatened with extinction as climate change worsens and more habitat is lost. The study was part of a review of the species for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The USGS study is the first to incorporate the effects of global warming on lesser prairie chicken survival. The bird has already declined to just 1 percent of its historic abundance, living in isolated grasslands in eastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle. The study's authors found that incorporating higher temperatures and lower precipitation into future models for this species of grouse shows lower survival rates — and for some populations, near-term extinction.

“This is a blinking red light on the dashboard warning us emergency action is needed to save these birds,” Michael Robinson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Prairie chickens should be granted endangered species protection immediately.”

Lesser prairie chickens are celebrated for their unique, colorful springtime courtship rituals. But habitat destruction has eliminated almost all the birds and confined the survivors to tiny portions of their original habitat.

To try heading off Endangered Species Act protections for the bird, the five states where they live created a range-wide plan for conserving the prairie chicken. But in 2014 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the voluntary plan failed to reduce threats to the lesser prairie chicken and placed it on the “threatened” species list.

The following year, however, through litigation, oil and gas interests and counties in New Mexico induced the Service to delist the prairie chicken and to reconsider the voluntary plan. Yet despite the voluntary plan, habitat destruction continues apace, isolating the birds in smaller populations as their numbers continue to drop. Global warming will make that worse, suggesting that “threatened” status is no longer sufficient and that “endangered” would be a more apt classification.

“Scientists have now made clear that we'll have to pull out all the stops to save the lesser prairie chicken from extinction,” said Robinson. “It's time to use the Endangered Species Act to halt habitat loss for this beautiful bird and past time to dramatically reduce the emissions that are cooking us and the prairie chicken alike.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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