Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 25, 2022


Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Lesser Prairie Chickens Under Endangered Species Act

Decades of Stalling Threaten Iconic Grouse With Extinction

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect lesser prairie chickens.

In 2021 the Service proposed adding a Texas and New Mexico population of these birds to the endangered species list, and a separate northern population in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado to the threatened list. But a final rule to enact the listings is nearly five months overdue.

“It’s haunting to think that videos of the lesser prairie chicken’s intricate dance may be all that’s left for future generations if these fascinating birds don’t get the protections they’ve been promised,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “The oil and gas industry has fought for decades against safeguards for the lesser prairie chicken, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is late issuing its final rule. The agency has slow-walked every step, and these imperiled birds keep losing more habitat.”

The lesser prairie chicken’s decline to a fraction of its original numbers results from the degradation and fragmentation of the southern Great Plains. Conversion to crops, cattle grazing, the raising of powerlines and telephone poles, oil and gas drilling, and the incursion of woodlands — as well as drought and high temperatures linked to global warming — all harm the bird.

Under the June 2021 proposal, the two populations of lesser prairie chickens would each have its own recovery actions, goals and timelines. But the agency didn’t finalize the proposal by June 1, 2022, as it was required to do.

“The lesser prairie chicken needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Robinson. “With no dispute about the bird’s long-term decline and near-term peril, and all the bureaucratic excuses for not listing it having already been used up, we’re left with baffling agency inaction that calls for court intervention.”


The Center’s predecessor organization, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, petitioned to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in 1995.

In 2014 the Service finally listed the lesser prairie chicken as threatened. But the following year, the oil and gas industry successfully challenged the listing in Midland, Texas, based on a poorly implemented and largely ineffective conservation agreement.

In 2016 the Center and its allies petitioned for an endangered listing for lesser prairie chickens. The subsequent lawsuit by the Center and allies, and comments submitted in April 2021, led to last year’s proposed rule, which faced opposition from the oil and gas industry.

Lesser prairie chicken. Credit: USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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