Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 5, 2023


Jason Rylander, (202) 744-2244,

Legal Intervention Defends Protections for Lesser Prairie Chickens

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity and Texas Campaign for the Environment moved today to intervene in a lawsuit to defend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to protect lesser prairie chickens under the Endangered Species Act.

In November the Service announced it would protect the southern distinct population of lesser prairie chicken in Texas and New Mexico as endangered, and the northern distinct population in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado as threatened.

The Center and Texas Campaign for the Environment filed the motion in response to two lawsuits filed in federal court in Texas by multiple states, ranchers and the oil and gas industry to remove protections for the birds.

“Lesser prairie chickens are icons of the West but they could go extinct if they lose their Endangered Species Act protections,” said Jason Rylander, legal director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m not surprised that these states are prioritizing oil and gas profits over these imperiled birds, but we’re not going to stand by and watch it happen.”

The lesser prairie chicken’s decline to a fraction of its original numbers is the result of the degradation and fragmentation of the southern Great Plains. Conversion to crops, cattle grazing, construction of power lines 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.

“The lesser prairie chicken is a Texas bird that needs protection or it faces extinction,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “We are joining the fight to save all the species that call Texas home.”

The Center’s predecessor organization, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, petitioned to protect 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.

The most recent lawsuit filed by the Center in October 2022 led to a final rule granting protections to the lesser prairie chicken.

For nearly 30 years, the Center has worked to secure protections for the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat through petitions, lawsuits, and other advocacy tools but the Service failed to act leaving the bird in anguish. Now, the lesser prairie chicken is at risk of losing protections vital to its recovery.

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.

center locations