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Prairie Chicken Presents Larger Risk than Lizard

Lesser Prairie Chicken's habitat covers larger oil/gas producing area
MIDLAND -- Earlier this summer, we learned the fate of the dunes sagebrush lizard. It's a species that could have potentially shut down oil and gas operations across parts of the Permian Basin. But both sides were able to find common ground, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chose not to list the lizard.
   
Permian Basin Petroleum Association president Ben Sheppard, who spent over a year gathering science to prove there was no need to list the lizard as endangered, said, "We're very pleased with the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision not to list the sand dune lizard."

Now that that battle has been won, it's time to move on to the next - the lesser prairie chicken.

"We're every bit as concerned with the prairie chicken, if not more concerned, because of the range is so much larger," said Sheppard.

Sheppard says the lesser prairie chicken can be found in five states including Texas and New Mexico. Locally, it's habitat includes Yoakum, Cochran, Gaines, Lea, Roosevelt, and Chaves counties, which Sheppard describes as the bull's eye of the Permian Basin.

According to Burr Williams, executive director of the Sibley Nature Center, it's a species that could be found by the hundreds of thousands when the area was first settled. Today, in Texas, there's only about 5,000 left.

When asked why these birds are so important, Williams said, "Like an old ranching buddy of mine said...said the good Lord put 'em there, we don't have a right to get rid of them."
   
While the nature expert sees the importance of the species, even he hopes everyone will find common ground. "I've been super impressed with how the lizard situation was resolved," said Williams. "I really think the exact same thing will happen with the prairie chicken."
   
Sheppard couldn't agree more and says he's doing everything he can to make sure that's what happens. "We're looking at conservation measures, working with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the sister five state agencies to try to put forth some voluntary efforts that will hopefully help us prevent a listing," said Sheppard.

Sheppard says the listing proposal should come out before the end of September. That's when we'll know whether the Fish and Wildlife Service intends to list the species as threatened or endangered. At that point, there will be a 60 day public comment period, and the final decision will have to be made a year from when the proposal comes down.
   
Even when this is settled, there will still be dozens of other species to be considered for the list. That's why some congressmen are pushing legislation that would change the listing process, which they feel is being abused by environmental groups.
   
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