New Mexico Counties Join Lawsuit Over Protection Of Lesser Prairie Chicken

Jun 10, 2014

Credit State of Colorado
  The Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four New Mexico counties sued the federal government, alleging the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal law in listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Filed late Monday in Midland, Texas, the lawsuit alleges violations of the Administrative Procedure Act and accuses the government of failing to fairly consider the expected benefits of conservation efforts already undertaken on millions of acres across five states to improve habitat for and diminish threats to the chicken.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the chicken as threatened in March. The agency’s best current estimate is that just over 34,000 of the chickens are in the states affected by the decision – Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado.

The lawsuit contends that government data indicate the chicken population has increased during the past decade and its occupied range has tripled in the last 30 years. Existing conservation plans require participating companies to pay enrollment fees, promise to follow practices meant to minimize impacts and pay for unavoidable damages and habitat restoration, including the five-state Rangewide Conservation Plan.

Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, said, “The federal government’s listing decision further burdens not only the region’s oil and gas industry, but also ranchers, wind farmers, and landowners. The public and private sectors had already designed and undertaken sensible conservation efforts that protect both the Lesser Prairie Chicken and vital regional industries and landowners. These efforts were working before the Obama Administration imposed unnecessary new regulations on the region.”

Joining the Permian Basin Petroleum Association as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Chaves, Eddy, Lea, and Roosevelt Counties in eastern New Mexico. The counties contain significant portions of Lesser Prairie Chicken range and significant amounts oil and natural gas development, agriculture and farming.

The Permian Basin, which includes west Texas and eastern New Mexico, is the most prolific oil-producing region in the United States and produces approximately 20 percent of the oil produced annually in the U.S.

Shepperd added, “This lawsuit is intended to help set the record straight on existing Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation efforts and curb the regulatory abuse that we and many others in the region believe occurred in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing decision.”

As of June 3, 160 oil and gas, pipeline, electric transmission and wind energy companies had enrolled about nine million acres in the Rangewide Conservation Plan and provided approximately $43 million for habitat conservation during the next three years.

The lawsuit seeks to have the court find that the Defendants violated the Administrative Procedure Act in listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The case is “Permian Basin Petroleum Association, et al., v. Department of the Interior, et al.,” in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Midland-Odessa Division, Case No. 7:14-cv-00050.