DENVER – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday it is considering formally listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.
The announcement begins a yearlong review that will include public meetings in four of the five states where the member of the prairie grouse family lives.
Fish and Wildlife said it made its decision based on evidence that the bird and its habitat are in decline.
“The lesser prairie chicken is a species that is in peril and has been for some time,” said Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe.
The chicken’s range includes parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Nearly 85 percent of its grass- and brush-land habitat has been affected by ranching and farming. Most of its habitat is on private land.
Ranchers, farmers and wind-farm operators worry about a listing because it could increase regulations. Wind turbines, oil wells and fences are among the culprits scientists say have caused the chicken’s decline.
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said the listing “could significantly disrupt traditional and renewable American energy production and delivery, as well as agriculture.
“Energy projects, including renewable wind energy, would be placed in jeopardy, facing inevitable delay and uncertainty due to new layers of regulatory red tape,” Hastings said in a statement Friday.
Federal authorities sought to ease those concerns.
“We know that we cannot restore, protect and reconnect the habitat ... without the help of private landowners,” said Benjamin Tuggle, Fish and Wildlife’s southwest region director.
Conservationists will work to “keep farming and ranching families on the land,” he said.
The review meetings will be in February in Woodward, Okla.; Garden City, Kan.; Lubbock, Texas; and Roswell, N.M.
The lesser prairie chicken has feathered feet and a stout build. Males display brilliant yellow-orange eye combs and reddish-purple air sacs during courtship displays.
A final decision on the chicken listing is expected by November 2013.