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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

We’re Listing it as Threatened, But States, Partnerships Will Conserve Lesser Prairie-Chicken

We have determined that the lesser prairie-chicken warrants listing as a threatened species.  

lesser prairie chicken

The lesser prairie-chicken inhabits areas of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Credit: Greg Kramos/USFWS

A “threatened” listing means the species is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future. It allows us to ensure the bird’s protection while providing some measure of flexibility in implementing measures under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

The ongoing drought and past habitat loss and fragmentation throughout the chicken’s range of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas have devastated the species – the 2013 estimate had the population at 17,616 birds, almost 50 percent fewer than 2012. 

We first identified the lesser prairie-chicken as a candidate for federal protection under the ESA in 1998, and since then, have worked with the states, federal agencies, conservation organizations, landowners and other partners to protect the species’ habitat and address the threats it faces. 


Lesser Prairie-Chicken Gets Lots of Helping Hands

When we proposed listing the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in December 2012, we estimated the population to be less than 45,000 birds range-wide.  The states conducted a range-wide aerial survey this spring and estimated the population at approximately 18,000 birds, a decline no doubt related to the extended drought in the southern Great Plains.

Lesser prairie chicken

The lesser prairie-chicken needs lots of space. Credit: NRCS

Clearly, this is a species in trouble that needs help.

The state fish and wildlife agencies have stepped up to the task, working together through the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  They have now completed the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan, and we are pleased to endorse it.


Getting It Right for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse and Lesser Prairie-Chicken

This week I was able to sneak out of Washington to Gunnison, Colorado, to tour the Gunnison Sage-Grouse Habitat, lunch with the Gunnison Basin Strategic Committee and meet with the County Coalition for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, an organization of the 11 counties within the range of Gunnison Sage-Grouse. 

gunison sage-grouse
Gunnison sage-grouse. Credit: © Mike Danzenberger.

I got a chance to see some valuable landscape-level conservation to benefit the Gunnison sage-grouse, a bird we have proposed to list under the Endangered Species Act. About 5,000 breeding gunnisons remain in and around the Gunnison Basin in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. At one time their range included northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. 

Comment on the the proposed endangered status for Gunnison sage-grouse
Comment on the proposed designation of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse

To conserve the species, private landowners, federal, state and local agencies, and other partners have developed conservation agreements and implemented them on public, private and state lands across portions of the species’ range.

Stakeholders have been working hard over the last several months to develop conservation efforts for sage-grouse, and we all have the shared goal of conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse and the healthy sagebrush ecosystem on which they depend.