The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on Sept. 1 granted summary judgment in favor of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rule listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In PBPA et al. v. Department of Interior et al, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Junell concluded that the decision to list the LPC was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and that the agency failed to properly apply its Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions (PECE Policy) to conservation efforts already undertaken on millions of acres across five states to improve habitat for and diminish threats to the LPC.
In response to the ruling, PBPA President, Ben Shepperd, issued the following statement: “The PBPA applauds Judge Junell’s decision in our suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior. This ruling serves as vindication of the unprecedented stakeholderparticipation across the Lesser Prairie Chicken range. Our members’ good faith efforts to conserve LPC habitat and recover the species through the Range-wide Plan began long before this listing decision was made and will continue unabated now that the court has thrown it out.”
Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter shared a sentiment as well:
“I applaud the court for ruling against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in determining that the lesser prairie chicken should not be considered ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation for the lesser prairie chicken was an unfair, unwarranted designation that served as another weapon in Obama’s war on fossil fuels. Texas oil and gas producers have made commendable, successful efforts in good faith to conserve and protect the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat, and do not need additional rules and restrictions that inhibit them from conducting business efficiently and economically. Hopefully, this ruling sets a precedent for other pending cases.”
Under the LPC Range-wide Conservation Plan, more than 180 oil and gas, pipeline, electric transmission and wind energy companies have enrolled in conservation agreements to avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts to the LPC from their operations. In the process, they committed
$45.9 million in enrollment and impact fees to cover off-site mitigation actions for unavoidable impacts and contribute to habitat conservation. Earlier this year, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which oversees the conservation efforts under the Range-wide Plan,
reported a 25 percent increase in the LPC’s population from 2014 to 2015, in part a result of industry’s conservation efforts.