Mack Kizer remembers seeing lesser prairie chickens on his family ranch in eastern New Mexico growing up. He said his children and grandchildren also have seen the birds on the ranch since childhood and he hopes they can continue to enjoy the unique animal’s presence long into the future. As the bird’s population dwindles, Kizer’s family is one of a group of landowners who have entered into agreements that allow them to be paid to preserve lesser prairie chicken habitat on their ranch. The bird’s habitat has become more and more fragmented. The birds living in eastern New Mexico and its neighboring section of Texas are now isolated from birds farther north in places like Oklahoma and Kansas.
This month, the lesser prairie chicken’s southern population will join the list of animals in the United States that are considered endangered.
A coalition of conservation groups petitioned the federal government to list the coyote in parts of New Mexico and Arizona as endangered under the similar appearance clause of the Endangered Species Act. The groups say the Mexican gray wolf and the coyote look very similar—to the point that wildlife managers cannot always tell them apart. Michelle Lute, the carnivore conservation director at Project Coyote, has a Ph.D. in wild canid conservation. In an interview with NM Political Report, she said generally when trying to educate people about the differences between wolves and coyotes, people say to look for a bushy tail as well as differences in size and ear to head ratio. But those aren’t as obvious when it comes to the Mexican wolf and the coyote.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its plan on Wednesday for recovering the Gila trout, which is found in high mountain streams in parts of New Mexico and Arizona. The plan prioritizes efforts like reintroducing the fish into historical habitats, removing or managing nonnative trout species and captive breeding of the Gila trout at hatcheries. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gila trout is one of the rarest trout species in the country. It first was listed as endangered in 1973 when the Endangered Species Act passed, but has been recognized as endangered since 1967. It was later downlisted to threatened in 2006.
The Center for Biological Diversity says that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has violated the Endangered Species Act when it comes to protecting the lesser prairie chicken. The service published a proposed rule in June 2021 to list two distinct population segments of the lesser prairie chicken.
The Center for Biological Diversity alleges that the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to finalize the proposed rule in a timely manner. In a court filing made Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity stated that it intends to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service if the rule is not finalized in the next 60 days. The proposed rule would list the lesser prairie chicken living in southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, northwest Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle as threatened and the population living in west Texas and eastern New Mexico would be listed as endangered. The Center for Biological Diversity says that the rule should have been finalized in June of this year under Endangered Species Act requirements.
A butterfly found in northern New Mexico could soon be added to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that it is considering listing a subspecies of the silverspot butterfly, which is found in high elevation areas ranging from 5,200 to 8,300 feet above sea level in parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, as threatened. This follows the completion of a peer-reviewed species status assessment report. This is one of five subspecies of the silverspot butterfly and there are only ten known populations of this subspecies. The scientific name is Speyeria nokomis nokomis.
A small snake that eats fish has gained additional critical habitat designations in New Mexico and Arizona under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule in the Federal Register this week designating 23,785 acres of critical habitat for the narrow-headed garter snake in five Arizona counties and three New Mexico counties (Grant, Catron and Hidalgo counties). The majority of the land in the critical habitat is federal, however about a quarter of it is privately owned. The Glenwood State Fish Hatchery is also included in the critical habitat, although the snake has not been found on the property. The notice states that the “narrow-headed garter snakes are primarily found in rocky stretches of canyon-bound headwater streams that have perennial flow or limited spatially intermittent flow that is primarily perennial.” It rarely ventures far from water.
Two populations of the lesser prairie chicken could receive federal species protections amid concerns about loss of habitat. The southern population would be listed as endangered while the northern population would receive protections as a threatened species, according to a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently accepting comments about listing the bird. The lesser prairie chicken relies on tall grass to hide from predators and, according to the press release, it has lost habitat in about 90 percent of its historic range. Factors leading to this habitat loss and fragmentation include energy development, grasslands being converted into farmland and woody vegetation encroaching into the grassland.
A conservation program that industry groups and landowners hoped would keep the lesser prairie chicken off the federal Endangered Species Act list has fallen short of its conservation mission and wasted millions in the process, according to an independent audit of the program.
The lesser prairie chicken has been under consideration for Endangered Species Act protections for more than 20 years and was listed as a threatened species, a step down from endangered species designation, from 2014 to 2016.
A group of five states that share the lesser prairie chicken range — New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma — developed in 2013 a voluntary conservation program with land owners, ranchers and oil and gas companies through the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), a consortium of state fish and game agencies across the West. WAFWA has managed the program for landowners and oil and gas developers to buy into in order to assure protections for remaining lesser prairie chicken habitat.
A lone male wolf loped across the sandy landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert under a waning January moon in 2017, heading north. The male, known as M1425, was a member of a small population of endangered Mexican gray wolves reintroduced into Mexico in 2012. The wolf was doing exactly what male wolves should be doing: exploring the landscape in search of new habitat, food sources and possibly even a mate. M1425 spent two nights exploring the new range before turning south and heading back to familiar territory. The journey north, which took the wolf across the U.S.-Mexico border, was encouraging to researchers who tracked the animal’s peregrinations by GPS collar.
The lesser prairie chicken can’t catch a break. The fowl, a relative of the sage grouse, has the misfortune of calling portions of the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico home. Grazing, oil and gas development and water scarcity in southeastern New Mexico has decimated the bird’s population in New Mexico over the last 25 years.
The species was briefly listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, but after a series of lawsuits from industry groups, the bird’s listing is currently caught in bureaucratic limbo. Officials in southeastern New Mexico have pledged to keep fighting against attempts to protect it. And now, tweaks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could spell extinction for the bird.