By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service on Thursday declared the lesser prairie chicken a threatened species but kept in place a regional plan developed by officials from five states to protect the species.
The LPC’s five-state habitat area includes parts of southeastern Quay County, and the Quay County area includes high and medium priority ranges near Forrest and south of Bard.
The habitat area is spread over areas of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado as well as New Mexico. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, made up of fish and wildlife officials from the five affected states, drew up the plan.
The threatened status is the second-most urgent designation the FWS can assign to a species, the most urgent being endangered.
“We’ve always said the scientific data do not justify listing this species,” Quay County Manager Richard Primrose said, “and hopefully, the FWS will leave control of species management to the states.”
Bill Humphries, a Quay County rancher who has been active in efforts to prevent the LPC from being listed as either threatened or endangered, said, “I am encouraged that the Fish and Wildlife Service deferred to the five-state plan, but I’m disappointed that the agency has acted to list the species contrary to a lot of good science conducted by states, counties, and biologists that says the listing was not warranted.”
With the species listed, Humphries said, an “incredibly complex” process has begun.
Humphries said he and Tom Sidwell, another Quay County rancher active in the issue, reviewed at least 1,200 pages of regulation on the issue before Thursday’s ruling.
Sidwell said he wanted to read the 444 pages filed with the FWS’s decision before commenting on it.
The five-state plan includes restrictions on agricultural and industrial land use to protect the prairie chicken’s nesting and mating grounds, but the restrictions are not considered as severe as those that would be enacted by FWS.