A bird iconic to the American West continued to see its numbers dwindle last year as federal protections for the species were weeks away from going into effect.
The lesser prairie chicken was deemed “endangered” in New Mexico by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last November, meaning the strongest federal restrictions on development in known chicken habitat areas would be imposed.
An endangered status also requires the agency to list lands as “critical habitat” where the species survives and could potentially expand into.
The Fish and Wildlife Service divided the chicken population into two areas: a northern distinct population segment (DPS) covering parts of Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas and a southern DPS known as the “shinnery oak prairie” in eastern New Mexico and West Texas.
The southern DPS was listed as endangered, while the northern DPS was given “threatened” status, meaning conditions could soon warrant an endangered listing.
The listing goes into effect Jan. 24, and amid continual declines in lesser prairie chicken populations, threatened by development in the areas where it dwells and continual aridification tied to pollution and subsequent climate change.