The lesser prairie chicken may soon be fighting for survival due to rapidly declining numbers. Due to the diminishing numbers of these diminutive birds, US wildlife authorities have reclassified the species as "threatened."

"The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "Our determination that it warrants listing as a threatened species with a special rule acknowledges the unprecedented partnership efforts and leadership of the five range states for management of the species. Working through the WAFWA range-wide conservation plan, the states remain in the driver's seat for managing the species - more than has ever been done before - and participating landowners and developers are not impacted with additional regulatory requirements."

The lesser prairie chicken is a brown and grey grouse known to inhabit parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. These birds are smaller compared to the Greater Prairie Chicken, which is a close relative.

The sudden decline in lesser prairie chicken numbers may be linked to habitat shrinkage. While wildlife officials are worried about the lesser prairie chicken, oil, gas and energy companies are also worried about the situation. However, these energy companies are looking at things in a different light. The problem is that lesser prairie chickens are known to live in the grasslands within the American oil and gas belt.

Listing the species as endangered could result in marking-off potentially profitable drilling grounds as off-limits. Unsurprisingly, a group of energy companies has responded to the reclassification as "not warranted."

"To date, we understand that oil and gas companies, ranchers and other landowners have signed up over 3 million acres of land for participation in the states' range-wide conservation plan and the NRCS' Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative," said Ashe. "We expect these plans to work for business, landowners and the conservation of prairie-chickens."

A special provision involving the management of the conservation efforts was included in the listing. The provision will allow landowners and officials to handle the efforts to preserve the birds. While this may be good for the oil and gas companies and other landowners, environmentalists are concerned that the special provision could hamper the conservation efforts.

Many landowners including ranchers, farmers and oil and gas companies have already signed up large tracts of land for the conservation efforts. All in all, over 3 million acres of land have already been signed up for the effort.

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