Good news for conservation: Feds abandon lesser prairie chicken appeal

May 17, 2016 | By JONATHAN WOOD

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was abandoning its appeal of a federal court ruling overturning its decision to list the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. This is a big win for conservation.

As you may recall, the court struck down the listing because the federal government gave short shrift to state and private conservation efforts. Those efforts have led to a nearly 50% increase in the species’ population since 2013.

The historic state and private effort to recover the species should have been a cause for celebration within the Service. Instead, bureaucrats within the Service decided to inexplicably violate the agency’s own policy by assuming that these conservation efforts would never be implemented. The court rightly recognized that such arbitrary decision making is an affront to law.

Ultimately, this result is not only a win for industry and property owners. It’s also a win for the lesser prairie chicken. Listed species do not have a very good track record. In the 43 years since the Endangered Species Act was enacted, less than 2% of the species listed have recovered to the point that they could be delisted. This is likely due to the dismal incentives property owners face under the statute to maintain habitat or contribute to a species’ recovery. Private, voluntary efforts, on the other hand, get the incentives right and offer the prospect of a win-win.