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Public comment period continues on native fowl

Interested parties have a little more time to tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if and how the lesser prairie-chicken should be listed as a threatened species as a new comment period opens today.

“The public comment period will be reopened for 45 days to allow an opportunity for the public, the scientific community and other interested parties to provide input on the original listing proposal in light of a newly-released range-wide conservation plan for the species,” said Lesli Gray, a spokeswoman for the service. “In addition, the reopening of the comment period will also allow the public to review and comment on a proposed special rule that, if approved, would foster conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken and give landowners across the species’ range additional flexibility to manage their land, if the lesser prairie-chicken becomes a listed species.”

The species lives in the northeast and southwest Panhandle and New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas.

The department will take comments until June 20.

The newly proposed special rule would allow the “taking” or killing, harming, harassing of the species or destruction of its habitat while doing work included in federal programs intended to increase prairie-chicken habitat overall.

That rule would not be implemented unless the government lists the species as threatened, but it still doesn’t go over well with one conservation group.

“We’re disappointed the service is using a rule that is supposed to enhance wildlife conservation to lock the lesser prairie-chicken into small areas of habitat, preclude their recovery, and give blanket approval to industrial activities that are pushing them to extinction,” said Jay Lininger with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation group.

The new conservation plan is a contract landowners can voluntary enter into promising to manage their property to maximize its benefit to the species in exchange for protection from stringent controls on management, including farming, oil and gas exploration and production and wind energy development, that would come with the listing under the Endangered Species Act.

A copy of the conservation plan drafted by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Working Group is available here: http://bit.ly/136g2u0.

More information is available online at http://1.usa.gov/UApFxh