The Biden administration on Wednesday sought to extend endangered wildlife protections to a population of birds living in the oil-rich Permian basin, potentially setting up obstacles for oil and gas companies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating the lesser prairie-chicken population in southern parts of the country as protected under the Endangered Species Act.
That region, as described by the agency, includes the Shinnery Oak Ecoregion in New Mexico and Texas, which also overlaps with the Permian Basin, as first reported by The Washington Post.
The Permian Basin is world’s largest shale oil and gas field, which stretches across Texas and New Mexico and is responsible for producing around 4.3 million barrels of oil per day, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
When endangered species designations are made, there are steps taken to protect the animals from being jeopardized by federal activities, to protect habitats from destruction and modification and to seek land purchases or exchanges for important habitats, according to the Federal Wildlife Service. If necessary, "reasonable and prudent alternatives" to projects and scheduling may be suggested to allow projects to continue while also protecting the animals.
People are prohibited from inflicting direct or indirect harm on the species.
The primary threat to the lesser prairie-chicken is the loss of connected blocks of grassland and shrubland habitat, the government said.
In the southern region, the lesser prairie-chickens are also affected by droughts and are at risk of extinction.
Researchers at the Dallas Fed noted that all production on the Texas side of the Permian Basin is on private and state-owned land, whereas half of production in New Mexico last year originated from wells on federal land.
The population of the lesser-prairie chicken in states further north, including Oklahoma and Colorado, was described as threatened – but not endangered.
Overall, it has been estimated that since the mid-1960s lesser-prairie chicken populations have declined by about 97%.