Three environmental groups are suing the Trump administration to secure federal protection for lesser prairie chickens.
The birds, which belong to the grouse family and are native to the southern Great Plains, live in Texas and four other states: Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.
The organizations say they asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act in 2016. The federal agency said it would make a decision on the petition in 2017, but has yet to make one.
Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity – one of the groups that filed the lawsuit – said a number of factors threaten the lesser prairie chicken.
"Its habitat has been eaten away for many years through agricultural expansion, livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling, a variety of just developments in just the prairie that it lives in," he said.
(The Center for Biological Diversity is also suing to protect two types of Central Texas salamanders.)
In a court filing Wednesday, the groups said fewer than 38,000 birds remain. Robinson said it would be a great loss if they were to go extinct.
"What we’re really looking at is the loss of a beautiful bird that has been on the prairie for many thousands of years, that has an absolutely mesmerizing dance and vocalizations as part of its mating strategy," he said, "an animal that’s enraptured the human heart for a long time."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” in 2014. That decision was overturned on procedural grounds after the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and four counties in New Mexico sued.