Groups sue to force federal protections for prairie chickens

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A male prairie chicken inflates its orange neck sacs and raises its scalp feathers into “horns” during a courtship dance. Colorado, April 1987.

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WASHINGTON — Three conservation groups are suing the federal government to force it to protect the lesser prairie chicken and its habitats.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians.

The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service has not done enough to protect the bird. The groups want the agency to determine whether the lesser prairie chicken is a threatened or endangered species.

The Interior Department said it cannot comment on pending litigation. The bird was listed as threatened in 2014 but a federal court overturned the designation.

The bird roams parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, but the groups said fewer than 38,000 remain.

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