The lesser prairie chicken has been placed on the threatened species list, an Obama administration move that has farmers and ranchers worried and even outraged.
The bird’s primary habitat is Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, and governors of all five states urged the US Fish and Wildlife Service to keep it off the list. Some lawmakers and energy company officials are calling it government overreach.
The government agency set the rule to take effect around May 1. The “threatened” designation is one step below the more restrictive endangered species title.
Government officials are attempting to convince farmers, ranchers and energy producers that the threatened designation actually plays in their favor because it will permit more “flexibility” on land use activities.
The pending requirement is expected to affect ranchers and wind farms as well as oil and gas drilling in the five states.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is worried about how the lesser prairie chicken rule will impact the economy.
“This is an overreach on the part of the federal government. We are looking at possible responses on this issue,” Brownback said. The Kansas governor did not rule out filing a lawsuit.
US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe admitted that the lesser prairie chicken protective status will not be popular in the five state noted, but claims the federal agency based its decision on the best science available. The agency says the lesser prairie chicken, a type of grouse, has lost approximately 80 percent of its “traditional” habitat primarily because of ranching, oil and gas drilling, wind turbines and the construction of power lines.
The lesser prairie chicken, which weighs about two pounds, is believed to fear tall structures. Biologists who studied the species said that hawks and other predators typically perch on tall structures to spot their dinner. The population figures for the bird have dropped by 50 percent since 2012, with fewer than 18,000 still in existence. The agency’s goal is to boost that number to 67,000. About 80 percent of the birds live on private land.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in mid-March filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over allegedly shady dealings with an environmental group and the threatened status designation for the lesser prairie chicken. He alleges that the administration was siding with an environmental group, Wild Earth Guardians, that had sued the government over, in part, the chicken’s status.
Story continues below video of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
“Increasingly, federal agencies are colluding with like-minded special interest groups by using ‘sue and settle’ tactics to reach ‘friendly settlements’ of lawsuits filed by the interest groups,” Pruitt said. “These settlements, which often impose tougher regulations and shorter timelines than those imposed by Congress, are having a crippling effect on the U.S. economy. Furthermore, because these settlements are taking place without public input, attorneys general are unable to represent the respective interests of their states, businesses, and citizens,” Attorney General Pruitt said.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service countered by saying the new rule leaves a lot of flexibility, with drilling and other projects that had already started on the lands being allowed to continue.
Kansas Representative Tim Huelskamp said that the Obama administration is threatening both the property rights of farmers and ranchers as well as energy production in the five states where the lesser prairie chicken roams free.
“An effective conservation effort must be strictly voluntary if private property is to be respected and our rural way of life to be protected,” Huelskamp said.
Lawmakers from New Mexico are equally displeased with the new protective status of the bird. State officials have said that the threatened species status will “without question decimate economic development” and job creation in the southeastern region of New Mexico.
Should the lesser prairie chicken have been placed on the list? Let us know in the comment below.