The Obama Administration is declaring the Lesser Prairie Chicken a threatened species, a designation that is one step down from an endangered species and offers more flexibility in determining how the protections will be applied. The move affects five states: Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado.
The policy of the Fish and Wildlife Service goes into effect May 1 under the Endangered Species Act.
Senator John Cornyn had an immediate response: “Today’s decision, which has real-world consequences for Texas families, landowners and businesses, is a missed opportunity to acknowledge Texans’ unprecedented conservation efforts. I will continue to fight to reform this process so job creators and local officials have a say.”
Senator Ted Cruz also released a statement: “Including the lesser chicken prairie on the endangered species list will diminish private land owners’ control over their own property and threaten agriculture and energy jobs. Conservation does not have to come at the expense of property rights, growth, and opportunity.”
Donald Berry, Vice President of the Defenders of Wildlife, disagrees. “To suggest that the listening of the chicken was inappropriate is just not true. How can you have a 50% decline in a species and not conclude that it warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act?”
Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas calls it “government over-reach” and is coordinating with Oklahoma to sue the federal government.
Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe says the lesser prairie chicken has lost 80% of its natural habitat because of oil and gas drilling, agriculture, ranching, and construction of wind turbines. Last year’s drought was a death knell.
“Their population has plummeted,” says Berry. “It was cut in half. A 50% decline in one year because of the drought. So this is a bird that is in big trouble.”
Especially upsetting to politicians, ranchers, business leaders and landowners is that most, if not all, have been involved in voluntary conservation efforts to save the lesser chicken prairie for years. They have collectively spent millions of dollars providing land for habitat, without government oversight or prodding.