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Chicken fight


Lesser prairie chicken populations are dwindling, but some fear an ‘endangered’ designation might stress the economy.

Clifton Adcock September 14th, 2011

A group of energy company officials, agricultural organizations and state officials, along with the director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sat down Sept. 8 to talk not so much turkey, but chicken — lesser prairie chicken, to be exact.

The FWS might list the lesser prairie chicken as an endangered species and is currently in the process of studying potential threats. The plains bird, which dwells in western Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, has been a candidate for listing for about a dozen years.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the lesser prairie chicken’s status as “vulnerable,” due to the species’ population decline.

The IUCN stated that bird populations in northeast Texas and parts of Oklahoma have been in precipitous decline since 2005, mostly because of drought and habitat loss caused by fossil fuel exploration, drilling and the development of wind energy.

Energy officials and farming and ranching groups said listing the bird would be catastrophic to economic development and agricultural activities in the birds’ habitat areas, and also undermine efforts being undertaken by the state and private groups and individuals to save the lesser prairie chicken.

right Oklahoma Secretary of Environment Gary Sherrer right talks sternly to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe Sept. 8 in Edmond.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, along with Oklahoma Secretary of Environment Gary Sherrer, set up public forums in Woodward and Edmond, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe attended the meetings at the request of Inhofe.

Inhofe, who did not attend the Edmond meeting at the University of Central Oklahoma, expressed concern that putting the bird on the endangered species list would have unintended negative economic consequences.

“I hope that we can come to an agreement that will implement a public-private partnership, which will help us make progress on protecting the species while ensuring that economic growth is sustained,” Inhofe said in a media release.

The decision of whether to list  the bird does not take economic impacts into account, Ashe said, but rather scientific information on the species’ current status and threats. Other factors would be considered once the species is on the list and a conservation plan is being formed.

“It is a significant decision. I do not agree with the characterization that listing the species is a devastating decision,” Ashe said.

Although Sherrer and others asked for more time for current state and private efforts to save the bird, the FWS is required to stick to a set timetable. A decision of whether to list the bird must be made by September 2012, with a final rule published 12 months after that.

I do not agree that listing the species is a devastating decision.
—Dan Ashe


Sherrer said the state’s plan is to increase the number of lesser prairie chickens, and that it is not unreasonable to give the state-level effort two years. He said the listing — and all of the requirements that come with it — would have a negative effect on the state and businesses.

“Director Ashe, I do believe that it has a devastating effect upon this state and the other states,” Sherrer said. “I respectfully ask that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service give us an additional 24 months … to allow our concerted conservation efforts to come to fruition.”

Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups asking that the chicken be listed, said the bird’s number has declined over the past few years.

right the lesser prairie chicken

“We support broad citizen participation in species conservation, but note that the Endangered Species Act requires that listing decisions be based exclusively on the best available science,” Salvo said. “Listing species under the ESA has proven very effective in preventing their extinction. … Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listed species also benefit from the development of a federally funded recovery plan and designation of critical habitat.”

 
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