A collective of environmental conservation groups are pushing Washington to list the lesser prairie chicken as an endangered species, which could negatively impact local energy production and farmers.
A trio of organizations petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the grouse (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) as “endangered” according to the Endangered Species Act despite a recent, federal court ruling to vacate a previous “threatened” label. The groups argue that “emergency protections” are now necessary in portions of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas as existing conservation measures are “largely ineffective” in their opinion.
“The science is clear: The lesser prairie chicken is in serious trouble, and voluntary conservation efforts are not doing enough fast enough to recover these amazing birds,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians in a release.
With respect to “the science”, the groups blame the Texas energy industry’s operations within the chicken’s natural habitat by “exacerbating” the problems associated with climate change that have led to dryer weather conditions and hotter surface temperatures.
The bird’s 2014 protective listing was challenged in the U.S. Federal District Court for Western Texas by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and several New Mexico counties and was later successful in September 2015. The group told Breitbart Texas that a key driver for its legal success was a voluntary approach to mitigating and preserving lands among energy companies and local property owners.
“As of now, 10.5 million acres have been enrolled by 170 companies and have gathered $62 million for mitigation fees,” Permian Basin Petroleum Association Executive Vice President Stephen Robertson said. The group noted that 200,000 acres have been restored, while an additional 31,000 acres has been set aside as a permanent habitat.
“The data shows that the conservation efforts are helping the species,” Robertson said. “The plan is the largest and most successful for a voluntary and privately-funded effort to date. It’s working.”
In terms of chicken counts, the group said they are seeing a 25 percent increase range-wide, according to latest available data.
Though Robertson represents a western Texas petroleum group, he argues that environmentalists are fighting more than just the energy companies.
“This is bigger than energy … they are trying to go against any kind of development in the region whatsoever” to include oil, natural gas, agriculture and even renewable energy development. On the same token, the Defenders of Wildlife, a petitioning group, argues that local tourism can be adversely impacted if the lesser prairie chicken is not protected by the federal agency in question. Robertson is quick to remind proponents of the talking point that roughly a third of the State of New Mexico’s annual budget is dependent on energy.
The Midland-based energy group says it was “surprised” by the new attempts to list the chicken and plans to respond based on how the USFWS handles the petition.
Breitbart Texas originally reported on the previous listing of the lesser prairie chicken in March 2014.
Logan Churchwell is the Assistant Editor and a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter @LCChurchwell.