WASHINGTON Nov 30 A move by U.S. authorities to
consider placing a small grassland bird native to parts of the
oil and gas belt on the Endangered Species List has drawn the
ire of some Western lawmakers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday announced a
plan to consider having the lesser prairie chicken listed as
"threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.
The lesser prairie chicken is a medium-sized, gray-brown
grouse, smaller and paler than the greater prairie chicken, its
Once found in abundant numbers across much of Southeastern
Colorado, Eastern New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Western
Oklahoma and Western Kansas, the lesser prairie-chicken's
historical range of native grasslands and prairies has been
reduced by an estimated 84 percent, the service said.
Lawmakers in major oil and gas producing districts
immediately cried foul.
"A listing will have permanent economic consequences for the
people of Texas who live and work in the Permian Basin and the
Texas Panhandle," said Representative Michael Conaway, a
Conaway's sprawling West Texas district produces much of the
state's oil and about one-quarter of its gas.
Protecting the lesser prairie-chicken "could drive ranching
families and energy producers out of business," said Republican
Representative Randy Neugebauer, whose district in East-Central
Texas is a large agricultural area.
New Mexico's Steve Pearce, chairman of the Congressional
Western Caucus, said federal species regulation was being
"driven by lawyers for extreme interest groups."
"Listing cannot come soon enough for the lesser prairie
chicken," said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for
WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe environmental group that at one
point sued the federal government in an attempt to protect the
birds from oil and gas drilling.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has opened a 90-day comment
period on the lesser prairie-chicken and is seeking input from
the public and from the scientific community before making its
final decision. Four public hearings will be held in February.
In the meantime, a number of state and federal agencies are
working on a voluntary conservation planning effort to conserve
the bird's habitat.
"Regardless of whether the lesser prairie-chicken ultimately
requires protection under the ESA, its decline is a signal that
our native grasslands are in trouble," said Benjamin Tuggle,
Regional Director for the Service's Southwest Region.
"We know that these grasslands support not only dozens of
native migratory bird and wildlife species, but also farmers,
ranchers and local communities across the region," Tuggle said.
Lesser prairie chickens are considered "vulnerable," a step
short of endangered, by the UK-based International Union for
Conservation of Nature, whose "red list" tracks the conservation
status of various species worldwide.