Tympanuchus pallidicinctus (Lesser Prairie Chicken), a more litigiously active member of its genus, is in the middle of a growing battle over its status listing with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service, in a special final ruling in April, listed the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species. The rule states ‘habitat loss and fragmentation’ as primary factors for the listing. It further claims ‘conversion of grasslands for agricultural uses, wind energy development, petroleum production’, as well as the presence of ‘roads and manmade vertical structures’ contributed to these factors. The new listing has led to several lawsuits filed by states, industry groups, and wildlife activists asking for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to reconsider its decision. Each group seeks change in the listing for a different reason.
Foreseeing how a listing would affect industry, before the decision was finalized and printed in the federal register, Oklahoma joined Kansas, North Dakota, Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, and Oklahoma Farm Bureau in filing a complaint against FWS and Department of the Interior. The complaint claims the FWS did not make the best decision based on available scientific data, but was instead swayed by pressure from environmental groups by ‘entering into private settlements with special-interest litigants.’ This attempt did little to halt the decision. Once the listing finalized, on May 9th, Kansas governor Sam Brownback signed a bill declaring state sovereignty over non-migratory wildlife.
The bill allows for a county or district attorney, or the attorney general to block attempts by the federal government to regulate the bird in court. Earlier this month, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, and four New Mexico counties also filed suit alleging that the FWS is breaking the law under the Administrative Procedures Act by listing the LPC as threatened They seek to have the listing held unlawful and set aside through court action.
While the states where the chickens booming squawks can be heard look to contest its threatened status and the legality of its listing, wildlife activists seek to turn its current status to one with a higher priority. Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Wildearth Guardians want to have the lesser prairie chicken listed as an endangered species. They claim that the federal government is not doing enough to protect the LPC’s future, and that the threatened status allows industries to continue harming the bird through loopholes in regulation, without repercussions. While the defendants in this suit insist that they are ‘dedicated to protecting wild animals and plants in their natural communities,’ states unfortunately have the burden of ensuring the economic security and livelihood of its residents of the human persuasion. They are fighting to keep the impacted jobs in the agriculture, oil and gas, ranching, transportation, and energy industries secure.
States wanting to uphold their end of the responsibility bargain should be reason enough to remove this listing. Let them decide what needs to be conserved and protected within their borders, and do them a favor: chicken out.