U.S. senators approve measure nullifying lesser prairie chicken as threatened species

Lesser Prairie Chicken (Source: Wikipedia)
Lesser Prairie Chicken (Source: Wikipedia)
Published: May. 3, 2023 at 7:02 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (AP and KWCH) - Kansas’ delegation in the U.S. Senate applauded the Senate’s passage of legislation that nullifies the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. The Sunflower State’s representation in Washington has pushed back on the bird’s listing under the Endangered Species Act, citing a negative economic impact on the state.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., sponsored a measure repealing federal protections for the rare prairie bird that’s found in parts of the Midwest and Southwest, including one of the country’s most prolific oil and gas fields. Rep. Tracy Man, R-Kan. led companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Listing the lesser prairie chicken will hurt our state’s economy, hinder our oil and gas independence, increase utility costs, and prevent the development of renewable energy in prime Western Kansas locations,” Marshall said in November, speaking out against a decision from the Biden administration to list the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act.

The lesser prairie chicken’s range covers a portion of the oil-rich Permian Basin along the New Mexico-Texas state line and extends into parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. The habitat of the bird, a type of grouse, has diminished across about 90% of its historical range, officials said.

The crow-size, terrestrial birds are known for spring courtship rituals that include flamboyant dances by the males as they make a cacophony of clucking, cackling and booming sounds. They were once thought to number in the millions, but now hover around 30,000, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Environmentalists have long sought stronger federal protections for the bird, which they consider severely at risk due to oil and gas development, livestock grazing and farming, along with roads and power lines.

Marshall and other Republicans say greater protections aren’t needed and that the government instead should rely on voluntary conservation efforts already in place.

“Farmers, ranchers, and others in Kansas and the region have been instrumental in the recovery of the species to this point, while the climate activists demanding (federal protections under the Endangered Species Act) have no understanding of the threat it poses to Kansas’s economy, especially the energy and ag industries,’’ Marshall said in a statement.

Lew Carpenter, director of conservation partnerships with the National Wildlife Federation, said voluntary efforts are not enough.

“We hope partisan politics will not put a halt to federal efforts to recover one of our region’s iconic birds. And recovery means recovery of the habitat, too,’’ said Carpenter, who also serves as vice president of the North American Grouse Partnership, a Colorado-based conservation group.

In favor of the Senate’s latest action, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., joined Marshall in issuing a statement explaining his support.

“[Thursday], the Senate acted to protect farmers, ranchers and producers from the unnecessary consequences of listing the lesser prairie chicken,” Sen. Moran said. “Listing the bird as a threatened or endangered species is not the answer – plain and simple, we need more rainfall, not more regulation. I am confident there are ways to conserve the species without hindering economic development in rural communities, and I will continue to push for a voluntary solution. I appreciate the Senate acting quickly to pass this resolution and Sen. Marshall’s efforts to bring this legislation to the floor.”