WASHINGTON — A proposal by Colorado and other western states to protect the lesser prairie chicken was endorsed by the federal government Wednesday, sparking hope among lawmakers the voluntary action will keep the bird off of the endangered species list.
A decision on the proposed listing is expected in March, and would also affect land management in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas.
The 300-page plan would still allow development activities including oil and gas drilling or grazing, and companies would pay a fee to ensure that additional property could be acquired from willing landowners to safeguard the bird’s habitat.
Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said he was encouraged by the endorsement but still concerned that the Obama administration has left open the possibility of a future listing.
“Instead of threatening states, jobs, and private property owners with the potential future regulation of millions of acres, the Obama administration should be allowing states, agriculture, property owners, and job-producing industries to continue working on conserving the lesser prairie chicken while simultaneously allowing for multiple use of private lands in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado,” Hastings said.
The Center for Biological Diversity criticized the endorsement from the Fish and Wildlife Service and said the states’ plan failed to ensure enough federal oversight to protect the bird’s habitat.
“Drought and habitat destruction are devastating the small remaining populations of this magnificent grassland bird,” said Jay Lininger, a spokesman for the environmental group.
“Voluntary measures by states are too little, too late, and will not get traction fast enough to prevent extinction. These vanishing birds need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act without exemptions for activities that continue to destroy their habitat,” Lininger said.
The plan by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) was accepted after a one-year review proved that it was consistent with the federal government’s criteria to preserve the species, said Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The unprecedented collaborative efforts of WAFWA and the five state wildlife agencies have produced a sound conservation plan for the lesser prairie-chicken,” Ashe said.
“We applaud the states’ commitment to lead conservation actions across the bird’s range,” Ashe said.