WASHINGTON — A new study shows the lesser prairie chicken population has exploded by 20 percent prompting concern by western lawmakers that the Obama administration acted hastily when it listed the bird as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The aerial survey conducted last month by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies showed the grouse species numbers jumped from 18,747 to 22,415.
That study plus the Agriculture Department’s tardiness in reporting conservation efforts to Congress as required by law prompted a letter from lawmakers including Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton demanding the report.
“We request that your department provide this report immediately to appropriate committees as required by the law, so that millions of private landowners, states and other stakeholders that are investing significant resources for conservation of this species can ensure that the cost and effectiveness of federal programs are being properly accounted for, and to provide Congress information it requested prior to the listing,” the lawmakers said.
The increase in population numbers prompted lawmakers to question whether the listing by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in March was supported by the best available scientific and commercial data that is required by the Endangered Species Act.
Lawmakers also questioned whether the range plan in five states including Colorado were given fair or careful consideration prior to the government’s decision to list the species.
Congress passed a law in January requiring the Agriculture Department to submit the report in 90 days, but more than 150 days have elapsed with no response from the Obama administration.
“In our view, it is unfortunate that this listing, driven by the Department of the Interior’s settlement deadline negotiated with certain (environmental) groups, proceeded despite the FWS approval last fall of a comprehensive five-state range
wide plan that is already demonstrating positive results for the lesser prairie chicken,” the lawmakers said.
Nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, signed the letter that was released on Monday.