Prairie Chicken Listing Threatens Oil Drilling in Five States

Thursday, 27 Mar 2014 06:01 PM

By Melanie Batley

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The Obama administration announced Thursday that it has added the lesser prairie chicken to its list of threatened species, sparking criticism from lawmakers and energy producers who say the move will undermine oil and gas drilling, wind farms, and agriculture, and take a toll on state economies.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has classified the bird, a type of grouse, one step below "endangered" status, giving it a wider range of protections under the Endangered Species Act, Fox News reported.

The new regulation, set to take effect May 1, will impact five central and southwestern states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Kansas, raising concerns from elected officials about its impact on the states' economies.

"This is an overreach on the part of the federal government," Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said in a statement, according to Fox News. "We are looking at possible responses on this issue."

Brownback's spokeswoman Sara Belfry said a lawsuit is a possibility, and attorney general Derek Schmidt said in a statement that his office is "assessing our legal actions," Fox News reported.

Oil companies, meanwhile, say the new regulations would impede their operations and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in foregone oil and gas development, adding that the decision undermines America's energy future.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp said the administration's decision will also threaten the property rights of farmers and ranchers. The Kansas Republican said in a statement: "An effective conservation effort must be strictly voluntary if private property is to be respected and our rural way of life to be protected," Fox News reported.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe acknowledged the decision would be unpopular but said it was based on the best science available. Data indicates the prairie chicken has lost more than 80 percent of its traditional habitat mostly due to human activity, and its population in the five states declined to fewer than 18,000 birds, according to Fox News.

Environmentalists are welcoming the decision.

"We are talking about a species whose population has plummeted to half its numbers in just one year," Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, told Fox News. "This bird deserves effective federal protection, and the government recognized that over 15 years ago."

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