Defense bill could determine the fate of the lesser prairie chicken

Defense bill could determine the fate of the lesser prairie chicken

After the House Armed Services Committee adopted a measure in its defense policy bill to block special protections for the greater sage grouse, Republicans want to do the same for the lesser prairie chicken.  

The bill will be debated this week on the House floor, and a group of Oklahoma Republicans is proposing an amendment that would block the re-listing of the prairie chicken on the endangered species list until 2021, unless the Interior secretary determines that a conservation plan is not working. 

It is being proposed by Oklahoma Republican Reps. Frank Lucas, Jim BridenstineJim BridenstineThe Hill's Whip List: 34 GOP 'no' votes on ObamaCare repeal plan A guide to the committees: House Jim Bridenstine for NASA administrator MORE, Markwayne Mullin, and Steve Russell. It also calls for Congress to take the American burying beetle off the endangered list. 

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The defense bill — which authorizes $612 billion in Pentagon spending and activities — isn't normally a place where you would find legislation on endangered bird listings, but supporters argue the bird species is interfering with the use of land used by the military.

Also, the annual defense bill is "must-pass" legislation that can be an easy vehicle for passage. 

A consortium of Democrats are also planning to take another shot at blocking the greater sage grouse provision, including Reps. Niki Tsongas (Mass.), Tim Walz (Minn.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Jared Polis (Colo.), Diana DeGette (Colo.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Susan Davis (Calif.), Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerOvernight Finance: Biz groups endorse Trump's Labor pick | New CBO score coming before health bill vote | Lawmakers push back on public broadcasting cuts Dem, GOP lawmakers push back against Trump’s cuts to public broadcasting Trump: Mar-a-Lago 'most convenient' place to hold VA meeting MORE (Ore.) and Rick LarsenRick LarsenDems back bill to boost airfare transparency Both sides appeal to Trump in Norwegian Air fight A guide to the committees: House MORE (Wash.).

They have proposed a floor amendment that could be taken up during the defense bill debate. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to announce on Wednesday which out of the more than 300 amendments will be accepted. 

During the House Armed Services Committee's markup of the bill last month, Democrats argued the greater sage grouse provision had no place in a defense bill and were an attack on preservation efforts, but were defeated 36-26. 

The provision proved to be one of the most hotly debated during the 19-hour session. The term "greater sage grouse" even started trending on Twitter in Washington, D.C. during the panel's debate. 

Republicans on the panel argued that the bird population interferes with military land use throughout the country, including military training and testing.

"This is a perfect example I believe of the abuse of the Endangered Species Act and how it's being used to shut down military installations in the economy," said Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.)

He pointed out that the greater sage grouse is a game bird that is legally hunted in Georgia. 

"We actually have hunting season on greater sage grouse in many states and any of you have hunted our there would recognize that there really is no shortage in most of the areas that I've been to," he said.