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 BridenstineLawmakers sound alarm on space security The Hill's Whip List: 36 GOP no votes on ObamaCare repeal plan A guide to the committees: House 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 BlumenauerA unifying cause in Congress: animal protection House Dem seeks to create commission on 'presidential capacity' Medical marijuana supporters hopeful about government funding bill MORE (Ore.) and Rick LarsenRick LarsenSocial media reacts to Comey's firing Dems wants to see results of United Airlines investigation The Hill's 12:30 Report 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.