Feds to consider renewed protections for bird species

Feds to consider renewed protections for bird species
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Federal officials are formally considering whether to reinstate protections for the lesser prairie-chicken.

The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the decision Tuesday, reigniting a high-profile debate over Endangered Species Act protections. The protections pit environmental groups against oil companies who say protecting the bird would dramatically increase the costs of drilling within its range.


The federal agency listed the bird species as “threatened” in 2014, citing an 80 percent loss of its habitat, drought and its propensity to avoid developed areas.

But a federal court overturned the listing in 2015 in response to a lawsuit from the oil industry and some counties within the bird’s range. The court ruled that the FWS failed to consider the effect of conservation programs undertaken by the five states where the bird lives.

WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife petitioned for protections in September, saying that the state-level programs have proven ineffective, and the species still faces the same threats as before.

“The science is clear: Lesser prairie chickens are gravely imperiled and unenforceable, voluntary conservation efforts alone have proven incapable of saving this unique bird,” Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director with WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement.

“The lesser prairie chickens needs strong, enforceable protections to ensure it not only survives, but recovers in the face of worsening climate change and habitat destruction,” she said.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions Trump says he intends to nominate Esper to lead Pentagon The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept MORE (R-Okla.), outgoing chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he was “disappointed” that the FWS granted the petition to consider a listing.

“It is important that we let the multi-state conservation plan have time to work before bringing down the full force of the Endangered Species Act,” he said in a statement. “The ESA should be a last resort; local, cooperative efforts, as seen in Oklahoma and her partner states, could set a precedent for a way to move forward on species conservation without the heavy hand of the federal government.”

Inhofe said he would work with the administration of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE to stop or delay a listing.

Before the court ruling, House Republicans tried to prevent a lesser prairie-chicken listing through a defense authorization bill. The GOP argued that the protections interfered with operations at military bases.

That provision did not pass in the final version of the legislation.

After the FWS completes its review, it may formally propose a listing and take public comment on it if it decides protections are warranted.

In Tuesday’s announcement, the FWS also accepted a petition to designate leopards as endangered, and rejected a request to implement protections for the verde four-nerve daisy.