Administration Plays Chicken with Jobs and Energy

The Obama administration wants to make sure that one certain free-range chicken has an easier time crossing the road.

But opponents gearing up for yet another fight with the environmental lobby see yet another proposal from this Interior Department to foul up the economy and kill jobs -- forged in a closed-door agreement.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is initiating the process to consider listing the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

"We are encouraged by current multi-state efforts to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat, but more work needs to be done to reverse its decline," said Dan Ashe, director of Fish and Wildlife. "Similar to what state and federal partners in this region accomplished when the dunes sagebrush lizard was proposed, we must redouble our important work to identify solutions that provide for the long-term conservation of the species and also help working families remain on the land they have stewarded for generations."

In announcing the move, Fish and Wildlife said it would make the determination "on the best available science," though the proposal is open for a 90-day public comment period.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) had a succinct reaction: "Here we go again."

“Unfortunately, our jobs and our way of life in southern New Mexico continue to come under assault,” said Pearce. “The prairie chicken is yet another example that federal species regulation is not based on science, but rather driven by lawyers for extreme interest groups, like Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians, who filed the lawsuit in this case. These groups have filed hundreds of job-killing petitions, often at taxpayer expense, while never having to live with the consequences to the local communities.”

“Listing cannot come soon enough for the lesser prairie-chicken,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Threats are increasing, the species’ range is contracting, and current conservation efforts are too little, too late to conserve the species.”

"Once found in abundant numbers across much of the five states of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas," Fish and Wildlife said, "the lesser prairie-chickens' historical range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84 percent." Only WildEarth Guardians, though, clarifies that this decline has been happening since the 1800s.

“The lesser prairie-chicken will disappear forever without protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Voluntary measures that preserve a little habitat are convenient for some, but they won’t be effective for the prairie-chicken.”

The chicken was first plucked out of the crop of species potentially needing protection by the ESA in 1998. The state of Colorado has already listed the species as threatened.