Committee Vote Undermines Science and Threatens the Lesser Prairie-Chicken
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WASHINGTON – “This proposal is motivated by politics and has no place in how we manage our nation’s wildlife,” said Marshall Johnson, chief conservation officer, National Audubon Society. “Congress should not let politics interfere where science is clear. This bird will vanish from our grasslands without these necessary protections.”
The US House Natural Resources Committee voted today to use the Congressional Review Act to reverse a November 2022 decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the Lesser Prairie-Chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The committee also passed two other resolutions, House Joint Resolutions 46 and 49, which also use the Congressional Review Act to undermine science-based conservation decisions under the ESA. These resolutions will move next to the full House for a vote.
Since formal nationwide bird monitoring began in the 1960s, Lesser Prairie-Chicken populations have declined by 97 percent across their range. This decline is one of the most precipitous among all bird life in the U.S. and will ultimately lead to extinction if not addressed.
“We are running out of time to save the Lesser Prairie-Chicken from extinction,” said Jon Hayes, executive director of Audubon Southwest and vice president at the National Audubon Society. “For years, landowners, community leaders, and conservationists have attempted voluntary measures to avoid listing but the science has made it clear that our best efforts were not enough.”
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken was first proposed for ESA listing in 1995. Since then, the bird has been through a roller coaster of listing decisions, court orders, and failed recovery efforts, all while the populations continue to plummet. The species is managed separately in the northern and southern parts of its range, which includes portions of five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico).
“These resolutions set a dangerous precedent for wildlife protection and trample on a real opportunity to demonstrate how we can save a species while bolstering rural economies,” said Johnson.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has worked to ensure flexibility for landowners and land managers by offering regulatory certainty through voluntary programs for agriculture and sustainable ranching.
“New federal investments and incentives for landowners resulting from Lesser Prairie-Chicken listing will make our grassland healthier, improve the infiltration of groundwater, sequester carbon, and make the rangeland more resilient overall,” added Hayes. “Cows need the same healthy grass and soils birds do.”
The FWS has also taken steps to create an Incidental Take Permit that energy companies can apply for allowing them to mitigate their predicted impact by restoring and protecting the Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat. This idea of Conservation Banking could prove to be a path forward that will help to protect the bird while also accommodating the needs of industry.
Audubon’s Conservation Ranching program supports market incentives for ranchers that manage their rangeland for bird habitat. Innovative partnerships like this provide a win-win solution for birds, like the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, and beef producers.
Read more from Jon Hayes: Together We can Save the Lesser Prairie-Chicken
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @audubonsociety.
Media Contact: Matt Smelser, [email protected]