Grouse listing opposition continues
Local leaders don’t think federal exemptions for farmers is a consolation prize from the threatened listing of the lesser prairie chicken.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that farmers, ranchers and landowners implementing Farm Service Agency Conser-vation Reserve Program practices intended to protect and increase the chicken populations will not be subject to additional regulations from the threatened listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
But Roosevelt and Curry County commissioners say that’s not reason enough to put their picket signs down.
The commissioners represent counties and landowners who oppose the listing. Their concern is it will result in regulations created to protect the bird that would hinder or shut down their operations.
The listing of the lesser prairie chicken, a bird native to New Mexico and four other states and known for its rare mating rituals, was made in March by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March.
Roosevelt County Commissioner Kendell Buzard said not all farmers have CRP land or are signed up with other conservation agreements. He feels it’s necessary to continue to oppose the listing.
He added that a good portion of the county’s tax revenue comes from energy industries and ranchers.
“Management of conservation is best left to the county and the state...and not the (federal) government,” Buzard said. “We went to great lengths to set aside habitat to benefit this species and I think it will work if it’s given time.”
USFWS reported last year the range-wide population of the chicken declined to a record low of 17,616 birds — an almost 50 percent reduction from the 2012 population estimate, according to the USDA press release.
Producers participating in CRP in lesser prairie chicken states are planting native grasses and vegetation that will enhance nesting and brooding habits, and those producers will not be subject to additional regulations related to protecting the species.
Roosevelt County ranch manager Willard Heck said the whole point of conservation agreements were to make people exempt from further regulation. He thinks a lot of ag producers in the area are still weary about how the programs work.
“I think there’s still a lot of confusion and lack of communication,” Heck said. “People are feeling let down that they listed it but the thing that strikes me is this is a law. This isn’t an opinion. With the science on hand presented, (FWS) had no choice.”
Heck said the agreements are created to protect the bird and farmers.
“There’s so much misinformation,” Heck said. “If I was in their place, I’d be worried too. Everyone wants the same thing. A good chicken habitat means a good cow habitat. A lot of this is due to the drought which no one has any control over. I understand that. It’s nobody’s fault that it hasn’t rained. It’s a tough deal.”
Curry County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick however refuses to concede to the listing because he said history has shown that it will only get worse for farmers and the energy industry.
“They tell us all these good things but for some reason it ends up bad,” Bostwick said.
Bostwick said environmentalist groups have intentions of petitioning to list the bird as endangered.
He used the spotted owl as an example of what could go wrong because it was listed as endangered and he said the lumber industry in the state perished as a result.
“The (conservation agreements) go away if it becomes endangered,” Bostwick said. “They’ll start chipping away until there’s no more.”