Commission suing to stop bird listing


Staff writer

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The Roosevelt County Commission is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and joining a bi-state coalition in combating the listing of the lesser prairie chicken on a federal register of endangered animals.

The listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species, a bird native to New Mexico and four other states and known for its rare mating rituals, was made in March by the USFWS and affects many eastern New Mexico counties.

Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Webb said other counties are considering suing the USFWS as the deadline to contest the listing is June 10.

The listing has been a hot button issue for commissioners and their constituents because they fear an onslaught of regulations to protect the bird will shutter and slow down local operations in the agriculture and energy industries.

Roosevelt County has been considering litigation since May 6 and officials have been meeting with attorneys to help file the suit.

The Roosevelt County Commission will meet in special session June 6 to give notice of intent to file a suit, according to Webb.

Webb said after the county files suit, the next steps are in uncharted territory as it is her understanding there is no precedent set for a county suing the agency in regard to a listing. Webb said the county will have to wait and see if it makes an impact on the listing.

“Many might ask why spend money on an attorney to sue if it might not work out, but we are already spending more money because of the listing, so we want to do anything to fight it,” Webb said.

Webb said the largest financial impact the county has experienced due to the listing is in the Road Department’s budget. Webb said every time the department has a project that is federally or state funded, they have to have an environmental consultation.

The environmental consultation consists of reviewing the roadway the county is trying to fix to see if it can do so without hurting the habitat of the lesser prairie chicken.

“It cost us $10,000 already,” Webb said.

The cost of the consultation depends on the miles of road the county is trying to fix, Webb added.

Webb said it could cost the county at least $20,000 a year. The effect of the listing on farmers and ranchers has not been seen yet, according to Webb.

Roosevelt County commissioners have all voiced their opinion against the listing and have passed a resolution to oppose it.

“This listing will have a very negative impact on the county and we need to try anything to try and reverse it,” said Commission Chairman Kendell Buzard.

The board will also be working with the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties.

The county found out about the coalition when they went to a workshop on the Endangered Species Act. The coalition made a presentation about how it works with counties on the listings.

“We got a lot of good feedback from the counties that are in the coalition and we want more help with fighting the listing,” Webb said.

Buzard will be the representative at the coalition to the board.

The coalition is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization made up of four Arizona and 10 New Mexico counties. The coalition assists with the Endangered Species Act activities, legislative and regulations reform activities, National Environmental Policy Act activities and other issues.

Webb said the county will also try to talk to federal and local legislators to try to get them to supporting amending the Endangered Species Act of 1973.


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