Curry County may join bird listing suit
Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said he plans to ask that Curry County join Roosevelt County in a lawsuit seeking to kill the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to designate the lesser prairie chicken a threatened species.
Bostwick said he has asked the request be placed on the Curry County Commission’s agenda at a special meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday at the courthouse. It isn’t clear, however, if Bostwick has enough support on the five-member commission to approve the move.
“I hope they do,” Bostwick said. “I think it’s relevant that they do this.”
Chairman Frank Blackburn and Commissioner Robert Sandoval said they don’t have enough information to make such a decision. Commissioners Tim Ashley and Ben McDaniel weren’t immediately available for comment.
Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Webb announced last week that commissioners there are moving forward with the lawsuit. Bostwick, a Melrose farmer and rancher, said he thinks it’s critical for Curry County to join because the designation affects the future of agriculture and energy in most of eastern New Mexico and parts of West Texas.
Bostwick said a coalition of environmental groups has also notified the FWS that they intend to sue in an effort to force the prairie chicken to be placed on the endangered species list — a designation that carries even stricter regulations for landowners than the threatened designation.
“It’s a bad, bad deal,” Bostwick said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to get ahead of the game to stop this.”
Bostwick said the clock is ticking if the county wants to join Roosevelt and nine others. Under federal rules, agencies or organizations opposed to the designation must file their intent to sue within 60 days. That window closes in less than two weeks, according to Bostwick.
Bostwick and others say the threatened designation allows the federal agency to determine how and what parts of their private land can be used for farming and energy. Bostwick said he also opposes the designation because there isn’t any biological science to support the listing.
FWS Director Dan Ashe, however, has said the bird is in “dire straights” and has been on the decline for at least the last decade.
Both sides agree prairie chicken numbers are down significantly. Bostwick and others blame the drought. FWS says the bird has lost more than 80 percent of its traditional habitat through a combination of drought and industries such as oil and gas drilling, ranching and wind power — the same industries that fought the listing over concerns of how it would affect their businesses.
Last year, FWS said the prairie chicken’s population across the five states was estimated at fewer than 18,000 birds — nearly 50 percent lower than 2012 population estimates. A conservation plan adopted by the five states has a goal of increasing the population to 67,000 birds.