Prairie Chicken vs. Texas Battle Ends in Surprising But Meek Victory for Prairie Chicken

Prairie Chicken vs. Texas Battle Ends in Surprising But Meek Victory for Prairie Chicken
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Texas doesn't necessarily want the lesser prairie chicken to die, but Texas is vehemently opposed to doing anything that might prevent the bird from dying.

Late last year Texas was vowing to fight any efforts by the feds to place the dying bird on an endangered list, but the state has just been just hit with a minor setback. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to give some extra protections to the bird anyway.

Texas is pissed. The fowl are now enjoying a reputation as menacing creatures that will wreak havoc on the all-powerful energy industry. Good for you, lesser prairie chicken.

The lesser prairie chicken is a bird celebrated by wildlife enthusiasts for its fun courtship ritual (From the US Fish & Wildlife Service: "They inflated their yellow air sacs and emitted a strange, booming sound across a sea of grasses.")

Sure, sounds cute, except it's kind of in the way of a bunch of other stuff people would like to use the land for. Their habitat has already taken a beating thanks to industrial activity like oil and extraction, agriculture, electric transmitters and wind turbines. The chickens have been on the waiting list to become officially "endangered' since 1998.

Finally, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that the lesser prairie chicken will be going on a list of threatened species, starting May 1. Not endangered, like environmentalists wanted, which would place tougher restrictions on businesses and landowners under the Endangered Species Act, but a step below that.

"The lesser prairie chicken is in dire straits," FWS Director Daniel M. Ashe said in a statement.

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter dismissed the "threatened" designation as part of Obama's war on fossil fuels. "It appears the federal agency has been influenced heavily by the environmentalist agenda, which has very little to do with preservation of this species and more with the eradication of the oil and gas industry," he told the Houston Business Journal.

Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick sounds even more outraged: "This kind of federal intrusion creates unworkable difficulties for Texas businesses and landowners," she said. "The result will undoubtedly impact Texas energy production in the chicken's range area throughout the Panhandle and in the heart of the Permian Basin, with damaging effects on operators who produce more than one-third of this nation's crude oil."

But from the Texas regulators' melodramatic announcements, you'd never know that the oil industry and other businesses actually got a pretty good deal out of this whole threatened thing. The birds' new "threatened" label comes with a special little exemption that the feds agreed to in December.The exemption allows landowners and businesses to protect themselves from getting in trouble by signing a form called a Candidate Conservation Agreement. As long as you're just accidentally killing or harming the lesser prairie chicken during a "routine business operation," you're cool.

The Center for Biological Diversity is horrified, but for the opposite reasons from why Texas is horrified.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service turned its back and relied on voluntary conservation plans that only amount to a wink and a nod with no accountability," Jay Lininger, senior scientist with CBD, says in a press release.

Memo to lesser prairie chickens: enjoy this badass business-destroying reputation before we kill you all.

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