The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has indicated that it will decline to extend a 90-day comment period to evaluate the status of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to a release from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA).
NCBA criticized the expected action, saying it “violates the spirit of President Donald Trump’s recent directive freezing all agency regulatory action.” The group also said the denial comes despite the soon-expected public release of a new population survey for the species by the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife agencies – information that will be critical to determining the success of ongoing conservation actions.
NCBA president Tracy Brunner said the decision denies stakeholders the opportunity to weigh in with thoughtful comments and the most up-to-date science and puts political pressure ahead of what’s best for the species.
“The incoming Trump Administration acted immediately to freeze just this kind of exclusionary regulatory process. We believe FWS is violating the spirit of that presidential order to placate radical environmental groups bent on listing the lesser prairie chicken,” Brunner said.
Significant conservation efforts have already been undertaken across millions of acres over five states to improve the habitat and diminish threats to the lesser prairie chicken. The bird's range-wide conservation plan, which has resulted in a 25% increase in the lesser prairie chicken population from 2014 to 2015, has been consistently ignored by the Administration despite being a prime example of what FWS says that it wants: landscape-scale conservation efforts.
In 2014, after FWS ignored the conservation efforts and forced a listing of the bird, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas overturned the Administration’s ESA listing, calling it arbitrary and capricious.
The Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies is currently compiling an annual progress report for its 2016 range-wide conservation plan. As it has for the last couple of years, the report will provide critical information regarding lesser prairie chicken conservation activities related to the range-wide plan.
“We believe it is critical that the FWS postpone action and consider the report – and provide the public opportunity to comment on the report – before taking any further action toward a final determination on the listing of the species,” Brunner said. “It is inconsistent with the spirit of the regulatory freeze for FWS to ignore their obligation to consider the best available science, shut out stakeholders and, thus, allow a fringe movement to advance a purely political agenda. Further, FWS should respect the wishes of the incoming President and allow time for review of controversial regulatory initiatives held over from the Obama Administration.”