More than 200 farmers, ranchers and landowners across west Texas attended a public hearing on Monday concerning the proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put the Lesser Prairie-Chicken on the "threatened species" list. Many fear this would bring unwanted federal regulation of their land if the species is present.
"The Chamber's concern is that a threatened listing under the Endangered Species Act would have a significant impact on the economy of West Texas," said Carlos Morales, Lubbock Chamber of Commerce chairman.
Morales believes that some of the industries that could be hurt by the listing of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as a threatened species include oil, gas and wind energy development and exploration in the region as well as farming and ranching.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken's occupied range covers more than 18 million acres of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado but Clint Boal, a professor of Wildlife Ecology at Texas Tech, says their populations have taken a big hit because of loss of habitat.
"The populations have retracted to what's estimated at about 10% of the historic distribution and actual population is down to about 10% of what was actually there a century ago," said Boal. "There's a web of species that interact out there and the more species you remove or decrease it throws things out of kilter."
However while some are fighting to save the bird, others are fighting to keep their livelihood and use of their private property. "There's a lot of unknown, but we do know if it is listed we have to have permission on a lot of things we can do on our land," Plains Cotton Growers board member and farmer Barry Evans said. "We are concerned about things like where we can irrigate, what our cropping patters can be, how it will affect our crops."
Rather than having forced regulation and protective measure put in place if the bird is listed as threatened, many like Evans want to continue voluntary conservation. "If we all work together – farmers, ranchers, wind and oil companies – we can use good science, we can enlist biologist and scientists to help us develop a plan to preserve this species," Evans said. "Just having regulation is a lose, lose for everyone."
Also addressed at the public hearing where concerns that not enough research has been gathered to make an informed decision on whether the bird should be listed. Many asked for the decision date of September 30, 2013 be pushed back at least a year.
Anyone can send in a written letter about their concerns to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before March 11.
It can be mailed to:
Public Comments Processing
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-pdm
Arlington, VA 22203
You can also learn more about the proposed policy by (clicking here).
Copyright 2013 KCBD. All rights reserved