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Bipartisan Leaders Voice Opposition to ESA Listing of Lesser Prairie Chicken

Governors, teachers, youth leaders, the agricultural community, environmental advocates, and business leaders have come forward to express their concern over the listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act, and to advocate a more tailored, careful approach that brings local voices to the table.

A group of both Democrat and Republican governors from five states where the lesser prairie chicken is found have voiced their opposition to the listing, saying that their states have already implemented strong local plans to protect the species.  These plans, which take local jobs and interests into account, have proven effective at protecting species.  Last year, top officials at the Department of the Interior referred to similar plans as “landmark conservation agreements,” and praised them as “a great example” for future conservation efforts.

Mia Jennings, a school teacher from Roswell, New Mexico, voiced her concerns that a listing would decimate education funding in New Mexico.  State Oil and Gas revenues, which would be severely reduced if the lesser prairie chicken is listed under the Endangered Species Act, account for nearly half a billion dollars in state revenue for Education.

“Washington’s unbending regulations simply fail to take into account the needs of New Mexico,” said Jennings.  “As a teacher, I know that nearly a quarter of the State’s general fund revenues—which go directly to teachers, classrooms, and our schools—is funded by New Mexico’s energy industry, which will see drastic losses if the lesser prairie chicken is listed.  It’s a simple choice: we can protect the chicken through the successful local agreements, built by people who understand our state and its needs, or we can let Washington bureaucrats take money straight out of our classrooms.”

Special Education Instructor Susie Thomas, whose family ranches in Milnesand, New Mexico, would be impacted by the listing, also voiced her concern:

“The listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened could push some ranchers over the edge and put us out of business,” said Thomas.  “The drought, higher feed prices, and the rising cost of fuel have already put a major strain on our livelihood.  Further restrictions could put an end to our small family ranch.  We need some common sense put into the extremists who claim to be environmentalists.  Ranchers, by the very definition of our job, are the true caretakers and environmentalists as is evidenced in part by our willingness to work with protection agencies and the CCA agreements.  Ranching is not just a job to us but a way of life.  It is tradition.  It is in our hearts and in our souls.  We are a very special breed of people who, ourselves, are in danger of extinction.”

Ryan Best of Portales, New Mexico, expressed his concern that he and other young farmers would see their careers disappear in the face of a listing.  Best serves as the National President of the Future Farmers of America.

“With the recent drought,” Best explained, “farmers and ranchers are struggling to turn enough of a profit to keep up with rising production costs.  We cannot continue to do our job if regulations continue to be introduced limiting our ability to carry out our profession.  Agriculturists have an inborn fondness for caring for the needs of others.  Our work reflects that.  We consistently produce enough food to feed a growing world.  The ability to do so becomes more and more hampered with the introduction of regulations such as the listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act, which will ultimately affect future agriculturalists' ability to continue to produce food, feed, and fiber efficiently."

New Mexico Game and Fish Director James S. Lane, Jr., pointed out the success of the existing efforts to protect the species, and called a federal listing “the greatest barrier to conservation.”

“The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish continues to work with the energy and ranching industries and the states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to conserve lesser prairie chicken across the bird’s entire range” said Lane.  “The five states are developing an unprecedented range-wide conservation plan that incorporates the best science and conservation measures to ensure the long term viability of lesser prairie chickens for generations to come.  Because listing the species would be the greatest barrier to conservation, I am optimistic that the plan and the tremendous amount of conservation work done to date will result in a listing decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service of not warranted.”

Hayley Klein, Executive Director of the Artesia Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the need for local agreements that bring all parties to the table, rather than the heavy-handed approach taken by the Endangered Species Act.

“Conservation is key,” said Klein, “but this works only with preservation—preserving jobs, industry, and way of life.  Our communities and industries work together to provide for the conservation of species of all types and our land. We must be allowed to work together, without prohibitively restrictive and unpredictable rules, to ensure that our well-being is preserved in conjunction with preservation of our landscape.”

Dorrie Faubus-McCarty, Executive Director of the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Congressman Steve Pearce that a listing would have statewide impact on revenue, education, and vital programs.

“Business, industry, and jobs are the primary driving forces of Chaves County and southeastern NM,” said Faubus-McCarty.  “A listing such as this would diminish NM financially and cause the state to suffer as a whole, harming most of all education, infrastructure and safety.”

Greg Nibert, Chaves County Commissioner and Chair, pointed out the flawed “science” behind the listing proposal, and the agricultural and other jobs at stake.

“Extremist groups continue to capitalize on frivolous lawsuits to pursue listings of species based on bad science,” said Nibert.  “Here again, we are faced with another threat to jobs in southeastern NM.  This time it isn’t limited to just oil and gas. The extremists want to stop agriculture and industry, they do not want anyone moving forward and succeeding.”

Lewis Derrick, former Eddy County Commissioner, agreed.

“Regulation and bad science is not the answer for the prairie chicken,” said Derrick.  “This listing is uncalled for. This will turn out like the spotted owl loss of industry and jobs.”

Even environmental groups support Pearce’s position that local agreements can protect both the chicken and New Mexico’s jobs.  The Nature Conservancy, while not taking a stance on the listing, expressed its support of the local agreements already in place, which protect both the chicken and local interests:

“Some members of the energy and ranching community have already demonstrated that win-win solutions are possible,” said Patricia McDaniel, Shortgrass Prairie Program Director at the Nature Conservancy.  “These community leaders are sustaining their livelihoods and employing management practices that sustain high quality habitat for the lesser prairie chicken.  For example, the collaborative work between oil and gas, ranchers, BLM, USFWS and environmental groups for the dune sagebrush lizard serves as a model for the path forward.  Our communities have struggled with conflict for too long. We need to find a win-win solution to conserve the lesser prairie chicken and protect our livelihoods in ranching and the energy industry.”

The Obama Administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service scheduled the public hearing on the lesser prairie chicken for the same day as the President’s State of the Union address.  Pearce has chosen to attend the public hearing, in order to stand with his constituents in defense of New Mexico’s jobs, communities, and education funding.

The rally will be held at the AVFlight (Formerly Great Southwest Aviation) Hangar in Roswell at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, February 12.  A public hearing on the listing will immediately follow.  All concerned constituents are strongly encouraged to attend.

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