Endangered Species Put At Risk By Rules

Source: Tyler Morning Telegraph

Sometimes, the biggest tool is not the right tool for the job. That’s the case with the Endangered Species Act, a sledgehammer of a law, being employed to help save the Lesser Prairie Chicken. What’s called for is a more precise tool.

“The Obama administration on Thursday listed the Lesser Prairie Chicken, a small grassland bird native to parts of the country’s oil and gas belt, as ‘threatened,’ a move that could draw the ire of some Western lawmakers and energy producers,” Reuters reported last week. “Energy companies worried that some oil and gas fields could become off-limits to drilling and that the move could also affect wind farms and other activity. A coalition of energy groups termed the listing ‘not warranted’ in a letter to the USFWS this month.”

One reason for this is that private industry is already working with states to help the species — without federal involvement or heavy-handed regulations.

“The timing of this decision is being driven by activist lawsuits, instead of what’s best for the species and the communities near its habitat,” says Congressman Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock. “This listing is a blow to West Texas and every state that has Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat. What’s worse is that this listing is unnecessary. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Range-Wide Conservation Plan — an unprecedented collaboration between farmers, ranchers, energy producers and governments across five states — would have successfully conserved habitat and fully recovered the species.”

Even the USFWS acknowledges the effectiveness of the cooperative plan.

“To date, we understand that oil and gas companies, ranchers and other landowners have signed up over 3 million acres of land for participation in the states’ range-wide conservation plan and the NRCS’ Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative,” the agency said in a release last week.

As the Tyler Paper reported last month, 84 Texas ranchers in the Panhandle and Rolling Plains have voluntarily enrolled 614,250 acres in conservation agreements for the Lesser Prairie Chicken, marking the largest private landowner commitment to conserve a rare species in Texas history, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

But such unprecedented steps didn’t prevent the agency from taking the step of listing the bird.

“Instead of cooperative conservation, we’re getting more Washington-Knows-Best regulations,” Neugebauer notes. “Decisions like this will discourage innovative conservation efforts in the private sector, and ultimately do more harm than good.”

The fact is that the private sector has been proven to be effective in helping endangered species, while legislative solutions can be counter-productive.

Listing a species as endangered often results in a reduction of habitat.

“Private landowners are key to helping endangered species, because 78 percent of these species are found on private land,” says the National Center for Policy Analysis.

But because landowners are penalized for harboring them, they often take action to clear their land of the species — actions such as clearing brush and cutting trees.

The plan developed by the Western Association was a good solution to a real problem. The federal action was unnecessary and counterproductive.