Woodward, Okla. —
Many state leaders and area ranchers alike are against the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as "threatened" on the federal endangered species list.
These people shared their views during a public hearing held in Woodward on Tuesday, Feb. 5. The hearing was sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as it considers classifying the bird, which has habitat in areas of Northwest Oklahoma and the Panhandle, as a threatened species.
State government officials, representatives from oil, gas, and wind energy companies, ranchers, and environmentalist groups attended the meeting at the High Plains Technology Center to voice their opinions on the potential listing of the bird.
Susan Jacobsen, southwest regional chief of the US Fish and Wildlife Services' Division of Threatened and Endangered Species, opened the meeting by explaining a little bit about why the bird was up for potential listing as a threatened species.
Jacobsen said after reviewing most recently available scientific information, it is likely that the lesser prairie chicken will become endangered within the foreseeable future.
She shared the problems the species is facing as community and industrial development has resulted in habitat fragmentation reducing the birds' habitat range by 84 percent of what it once was.
This shrinking habitat area is problematic because the birds require large areas of grassland for survival, she said.
Added protection measures for the prairie chicken could therefore help to protect the native grasslands where they live as well as other migratory birds who depend on the grasslands for survival as well, Jacobsen said.
COMMENTS FROM OFFICE OF OKLAHOMA SECRETARY OF ENVIRONMENT
Following Jacobsen's address, Tyler Powell, office director for the Oklahoma Office of the Secretary of Environment, took the stand to comment on the matter on behalf of State Environment Secretary Gary Sherrer.
"This is a very, very important issue to state of Oklahoma, and we're proud of the strides we've taken to preserve the lesser prairie chicken," Powell said.
Powell said that the state has already spent $26 million on conservation and research efforts to benefit the species.
He said preservation efforts have included partnerships established between the state of Oklahoma and agriculture and energy industries. He said these group efforts to preserve the prairie chicken should preclude federal intervention and listing on the endangered species list.
Powell said that since 2011, Secretary Sherrer has been working on strategies to avoid listing the prairie chicken as threatened. He said that by working with the Oklahoma state legislature, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and Oklahoma industry, they believe they've developed a habitat conservation plan that balances the preservation of prairie chicken as well as the growth of industry across the state.
"I'm proud to say the Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat and Conservation Plan has been well received is currently being implemented by a variety of stakeholders," he said.
Powell ended his address saying that a 6-month extension prior to a decision on the listing of the bird as threatened would be "invaluable." He said the additional time would allow for further scientific investigation to see the effectiveness of the state's current efforts to manage the species.