Senator Jerry Moran requests Lesser Prairie-chicken be removed from ‘threatened’ list

Congressional delegation has tried several times to end listing

By Justin Wingerter

Topeka Capitol-Journal

Kansas politicians have tried several legislative tactics to end the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as “threatened.”

On Tuesday, August 4, Sen. Jerry Moran tried asking nicely.

In a letter to USFWS Director Dan Ashe, the freshman Republican senator asked that the bird be removed from its listing under the Endangered Species Act in the wake of a recent report suggesting the species is rebounding.

A recent aerial survey by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Association found an estimated 29,162 lesser prairie-chickens, an increase from 19,643 in 2013 and 23,363 in 2014. The Fish and Wildlife Service has said the “threatened” listing last year was the result of a steep decline in the bird’s population in recent years. Five states are home to the lesser prairie-chicken: Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

“Strong evidence exists indicating the dramatic rise in the lesser prairie-chicken’s population can primarily be accounted for by increased rainfall in the habitat area,” Moran wrote.

Moran also touted conservation efforts by local officials in the lesser prairie-chicken’s habitat area for the population rebound.

“These locally driven plans were put in place with landowner input to help conserve the bird in a sensible, voluntary manner,” the senator wrote. “Unfortunately, the plans were not given the opportunity to prove effectiveness because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in to list the bird as a threatened species.”

Moran asked Ashe whether the USFWS intends to reconsider its listing of the lesser prairie-chicken after seeing the improved population figures. He also asked if the agency recognizes the role the drought of 2013 and 2014 had on the bird’s population.

The Kansas congressional delegation has tried several times to pass amendments or bills barring enforcement of the “threatened” listing.

Most recently, the state’s U.S. House delegation helped pass an amendment to the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, H.R. 2822, on July 7. That bill could be voted on after Congress returns from its August recess in early September.

In June the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a Moran amendment that would bar enforcement of the listing, attaching it to a $30 billion measure to fund the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency.

A similar amendment offered by Moran was rejected in January when the senator attempted to attach it to legislation to expedite construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.