The U.S. House took two steps Friday to remove the lesser prairie chicken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s threatened species list.
House members agreed by a vote of 229-190 to approve an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would “prohibit the further listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened or endangered species until 2021.” All four members of Kansas' House delegation voted in favor.
Also on Friday morning, the House approved the NDAA by a vote of 269-151 with all four members of Kansas’ House delegation again voting in favor.
“With passage of this amendment, we begin ending the massive regulatory threat to our rural way of life from the ill-conceived listing of the lesser prairie chicken,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican, said in a statement Friday. “It is high time that we place a greater value on the citizens of rural America than the lesser prairie chicken.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has said the “threatened” listing was the result of a steep decline in the bird’s populations in recent years. Five states are home to the lesser prairie chicken: Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Together, the states had fewer than 18,000 lesser prairie chickens in 2013.
But Huelskamp and other opponents of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing have argued for years that classifying the lesser prairie chicken as threatened would place unfair conservation fees and restriction on farmers, ranchers and oil companies.
“I have long-opposed listing the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act because the rules unnecessarily restrict and hamper defense operations on federal land,” Rep. Lynn Jenkins said in a statement. “Preservation efforts should not come at the cost of our national defense preparedness and this listing is nothing more than an overreach of the Endangered Species Act.”
Amendments are common on the $604.2 billion NDAA legislation, which appropriates funds for the Department of Defense for 2016. The bill, which faced resistance from most House Democrats on Friday, will now go to the Senate.
“Kansans are perfectly capable of improving the prairie chicken population through state and local efforts without putting any undue burden on our military or our state and local economies," Rep. Kevin Yoder said Friday.
"This important amendment will protect our military installation, farmers, ranchers and energy producers against the devastating effects of the listing of the lesser prairie chicken," Rep. Mike Pompeo added. "This is not a hypothetical problem - real people will see their livelihoods damaged and, in some cases, utterly destroyed should the Obama Administration be allowed to go down this path."
Last year, the Kansas Legislature passed the State Sovereignty over Non-migratory Wildlife Act, informing the federal government that it doesn’t have authority to regulate the lesser prairie chicken within the states. The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback in May of 2014.
A month before the bill was signed into law, Kansas and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s methodology in listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened.
In January of this year, Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran sought to add an amendment removing the listing of the lesser prairie chicken to a bill on the Keystone XL oil pipeline but the amendment, which needed 60 votes for passage, failed 54-44.