Why did the lesser prairie chicken cross the road? To get the hell out of Texas where a whole lot of people are not thrilled with the fact that the chicken, a Texas native, has been taken under the protective wing of the federal government and placed on the threatened species list by the folks over at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The lesser prairie chicken is a member of the grouse family and distinguished from its relative, the greater prairie chicken, by being a bit smaller. That's pretty much the only difference. The lesser prairie chicken is found in five states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. There's been talk of putting the bird on the threatened list for a while now since its natural habitat -- comprised of sandhills and prairies and places like the Llano Estacado -- is vulnerable to destruction. Today U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally pulled the trigger, so to speak, and put the bird on the list:
In response to the rapid and severe decline of the lesser prairie-chicken, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the final listing of the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as a final special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that will limit regulatory impacts on landowners and businesses from this listing. Under the law, a "threatened" listing means the species is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future; it is a step below "endangered" under the ESA and allows for more flexibility in how the Act's protections are implemented.
Not a big deal, right? A species of bird gets a little federal protection that means a little consideration, right? Well, no, that's not all there is to it, according to Sen. John Cornyn.
Cornyn issued a statement on Thursday on the lesser prairie chicken situation. (Spoiler alert: He's agin' it.) Cornyn was not thrilled:
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"Today's decision, which has real-world consequences for Texas families, landowners and businesses, is a missed opportunity to acknowledge Texans' unprecedented conservation efforts. I will continue to fight to reform this process so job creators and local officials have a say. I'm disappointed the Obama Administration made this decision based on arbitrary deadlines set in a closed-door meeting, ignoring the ongoing efforts by Texas landowners and businesses."
Basically, when an animal is placed on the threatened list, this changes how the animal can be handled. Killing it is obviously not cool and if you have, say, a bunch of lesser prairie chickens on your land it can hamper what you do with said land. If a pipeline is being laid to tote oil, as is often happening in Texas these days with all the shale oil booms going, a lesser prairie chicken can severely cramp the pipeline project's style. Protected birds and other animals have to be considered and being considered according to federal guidelines can cost money and time. Thus, people have been pushing back on the whole lesser prairie chicken thing for years now.
Whether Cornyn and others like it or not, it's finally happened. The bird is on the threatened list and the protections that come with being on that list are due to kick in within 30 days. Cornyn had previously written a strongly worded letter arguing against the bird being put on the endangered species list. The note might have paid off since, despite the fact that the birds have lost more than 80 percent of their habitat and their numbers have dropped to a record-low of about 17,000 birds in 2012, the lesser prairie chicken has been listed as "threatened" and not outright "endangered." Being on the threatened list allows for more flexibility in how the birds are handled. Luckily for everyone, being on the list has no impact on the lesser prairie chicken jokes we can tell.
How does a lesser prairie chicken become a greater prairie chicken? Practice and steroids, little one. And maybe a little tap dancing.