Opposers of the listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the End angered Species Act voice their views with homemade signage, Tuesday, at Great Southwesy Aviation. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Legislators, business leaders and residents testified to oppose the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken as an endangered species Tuesday during a public hearing held by the organization.
Before the hearing, Congressman Steve Pearce, R-N.M., as well as state and local lawmakers and representatives of the oil and gas and agriculture industries spoke against the listing at a rally, saying it would have a devastating impact on southeastern New Mexico.
Pearce said the proposed listing threatens the livelihood of all New Mexicans, particularly those in the industries of oil and gas, agriculture, ranching and mining. The oil and gas industry provides about $1 billion a year into the state’s budget, he said, most of which goes toward funding education.
“It’s an issue that’s pertinent to everyone,” he said.
State lawmakers unable to attend the rally or the hearing sent representatives or video messages expressing their opposition to the listing.
At the rally, attendees carried signs reading, “Our jobs aren’t chicken feed” and “Oil + Gas = Education.” After each speaker’s presentation, retired teacher Brenda Jaquess clapped and cheered from her seat, even giving a standing ovation to some.
“I’m concerned about the land grab in this country all over,” she said. “I’m just afraid we’re going to lose our way of life. I really appreciate Rep. Pearce for taking this up.”
Speakers and attendees of the rally were just as vocal at the public hearing, which featured a panel including Charna Lefton, assistant regional director for the Service’s External Affairs; Michelle Shaughnessy, the assistant regional director for ecological services in the Service’s Southwest district; and Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the Service’s Southwest region.
The first to speak, Pearce implored the agency to be more thorough when it considers the scientific research on which it bases decisions, as the research used to list the spotted owl more than 20 years ago — with much damage done to the U.S. logging industry — he said has recently come into question.
Tuggle agreed that the Service had “not done the best job we could have in the past,” but said it was interested in hearing from the public and working with landowners on conservation efforts, as it had done in the case of the dunes sagebrush lizard.
“It’s the people that enact the conservation that makes the difference,” he said.
Various members of state and local agencies and organizations appealed to the Service to not list the species, saying the state and landowners already engage in conservation efforts. Many also criticized the research on which the proposal is based.
“Science does not support this listing,” said Anthony Parra, deputy director of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.
The region’s drought may be more of a threat to the species than other factors, Curry County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said, but “you can’t make it rain.”
The hearing continued 30 minutes past its scheduled two hours, in an effort to give more attendees a chance to speak. Lefton encouraged those who would like to express their opinion to submit written comments either by mail or online.
The proposed rule is available online at Regulations.gov, as Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2012-0071. Comments may be submitted on this site.
Comments also may be mailed to:
Public Comments Processing
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203
The public comment period ends Monday, March 11. The final ruling is expected in September.