PORTALES — County commissioners from around southeastern New Mexico met in Portales Thursday to voice their concerns to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s regional official about the Service’s plan to invoke a “threatened” listing for lesser prairie chicken.
The scarce and skittish lesser prairie chicken has the potential to wreak economic havoc within communities across a region that are already struggling, commissioners from across the state told USFWS Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle during a three-hour meeting.
“It is an issue that is important to our counties and the state of New Mexico,” Chaves County Commission Chairman Greg Nibert said. “Our presence here today should establish that we’re truly concerned, not only for our industries, but really for every person that resides within these communities.
“We’re just trying to protect our communities and protect our citizens,” Nibert, who presided over the meeting, said.
Tuggle admitted that a six-month review to determine whether to list the species will present some challenges.
Counting chickens across five states is a difficult task, for instance.
“Different states use different methodology,” Tuggle said. “I don’t want people to think we are not actively involved in trying to get at a source of information as far as population numbers. Population numbers are going down. Fragmentation is an issue. We have put our arms around some of the threats, without saying any particular threat is the cause. It is a combination. It’s mind-boggling at times.”
The main concern for the Service is for the species to not hit a dangerously low threshold that would make it difficult to save it from extinction, Tuggle said.
One commissioner asked whether the Service knew if the population was increasing or decreasing in population if the numbers couldn’t be confirmed from year to year.
“That’s the dilemma we’re into,” Tuggle said. “It’s the responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Service to take all of that in. It’s not perfect.”
Some commissioners also discussed drought conditions that may have affected the bird’s population and pointed to studies that show a recent increase in the region. Chaves County and surrounding regions and industries already adhere to conservation plans that require taking steps to protect the prairie chicken.
Following the meeting, Nibert said he is pleased the Service allowed Commissioners to meet and discuss the issue.
“It went well,” Nibert said. “We had a tremendous attendance throughout New Mexico. The next step for us is to complete our studies and send it to (Tuggle).”
The group also plans to send the Service a transcript of the meeting and request another session.
“It looks to me like we really opened his eyes as to some of the holes as to the science going into this,” Nibert said.
Tuggle said he also thought the meeting went well.
“I understand how difficult it is to get all of the counties together,” he said. “My primary purpose was to hear what they had to say.”
The Service will begin a six-month extension in September.