Pearce to hold prairie chicken town hall today

April 14, 2014 • Local News

Rep. Steve Pearce

Congressman Steve Pearce has invited anyone affected by the recent listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife of the lesser prairie chicken to join him at 1 p.m. today for a town hall meeting at the Roswell Chamber of Commerce.

“You have a right to ask government officials why they made the decisions they made,” Pearce said. “Their choices affect your right to farm your land, graze your cattle, or continue the energy boom that’s created so many good-paying jobs throughout southeastern New Mexico.

“Federal officials owe New Mexicans an explanation for why their extraordinary cooperative efforts to preserve lesser prairie chicken habitat were not good enough.”

The FWS listed the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species in March. Several [auth] industry leaders and officials in southeastern New Mexico hoped the agency would not list the bird, after months of negotiating and spending millions on conservation agreements.

Officials in the five-state prairie chicken range fear the listing could further impact agriculture, oil and gas and other activities.

Pearce met with ranchers and small oil and gas producers in Lovington Monday, who had concern about what rights they would have in the future, he said.

The nearly 90-minute discussion included questions about what rights the residents would have going forward if they did not sign conservation agreements with the government, Pearce said.

“We had a big turnout in Lovington,” Pearce said. “It was very productive. Everybody has a wait-and-see attitude. There is deep concern about the listing’s affect on the ability to ranch or have oil and gas wells.”

Pearce, R-Dist.2, announced Monday he would host three town halls for local citizens this week to provide a venue for them to meet face-to-face with him and federal officials. Representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Bureau of Land Management were invited to attend.

“I’m just trying to get the information out and have people get their questions answered,” Pearce said. “I’m there just to see that we get that. It’s an important discussion for the community. There is a lot of nervousness. People have the right to ask the questions.”

As of the date of the listing, ranchers and other landowners had signed range-wide conservation plan agreements to participate with the federal government on more than 3-million acres.

The agreements call for landowners to take special steps to preserve the habitat, such as keeping grasses long to hide nests, clearing brush and building ramps in cattle water troughs so birds don’t drown.

However, regardless of the agreements and industry partnerships, the federal government listed the prairie chicken.

The listing restricts use on private, state and federal land on the bird’s 40-million acre habitat in Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico and Kansas.

Following today’s meeting at the Chamber of Commerce, 131 W. Second St., Pearce will hold a meeting Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Portales Chamber of Commerce.

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