Senate votes not to remove lesser prairie chicken from ‘threatened’ list

A male lesser prairie chicken is seen in Edwards County, Kan., April 18, 2012.
A male lesser prairie chicken is seen in Edwards County, Kan., April 18, 2012. MCT

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday rejected an amendment that would have taken the lesser prairie chicken off the federal government’s list of threatened species.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the amendment failed to get the 60 votes necessary to add it to a bill intended to expedite construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Moran said Wednesday that listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened jeopardized the agriculture and energy industries in Kansas and four other states where the bird lived.

“I am confident there are ways to conserve the species without hindering economic development in rural communities, and I will continue to push for this straightforward, simple solution,” Moran said. The vote was 54-44.

The lesser prairie chicken is a species of grouse with feathered feet and striped plumage. Once plentiful in the Great Plains, its habitat has shrunk by more than 80 percent since the 19th century. The bird lives primarily in Kansas but also in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the bird as threatened last year. Under the Endangered Species Act, threatened status is one step beneath endangered, and means federal officials think the bird likely soon will be in danger of extinction.

The lesser prairie chicken’s population hit a record low of 17,616 in 2013, down 50 percent from 2012, according to the agency.

Moran argued Wednesday that federal officials had underestimated the lesser prairie chicken’s population after a historic drought hit the bird’s habitat.

Drought conditions have since relented, he said, and the lesser prairie chicken’s population already has increased by 20 percent.

“Yet, a number of industries – farming, ranching, oil and gas development, transportation and wind energy – continue to feel the effects as the federal government attempts to dictate how individuals manage their land and resources,” Moran said.

“Listing the bird as a threatened species is not the answer; what we need is more rainfall, not more regulation,” the senator said.

Wednesday’s vote isn’t the end of the battle over the prairie chicken. Moran likely will try to add the amendment as a policy rider to an appropriations bill later this year.