Energy / Environment / Environmental Regulation / Regulation

The Lesser of Two Prairie Chickens

In a previous post, I wrote about the challenges of balancing economic and environmental interests when crafting regulatory policy.  I argued that while regulations often incur significant economic costs, more regulation doesn’t necessarily translate into greater environmental benefits. This issue came up at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Tuesday about state and federal approaches to endangered species conservation.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken, a species of wild grouse, is being considered as a candidate species for ‘Threatened’ status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). If the status is deemed warranted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal government will step in to protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken’s habitat.  While the federal government plays an important role in species conservation,

A Lesser Prairie Chicken

A Lesser Prairie Chicken

especially when state governments lack the will or resources to act, the Lesser Prairie Chicken is a powerful example of state-based conservation success.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken’s lives in the sagebrush and plains of Western Oklahoma and has a range that spans five states. This habitat happens to coincide with an abundance of oil, natural gas and wind energy resources which, along with farming, form the most productive facet of Oklahoma’s economy. Conserving the species’ habitat while also conserving the livelihood of most of Oklahoma’s people is the challenge facing the state government.

That’s why in 2011, Governor Mary Fallin sat down with Oklahoma’s farmers and energy companies, and came up with a plan to conserve the Lesser Prairie Chicken’s habitat while still allowing for responsible use of Oklahoma’s land.  The state has spent $26 million so far implementing the plan. In the last two years, they’ve surveyed and documented never-before-seen Lesser Prairie

Researchers tag a Lesser Prairie Chicken

Researchers tag a Lesser Prairie Chicken

Chicken mating sites, and gained an unprecedented understanding of the bird’s habitat. The state has purchased or leased over 20,000 acres of land in order to conserve them as designated, high quality “core” habitats. Oklahoma has made agreements with farmers and interested landowners to conserve an additional 400,000 acres of habitat under strict habitat management practices.

When Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas saw what Oklahoma was doing—and the potential to avoid federal regulation—they started working with their own stakeholders to come up with similar plans that would cover the entire range of the Lesser Prairie Chicken.  The goal of range-wide plan is to convince federal regulators that the states have the species under control and that federal protection isn’t necessary.

Whether or not their efforts will be successful in keeping the Fish and Wildlife Service out of the picture remains to be seen.  Either way, the Lesser Prairie Chicken is apt to be around for Oklahomans to enjoy for a long time.  Hopefully, the cost to Oklahoma’s economy doesn’t turn its citizens against the conservation efforts.