Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the lesser prairie chicken is a "threatened" species and is entitled to protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The lesser prairie chicken has habitats in five states, including Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The ruling could restrict oil and natural gas exploration in West Texas.

All three Republican West Texas Congressmen spoke out against the ruling.

Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) released the following statement: “I’m incredibly disappointed by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened,” Neugebauer said.

“The timing of this decision is being driven by activist lawsuits, instead of what’s best for the species and the communities near its habitat.  This listing is a blow to West Texas and every state that has Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat.

“What’s worse is that this listing is unnecessary.  The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Range-Wide Conservation Plan—an unprecedented collaboration between farmers, ranchers, energy producers, and governments across five states—would have successfully conserved habitat and fully recovered the species.  But instead of cooperative conservation, we’re getting more Washington-Knows-Best regulations.  Decisions like this will discourage innovative conservation efforts in the private sector, and ultimately do more harm than good.”

Congressman Mike Conaway (R- Midland) also weighed in: “I am disappointed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Director Ashe had the opportunity to build a new model of cooperative conservation and he failed.  The purpose of the range wide plan was to preclude a listing.  It was to show that a voluntary, stakeholder process could preserved the Lesser Prairie Chicken.  Stakeholders deserved the opportunity to see if their efforts would be successful.

"The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the oil and gas industry, and farmers and ranchers did an incredible job of putting together a Range-Wide Conservation Plan, only to have Director Ashe disregard the potential of voluntary efforts to preserve the Lesser Prairie Chicken.  As of March 21, 2014, nearly 4 million acres of land had been enrolled in the plan and more than $26 million in non-federal money had been committed.  Today’s decision to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened certainly does not encourage an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.”

And finally, Congressman Mac Thornberry (R- Clarendon) had the most pointed comments of the three congressmen:

"The decision of the Obama Administration to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species is a great disappointment for West Texas families, our businesses, and our economy.  It is clear that the overwhelming factor affecting the numbers and range of the chickens is the on-going drought.  It is unfortunate that the government seems to listen more to activists than to the people who actually live and work on the land.

"Voluntary groups of farmers, ranchers, and energy producers, as well as five state governments, banded together in an unprecedented effort to protect and conserve habitat.  But the message from this decision is that the voluntary efforts will never be good enough for the heavy-handed regulators.

"This announcement highlights, once again, that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is outdated and the process to consider species for listing is severely flawed.  This law has been manipulated and misused regularly, and the entire law needs to be repealed, or at least reformed, in the interest of jobs, the economy, and common sense.

"There is no doubt that this misguided decision will be challenged in the courts, and we will pursue efforts in Congress to prevent its implementation."

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