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Oklahomans Can Protect the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Without the Federal Government Stepping In

By: US Senator James Lankford (R-OK)

When Oklahomans think about chicken, they might think about the fried kind in Okarche or multiple other great chicken places in Oklahoma. But, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is locked in on a different kind of chicken in western Oklahoma, the lesser prairie-chicken.

Since 2012, Oklahoma farmers, ranchers, and businesses have spent countless hours and dollars to keep the lesser prairie-chicken off the threatened list under the Endangered Species Act.

All of that voluntary conservation has led to increasing population for “the chicken” in western Oklahoma. Rain also helps the bird population. But instead of honoring these facts and efforts, the Biden Administration continues to push to have the lesser prairie-chicken listed on the endangered species list.

Once an animal is listed under the Endangered Species Act, the federal authorities start laying down mandates and requirements on all energy production, development and agriculture. Basic projects like building a barn or fence could be stopped because of obscure federal rules and regulations that make them harder and more expensive to build – not to mention the extra red tape. Animals are rarely removed from the list because the federal mandates rarely work. The graduation rate for a species on the endangered species list is less than two percent. Meanwhile, development and expansion projects in our state face additional challenges because of the federal requirements that come with the listing.

Investors will be less likely to develop wind farms or drilling projects because of the complications of the increased time and difficulty that will come with the permitting process. Instead, they will invest in areas where they don’t have to deal with the lesser prairie-chicken populations outside of Oklahoma, holding back economic growth in the western part of our state. Community members will lose out on job opportunities or be forced to commute further for work.

Oklahomans know the names and stories of the families who feel the impact of these decisions made from over 1,000 miles away. If the US Fish and Wildlife Service insists on listing the lesser prairie-chicken as threatened, they should at least hear from the Oklahomans who are directly impacted by their decision and consider the latest annual data about the chicken’s population that will be available this fall.

Oklahomans have cooperated with the federal process to recover the chicken, and that cooperation needs to be recognized. That’s why Senator Inhofe and I have told Fish and Wildlife to extend the time Oklahomans can provide feedback by six months.

When the federal government ignores the voluntary efforts of individuals and steps in to mandate conservation efforts, it discourages future voluntary efforts to work with the government. Pressing forward with mandates gives the impression that the federal government knows more than the communities and families who work daily with these species and their habitats. We can help save the lesser prairie-chicken as needed, but we should do it in a way that makes sense for Oklahomans as well.