Someone cares about prairie chickens

By Ned Cantwell: Guest Columnist

Sometimes, if he is any kind of fair, a columnist has to say he was wrong. It’s not easy, but here goes.
Five years ago, I was just plain mean to the lesser prairie chicken. Here’s what I said:
“Far be it for me to offend a single, solitary person on Earth, but may I ask a simple question?
“Suppose the lesser prairie chicken become extinct? Who really gives a rat’s butt?
“What’s this deal where we have to save everything? OK, that’s four simple questions so far and I am just getting started. But the point is this: Would the free world be endangered lf the lesser prairie chicken becomes extinct?
“… Suppose God has figured the lesser prairie chicken has served its purpose. That being the case, man shouldn’t be messing with the grand design. But he is.
“The lesser prairie chicken, to borrow from an Albuquerque Journal headline, is causing quite a flap in our state. The New Mexico Game Commission is threatening to declare the ugly bird a threatened species.
“Reason being, the commission said, is that it has been counting chickens and finds the lesser prairie species in decline. Speaking of the grand design, I am thankful God had in store for me a career in the newspaper business. It is, in the opinion of many, a lowly calling. But it sure beats getting up every morning and wandering the eastern plains of New Mexico counting prairie chickens.
“What the lesser prairie chicken counters have found is less population in the bird’s historic range along the east side of the Land of Enchantment. They have decided the bird has just about disappeared from its former habitat in Union, Harding and Quay counties. Lucky us, you can still run across them in Eddy County.
“Now, get this. The reason the state wants to get involved in the lesser prairie chicken mess is that if it does not, the federal government might step in and, according to the Journal, ‘make things even harder for everyone by instituting even tougher rules for game managers and landowners.’
“Wait a minute. The federal government? Don’t the feds have enough to do? There is the deteriorating state of Medicare, the Social Security system is wobbling, citizens are arming themselves with bazookas and killing one another at will, the education process needs a lot of work, too many people are hungry, homeless teenagers roam the streets of larger metropolitan areas alongside of homeless, often-deranged vagrants, and there is the foreign crisis de jour.”
OK, there it is. And I was dead wrong. All the hubbub about the ugly little chicken paid off big. The Nature Conservancy is buying an 18,500-acre ranch near Milnesand, about 30 miles south of Portales. This is the epicenter of the prairie chicken’s core population in New Mexico.
It’s where these little birds go to breed on the New Mexico plains, and the purchase will almost double the number of acres protected for the rare birds in our state.
The ranch also provides habitat for rare sand dune lizards, which takes care of another problem weighing heavily on my mind.
Now, if someone can just come up with a plan to save the greater koodoo.

Ned Cantwell is also in search of a plan to save the lesser columnist. Contact him at:
ncantwell@charter.net