Farmers and landowners see the biggest impact on the lesser prairie-chicken population as the one thing that’s out of anyone’s control — drought.
It was a sentiment expressed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hearing Tuesday in Roswell and farmers are hoping the effects of the drought have a little more weight as a threat to the bird as the agency makes their decision on whether to list the bird on its federal register as threatened.
“It’s just been so dry, I don’t know how to fix dry,” said Curry County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick, who attended and spoke at the hearing in Roswell. “I don’t think that the studies that they’ve done so far have really taken into consideration the drought. You can correlate those two (the decline of the bird population and the drought) very closely together.”
Bostwick has been an avid opponent to the bird’s listing because of the potential economic impact it may have with wind energy projects in the works for the area.
He also feels property rights of landowners are at risk if the bird, native to New Mexico and four other states, and known for its unique mating dance and rituals, were to be listed because protection of it would bring on regulations.
“Protecting the bird is not so much the issue, it’s the regulatory issues that come with it,” Bostwick said, adding that the listing can result in federal oversight of farming and ranching practices.
For the most part, Bostwick felt Tuesday’s meeting went well and said it was a good sign that USFWS officials were taking notes on what was said because he feels they were listening.
“I don’t think they’re bad people, I think they have a job to do and I think they get pressure from environmental groups,” Bostwick said.
He feels confident that the voices of eastern New Mexico were heard, but says the fight isn’t over yet, as he and other area leaders and landowners plan to meet with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, a state agency, to show them the economic impact of the proposed listing.
“We all have to agree on a plan through a coordinated effort,” Bostwick said. “We have to make sure we don’t go to sleep on this.
Grant Beauprez, NMDGF biologist, explained why the bird needs moisture to sustain its population, such as other wildlife.
“When it rains, the grass grows better,” Beauprez said. “The chickens need good cover for nesting conditions.”
Beauprez added that moisture brings insects, which are a vital protein source for the bird’s chicks.
“If it’s dry like it is now, a lot of females don’t even bother to nest, or when they do, it’s not successful because there’s not enough food for their chicks,” Beauprez said. “That’s why populations go down in a drought.”
But Beauprez says though the drought is a significant threat to the bird’s existence, there are other threats that the USFWS take into account.
Many questioned the measures and science behind the USFWS’ proposed listing, but Beauprez says their science is quite sound.
“The drought definitely confounds the situation because our numbers were up before the drought hit hard,” Beauprez said. “But over a long period of time, numbers have gone down. It’s one factor but they consider all threats.”