The Lesser Prairie Chicken Is the New Canary in the Coal Mine

Environmental activists in the federal government are wasting no time recovering their Obama-era swagger and aggressively taking ground. On February 1, President Biden issued Executive Order 14008, which promotes a “whole of government” approach to fighting climate change. Four months later, we are starting to see what that looks like. 

From the Treasury Department to the Department of the Interior, the federal government is pushing a radical agenda to control more of our property and activities. 

For example, on May 26, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That was followed by a June 4 announcement that FWS and NOAA Fisheries will roll back five ESA regulations implemented by the Trump administration. 

The Endangered Species Act is a favorite tool for environmental activists in and out of government. The ESA does not have a great track record of saving animals from threat or extinction. However, it is really good at filling the coffers of environmental groups through sue and settle schemes.  

Interestingly, it seems as if the Lesser Prairie Chicken is being used as a tool to impact farmers and shale oil companies. Its primary habitat stretches from Texas and New Mexico to Kansas. That makes the Lesser Prairie Chicken very useful to environmental groups. 

The “Lesser” in Lesser Prairie Chicken does not refer to the bird’s population size because the 2020 annual aerial survey by the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies shows the population has increased for eight consecutive years. The population increases are due to a multistate private effort to restore the bird’s critical habitat. 

The fact that the bird population is increasing because of the conservation efforts of landowners and businesses should raise some questions over the proposal to list these birds under the ESA. Yet, as we are learning with the word “infrastructure,” the definition of the word “endangered” is also evolving, under the Biden administration. 

Not to be outdone by the Lesser Prairie Chicken fiasco, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is gearing up to retake lost ground, too. On June 9, EPA announced its intent to revise the definition of WOTUS and replace the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. 

Environmental groups cheered the announcement. Sadly, our nation’s farmers and ranchers will once again face an aggressive land grab courtesy of Washington, D.C. bureaucrats. 

Indeed, a “whole of government approach” is the common thread that explains it all.  

What’s more, Biden recently signed an executive order titled Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which seeks to “protect” 30 percent of the nation’s land and ocean territories by 2030. By “protect” they clearly mean control. This does not mean that the federal government will need to acquire new lands twice the size of Texas because it can just control property through aggressive regulation by the Department of Interior, EPA, and other agencies. 

Ideologically driven federal agencies ignore any legislative provisions that get in their way. So, Section 6 of the ESA concerning cooperation with the states is brushed aside. Unless, of course, the definition of “cooperation” now means that states need to stand down while the federal government does whatever it wants. 

Not seeing much hope in cooperation from federal agencies, some states are acting to fund litigation efforts to protect the rights of property owners. 

Although not directly impacted by the ESA listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, North Dakota is not immune from federal overreach. In 2015, a forward-thinking legislature passed a law forming the Federal Environmental Law Impact Committee. The committee’s budget was approximately $1 million for each of the first three years. However, in 2021, the North Dakota Legislature responded to a wave of executive orders in January and bumped the committee’s appropriation to $5 million. The legislature also boosted litigation budgets for other areas of state government, anticipating a multifront battle with the Biden administration.

Kansas, Nebraska, and other states are pushing back on the 30 by 30 initiative, with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts aggressively referring to it as a land grab. Ricketts and 14 other governors sent a letter to Biden, clarifying that the federal government does not have the authority to carry out the initiative in a refreshing -- and much-needed -- blast of federalism. 

Cooperation and engagement among the states is one of the best ways to counter Washington power grabs. It has also been a time-tested method of protecting our freedom and liberty from encroachment by the federal government. There are 50 states, which means there is strength in numbers.

Bette Grande (bgrande@heartland.orgis CEO of the Roughrider Policy Center and is a policy advisor at The Heartland Institute.

Image: Pixnio

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