Prairie chicken activists going overboard

By Ned Cantwell: State Columnist

So many New Mexicans take for granted the wealth of cultural, educational and celebratory events offered by communities that strive to broaden the horizons of our citizens.

And why is that? I’ll tell you why. It is because lazy New Mexicans would rather sit on their butts complaining about nothing to do instead of roaming their state in search of excitement.

Sad to say, I am one of them. That is why I missed the Fourth Annual High Plains Chicken Festival in Milnesand in April. Worse yet, I missed the first three.

You need to know that Milnesand is in Roosevelt County and is so small its zip code has but a single digit. Its economic development director has been working for many years to get an Allsup’s. Milnesand’s 18 residents think a big night on the town is driving to the Dairy Queen in Portales eight miles away.

I mean no disrespect to the lesser prairie chicken, of which this column has been a champion over the years, to suggest the Milnesand is an appropriate town to host the annual Prairie Chicken Festival. For these folks, we’re talking pure let-your-hair-down excitement.

One can only imagine what they did at the Fourth Annual High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival, but it makes no difference. This is a bird that has been much maligned in years past, and she deserves to cluck around in the limelight.

The rare species is said to be on the decline and there are actually people who from time to time go around and count prairie chickens to see how many are left. That would seem a rather tedious and boring occupation, and my bet is that many of the chicken counters live in Milnesand.

One thing they might have done at the festival is review a lawsuit brought by three environmental groups against the Bureau of Land Management. And if you think this isn’t serious stuff, catch this quote from a Forest Guardians spokeswoman:

“The BLM is allowing the lesser prairie chicken to slip away in southeastern New Mexico. Its failure to protect this critical piece of our natural heritage shows that this agency is in the back pocket of big oil and gas companies.”

What’s going on here is that in 1997 the BLM adopted wildlife protections but is permitted to exempt oil and gas drillers from the timing and noise restrictions in areas of “no or low prairie chicken activity.”

The BLM, though, says the lawsuit, is not doing its homework and is killing off the bird with the exemptions, 500 of which were granted in four years starting in 2000.

If memory serves, the lesser prairie chicken was granted an adequate habitat some time back, but that apparently didn’t do the trick. A New Mexico Wildlife Federation spokesman said the “overwhelming background noise of compressors and pumpjacks” is interrupting breeding and the bird will one day be but a fond memory in the southern part of our state.

It’s a sad state of affairs, for sure. Granted, the lesser prairie chicken is not a particularly attractive bird, but we all have a place on this Earth. At least no one has yet decided to get this chicken all drugged up and teach it to fight. If they do, the guess is the First Annual Prairie Chicken Fight to the Death Festival will be held in Milnesand.

Ned Cantwell welcomes response from all readers, except those in Milnesand. Contact him at: