People wonder how one bird has landowners and wildlife experts in a frenzy, but it’s not necessarily the bird itself that’s causing all the ruckus, but the potential of its extinction.
A public information meeting will be held Thursday in Portales to discuss the lesser prairie-chicken, a species native to five states, including New Mexico, which has been identified as a candidate for federal listing since 1998, meaning it has possibility to be labeled as a threatened and ultimately an endangered species.
This concerns local landowners, farmers and officials such as Curry County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick, who says if this feathered-feet bird is listed as threatened or endangered, the protective measures that would follow could put a halt to wind energy projects.
“Those are multi-billion dollar industries that I feel we need to protect,” Bostwick said. “I want to protect the bird as well.”
Bostwick fears that if the lesser prairie-chicken moves up a category to threatened, additional lawsuits and regulations can ensue during the development of wind energy farms.
He's hoping that the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, a state agency tasked with preserving wildlife, will be able to come up with a solution that works for everyone, as opposed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that the New Mexico department reports to.
The federal agency also holds the register of all animals listed threatened and endangered.
"They don't have this all figured out," said Bostwick about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's a guessing game for them and they're playing with our dollars."
Bostwick compared the lesser prairie-chicken to the spotted owl in that when it was classified as endangered, saw mills across the nation took a big loss.
He’s hoping there won’t be a repeat with wind energy and other projects.
“Tres Amigas would be threatened,” said Bostwick as an example of how the bird’s listing could affect the local economy. “It would certainly complicate the permitting process. I just hope the local people let them know about the consequences and what we need to be doing.”
Tish McDaniel with The Nature Conservancy office in Clovis will also be attending Thursday’s meeting and says the word “endangered” shouldn’t even be uttered because the bird is nowhere near extinction.
McDaniel believes there are solutions that will benefit all groups concerned.
“This is something we need to work into a win-win situation that’s best for the bird, ranchers and farmers and energy producers,” McDaniel said. “That’s what we’re all hopeful for.”
McDaniel said by September, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish should announce whether it plans to list the bird as threatened. She hopes these public meetings will bring about solutions that will result in a favorable outcome in September.
She believes the use of a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, which would be an agreement between concerned parties, could be a main instrument to prevent the bird from being listed. She added that a CCAA worked in preventing the dunes sagebrush lizard from being listed.
Grant Beauprez, a New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s lesser prairie-chicken biologist, is the organizer of Thursday’s meeting, which he says will be mostly informational.
“We are working on a wide-range management plan,” Beauprez said. “We’re going to present that plan and what it means for landowners and wind energy.”
He added that the plan will outline how the department is going to focus its efforts as far as conservation, which he says won’t change much from what they’ve been doing for the last five to 10 years.
“There’s a lot of work being done already with these industries to conserve the bird,” Beauprez said. “We don’t want to have it listed but if we don’t do are due diligence to conserve it, it will be.”
Curry County rancher and former state representative Hoyt Pattison says he doesn’t like what he’s hearing about this bird.
“It doesn’t need to be listed, there’s plenty of them,” Pattison said. “As farmers, we’re working to see if we can help.”
He added that the wind energy industry will possibly take a $60 million hit if the bird was to become listed.
What: Lesser prairie chicken public meeting
When: 6:30 p.m. on Thursday
Where: The Portales Memorial Building
Information: Grant Beauprez at 478-2460 or George Farmer at 624-6135.