By Cathy Cash | ECT Staff Writer
A decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act places unnecessary burdens on electric cooperatives that have already made significant conservation efforts in the bird’s five-state habitat, NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson said.
“The listing will impose heavy burdens on cooperatives at a time when many local economies are still struggling,” Emerson said. “We are disappointed in the decision.”
In an effort to ward off the listing and more regulation, electric co-ops in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas collaborated with government agencies, private organizations and other stakeholders to form a voluntary Range-wide Conservation Plan. Industry participating in the plan committed more than $21 million to protect the bird across 3.6 million acres.
“This decision to list the lesser prairie chicken wastes an opportunity to try an innovative, collaborative approach to species conservation that many local stakeholders have developed,” Emerson said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service applied a special rule under the law to turn what was once a voluntary plan into a compliance option for co-ops and others impacted by its March 27 listing of the species.
As a result, the five states could “continue to manage conservation efforts for the species and avoid further regulation of activities such as oil and gas development and utility line maintenance,” the wildlife service said.
NRECA, however, remains concerned that once a species is listed, Endangered Species Act compliance can seriously impact the ability of co-ops to site and maintain power lines.
In comments to the FWS on its proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken, NRECA and the five state co-op associations urged the wildlife service to determine that “a listing of the LPC as threatened is not warranted.”
Should the agency decide otherwise, the co-ops recommended that the wildlife service recognize their voluntary conservation plan.