The lesser prairie chicken can’t catch a break. The fowl, a relative of the sage grouse, has the misfortune of calling portions of the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico home. Grazing, oil and gas development and water scarcity in southeastern New Mexico has decimated the bird’s population in New Mexico over the last 25 years.
The species was briefly listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, but after a series of lawsuits from industry groups, the bird’s listing is currently caught in bureaucratic limbo. Officials in southeastern New Mexico have pledged to keep fighting against attempts to protect it. And now, tweaks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could spell extinction for the bird.
As temperatures climb to triple digits and fires rage from California to Colorado, Western lawmakers and the Trump administration are turning up the heat on the Endangered Species Act. On July 12, the conservative Western Congressional Caucus, which was founded to “fight federal overreach” and advocates for extractive industries, introduced a nine bill ESA reform package. And in a separate move, the Trump administration is proposing to change how federal agencies implement the law. A common thread in the bills is a push to give more authority to the Interior Secretary and states. The proposed rule changes dial back federal agencies’ ability to pursue policies that hamper development.
Prairie dogs are complicated creatures. In addition to confounding property owners by burrowing on land slated for shopping malls or horse pastures, they sometimes defy accepted biological principles. Unlike many social animals, instead of dispersing as they age, prairie dogs stick close to home, preferring to live cooperatively with relatives. In fact, prairie dogs are actually more likely to immigrate after their kin disappear. And at least one prairie dog expert thinks the socially complex animals speak a real language.
After reviewing hundreds of pages of protests, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said the agency is almost set to release a payment of nearly $70 million dollars for oil and gas leases to the state of New Mexico. The spokeswoman, Donna Hummel, told NM Political Report Thursday afternoon that an oil and gas internal review process is complete and New Mexico could see the money in a few months. “We feel confident that the state will have its lease payment of about $70 million by June 1,” Hummel said. Hummel added the dollar amount New Mexico receives could change, though it’s unlikely. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, and the Democratic members of the delegation sent letters to the BLM urging the agency to release funds owed to the state.
The state Game Commission denied a permit to allow the release of more Mexican Gray Wolves into New Mexico. The commission’s denial on Tuesday upheld the decision of a previous director. That initial decision was appealed by federal officials. The endangered species has been part of a controversial reintroduction program in the southwest by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Farmers and ranchers have been against the program, saying the wolves feed on livestock.
Environmental and animal rights groups are criticizing the New Mexico Game Commission’s Thursday decisions on cougar trapping and bear hunting. The commission voted in Santa Fe to allow cougar trapping on state trust and private land and also voted to increase the amount of bears that can be hunted each year. The votes were both unanimous. The Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter opposed the changes and has argued over recent weeks that this goes against the wishes of New Mexicans. “We’re highly disappointed that the commissioners decided to approve killing more carnivores, especially with cruel and indiscriminate traps, and that they appeared to ignore the vast majority of New Mexicans and their wishes,” Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife chair of Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said in a statement following the votes.
New Mexico is among thirteen states suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its updated Clean Water Rule. The lawsuit filed this week, claims the rule amounts to a power grab by the federal government, seeking greater control over state and local waters. However, at the Center for Biological Diversity, Brett Hartl sees it differently. His group is concerned the updated Clean Water Rule actually removes protections for some waterways. Hartl, the center’s endangered species policy director, is concerned the states are trying to further diminish the rule.