Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 3, 2023

Contact:

Stephanie Kurose, (202) 849-8495, skurose@biologicaldiversity.org

Senate Takes Unprecedented Vote to End Lesser Prairie Chicken Protections

WASHINGTON— Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) joined Senate Republicans today in using the Congressional Review Act to strip away Endangered Species Act protections for the critically imperiled lesser prairie chicken. This is the first time in the CRA’s 30-year history that Congress has attempted to use this law to rescind federal protections for an individual species.

“The senators who voted to use the Congressional Review Act to nullify protections for the lesser prairie chicken voted to condemn this bird to extinction,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “After waiting three decades for protection, this beautiful dancing bird deserves a fighting chance at survival. It’s heartbreaking that 50 senators care more about lining the pockets of industry cronies than saving an irreplaceable piece of natural heritage in the West.”

In a 50-48 vote, today’s measure rejects a final rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2022 protecting the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. Two populations are currently protected: a Texas and New Mexico population listed as endangered and a separate northern population in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado listed as threatened.

If a Congressional Review Act resolution is approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president, the underlying rule becomes void and the agency is prevented from future issuance of a rule that is “substantially the same” without an act of Congress. The use of the law could prevent the Service from ever protecting the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act in the future, even if its population collapsed or was reduced to just a handful of individual birds.

“This vote sets an extremely dangerous precedent and would put one of our most unique species at risk of disappearing forever,” said Kurose. “We’re thankful President Biden plans to reject Sen. Manchin’s and Senate Republicans’ heartless and craven vote and veto this resolution.”

Last week, Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee passed an identical resolution. The legislation, H.J. Res. 29, will likely be voted on by the full House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

The lesser prairie chicken is a highly imperiled ground-nesting bird known for the males’ elaborate calls and showy displays of reddish-orange air sacs while performing their spring mating dances. The bird once roamed the southern Great Plains by the millions, but today its population has declined to roughly 27,000 — including a decline of 20% since 2021 — and now is found in less than 10% of its former habitats.

RSLesser-Prairie-Chicken-Tierra-Curry-Center
The lesser prairie chicken population has declined steadily in recent years. Credit: Tierra Curry/Center for Biological Diversity. Graphic is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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