The bird is listed as threatened in Kansas
By ALLISON KITE, Kansas Reflector
U.S. President Joe Biden vetoed legislation meant to undermine federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken, a previously ubiquitous bird that is now endangered in several states.
The legislation, introduced by U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and co-sponsored by fellow Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran and four other senators, sought to undo a listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In his veto message, Biden said the legislation would “overturn a science-based rulemaking that follows the requirements of the law.”
“The lesser prairie-chicken serves as an indicator for healthy grasslands and prairies, making the species an important measure of the overall health of America’s grasslands,” Biden said. “If enacted, (the legislation) would undermine America’s proud wildlife conservation traditions, risk the extinction of a once-abundant American bird and create uncertainty for landowners and industries who have been working for years to forge the durable, locally led conservation strategies that this rule supports.”
Biden’s veto Tuesday sparked outrage from supporters of the legislation, with Marshall saying “we shouldn’t be shocked at this continued attack from President Biden on rural America.”
U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, a Republican representing western Kansas, claimed voluntary efforts to conserve the lesser prairie chicken had been effective.
“At a time when record-breaking drought is crushing rural communities, crop production and native grasslands, we need more rain, not more regulations,” he said.
Listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened or endangered has been a controversial prospect in Kansas for years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously listed the bird as threatened in 2014, but the decision was reversed under a court order.
In 2019, three conservation groups sued the federal government to force a decision on the lesser prairie chicken. The groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, claimed the Department of the Interior and USFWS were in violation of the Endangered Species Act by failing to make a ruling on a 2016 petition to list the birds.
The bird was ultimately listed in November as threatened in Kansas and endangered in southwestern states.
The lesser prairie chicken, which lives in prairie grass and shrubs in western Kansas, once numbered in the hundreds of thousands. But U.S. wildlife officials estimated at the time they listed the bird last year that 90% of the habitat the birds once inhabited is gone and only about 32,000 lesser prairie chickens remain.