Meet the humble lesser prairie-chicken, a small bird that's in the middle of a big fight between Congress and the Biden administration. According to Audubon, the lesser prairie-chicken, a grouse that was once abundant in the short-grass regions of the southern Great Plains, is considered threatened—its population is declining and has disappeared from most of its former range. Audubon states that the "biggest problem is conversion of natural prairie to farmland." According to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the decline of the lesser prairie-chicken isn't good news for the health of the plains and its other inhabitants:
This population decline has real implications. The lesser prairie chicken has long been an indicator for healthy grasslands and prairies. Many species depend on these ecosystems so, if the lesser prairie-chicken is in peril—in time, other species will be too.
The Kansas City Star explains that last year, the Biden administration placed the southern lesser prairie chicken population on the endangered species list because its habitat on the Great Plains has decreased by 90 percent—and scientists argue that intervention is necessary to save the bird from extinction. But Republicans (plus "Democrat" Joe Manchin) in the Senate don't seem to care about the lesser prairie-chicken nor about the broader implications of its declining populations. On May 3, 2023, the Senate passed a measure (by a 50-48 vote) to remove the bird from the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity explains:
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.
Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) was one of the Republicans leading the campaign. The Kansas City Star provides Marshall's argument:
He likes the lesser prairie chicken. He would like the lesser prairie chicken to continue to exist. But he feels local conservation efforts are doing enough to support the grouse. The decline in the bird's population over the past few years, he said, is because of the drought in Western Kansas. If the rain comes back, the bird will come back. "If they list the prairie chicken, this is not only going to make it harder for the oil and gas industry, but it's also going to make it harder for farmers and ranchers, as well as getting the wind energy out of those wind farms from western Kansas," Marshall said.
He said the increased regulatory burden will eventually drive up prices of energy and food for Americans.
And according to WIBW:
Senator Marshall commented about the charge to strike down Biden Administration's Lesser Prairie Chicken listing.
"When will this Administration learn that a one-size fits all model does not work in rural America? With a population that is on the rise and tens of millions of acres conserved, the evidence doesn't support designating the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. In fact, the Lesser Prairie Chicken is better protected now than ever, with a population that has been growing since 2014," said Senator Marshall. "The ESA is just another weaponized tool Biden is using to attack rural America. I am proud to have led this resolution of disapproval in the Senate and thankful for my colleagues who joined me in this fight to stand up for our farmers and ranchers."
So, let me get this straight, Marshall is arguing that an endangered lesser prairie-chicken, whose population is rapidly declining, is actually more protected now than ever before, and not protecting the bird through the ESA would actually help protect it more than it's being protected now, which is, according to Marshall, more protected than its ever been? And really it will all be ok once it just starts raining again? Oh, and oil and gas prices. Got it.