The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

April 1, 2014

Our View: Ignoring warning signs

Disappearing habitat could soon spell the end of the lesser prairie chicken, sometimes known as the grassland grouse.

The prairie chicken’s population across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico has declined to fewer than 18,000 birds — nearly 50 percent lower than 2012 population estimates, according to The Associated Press.

Until two years ago, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials had refused to list the species as threatened. That declaration was made the past week, a decision unpopular with those drilling for gas and oil or operating wind farms.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has called the decision an “overreach.” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin expressed disappointment but told the AP that state and federal officials “have a unique opportunity to show how a plan based in state management of this species can allow for a quick recovery” and eventual de-listing of the bird.

The listing of the lesser prairie chicken will take effect about May 1 and will include a rule to allow state officials and private landowners to play a role in managing conservation efforts.

That plan certainly has merits, provided states and landowners get on board. We disagree with Brownback’s claim that the federal government is “overreaching,” nor do we think that a Kansas legislator’s proposal to declare the state has the sole authority to manage the bird’s population and habitat is a good idea.

It is clear that the health of prairie grasslands and the ecosystem is being ignored in favor of business desires and demands.

Ignore the rapid decline of the prairie chicken much longer and soon it will be too late.

Cooperation among federal game authorities, states and landowners is urgently needed to guarantee the future of America’s prairies and the species that live there.

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