Protection status for species of bird has two groups crying fowl

On behalf of Rock Palermo of Veron, Bice, Palermo & Wilson, LLC posted in Environmental Law on July 07, 2014.

When it comes to drafting and implementing environmental laws, government agencies often have to find the delicate balance between doing what is best for the environment and not stifling industry or the economy. But this is often considered to be a difficult balancing act. And even though a government agency might think that it has a plan that will be acceptable to both sides, sometimes it turns out that this isn’t the case.

Our Louisiana readers can see this in a case involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency was sued recently by three environmental groups over the protection status given to a species of bird in several western states. But it’s not the fact that the FWS is trying to protect the bird that has the groups angry but rather the protection status the bird was given.

Earlier this year, the FWS labeled the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. This designation gives those in the energy, agriculture and other industries the right to "kill up to 1,300 prairie chickens annually." The groups say that by elevating the bird’s status to endangered, then the number of wild birds could grow instead of dwindle.

But it’s not just environmentalists that have an issue with the bird’s designation. Well before the environmentalists filed their lawsuit against the FWS, some argued that by labeling the bird threatened, the federal government was overreaching in environmental law -- a move that could "hamper the energy and agriculture industries."

Though it’s unclear if these industries have been impacted by the protection status or not, research shows that the bird is being affected. In 2013, the FWS estimated that only about 17,600 lesser prairie chickens lived in the wild. That’s nearly half of what it was in 2012. The current population is now a third the size it was in the 1990s.

But because the protection status was implemented only recently, it’s difficult to say if the population is still on the decline or if it has helped to stabilize the population. This means that residents in the western states, as well as our readers, will have to wait and see if the balancing act worked or not.

Source: USA Today, "Environmentalists, industry squawk over prairie birds," Aamer Madhani, July 7, 2014

Tags: Environmental Law

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