WASHINGTON, May 15, 2015 – The House voted to remove the lesser prairie chicken from the list of threatened species to give time for a regional conservation plan to restore the bird’s Plains habitat.

An amendment that the House adopted on a near party-line vote, 229-190, to the defense authorization bill (HR 1735) would bar the bird’s re-listing until 2021 and also would de-list the American burying beetle.

The amendment is among the first of what will be a series of efforts this year to de-list or block the listing of endangered or threatened species, including the gray wolf and northern long-eared bat.

The defense bill, which passed 269-151, already contained language to bar a listing for the greater sage grouse for 10 years. An Army report warned that a listing of the grouse could restrict the use and size of training lands and limit future development.

But the White House sharply criticized the provision in its statement of administration policy on the bill: “Such unprecedented delays undermine science-based decision-making, are unnecessary for military readiness, and are ill-advised for purposes of public land management.”

The prairie chicken was listed as a threatened species in March 2014 over the objections of the region’s lawmakers. The amendment's sponsor, Frank Lucas, R-Okla., emphasized that the de-listing he was proposing was only temporary.

“If in five years time the Department of Interior thinks this (five-state conservation) plan hasn’t worked they can begin the process of re-listing the chicken. I’m confident that the range-wide plan will be effective not only in maintaining but in increasing” the bird’s population,” he told the House.

As for the beetle that would be de-listed, Lucas said its population has soared beyond expectations. 

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After the vote, Lucas told Agri-Pulse he was looking to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., to push for a similar provision in that chamber. 

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., poked fun at Republicans for attaching the amendment to a defense bill.

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have alerted us to a new threat emerging in the heart of the Western United States, a sort of feathery sleeper cell.

“The prairie chicken has not attacked our citizens, threatened our allies or disrupted our military operations. Listing the prairie chicken as endangered is a scientific decision, not within the purview of Congress and will have absolutely no effect on the Department of Defense operations."

She added a final dig:“The worst that anyone can say about the prairie chicken is that it is not a chicken but a grouse.”

Lucas and other sponsors of the amendment argued that they were justified adding the provision to the defense bill because of the impact on habitat restrictions on military installations in the region, including Fort Riley in Kansas and Cannon Air Force Base on the New Mexico-Texas border. 

“We want our national defense to reign supreme,” said Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.