Saturday, February 18, 2023

OCPA: AG Drummond right to stand up to federal overreach

AG Drummond right to stand up to federal overreach
By Jonathan Small

With federal overreach a constant threat, it is important that states like Oklahoma stand up and fight to control their own destiny. That’s why Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond deserves praise for threatening to sue the Biden administration if it does not withdraw a rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) that designates the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.

The history of conservation efforts shows that state regulation will be better for both the bird and the people who live and work in Oklahoma.

You may recall that the Obama administration also sought to impose greater regulation in Oklahoma, citing concern about the lesser prairie chicken’s status. But those concerns were unfounded.

Between 1980 and 2012, the lesser prairie chicken’s occupied range increased 159 percent. The range added during those years totaled over 16,700 square miles. That’s larger than the combined area of several of the smaller U.S. states.

Even when the chicken population dipped in 2012, surveys indicated the lesser prairie chicken’s population may have been within 900 birds from achieving its highest population level in modern times.

Looking at those figures, you’re probably asking yourself what basis did federal officials cite for demanding greater regulatory control? The answer probably won’t shock you: Federal officials concocted fanciful scenarios with little relation to modern reality.

Around a decade ago one lawsuit pointed out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claimed an 84-percent decline in the area occupied by the lesser prairie chicken – based on estimates from  a “historic range” that predated European settlement of the Great Plains.

Put simply, the federal government argued states were not doing a good job if an area looked different today than it did when relatively few people lived here and roads, houses and commerce were limited to American Indian tribes who travelled by foot or horseback.

Federal District Judge Robert A. Junell eventually ruled the Obama administration’s efforts to declare the lesser prairie chicken “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act were done “arbitrarily and capriciously.” Junell found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “failed to properly apply” its own policies for evaluating state conservation efforts “resulting in material error.”

One can support conservation efforts without rolling back modernity, and Oklahoma’s success in preserving the chicken is proof. The federal government is highly unlikely to improve upon that track record. What federal regulations will do instead is severely stifle economic activity in much of rural Oklahoma by restricting everything from cattle grazing to energy production.

Drummond made the right move. Oklahoma officials have successfully worked to preserve the prairie chicken in ways that do not prioritize the birds over people, and federal regulation that harms economic growth and impedes humanity’s advancement is not progress.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs


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