State and regional cattle groups, along with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, are suing the Biden administration over the lesser prairie chicken endangered species listing proposal. Among the state Associations joining NCBA in this litigation is the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association.
Senior Farm and Ranch Broadcaster, Ron Hays, is featuring comments from the NCBA Associate Director for Governmental Affairs, Sigrid Johannes, about this proposed listing and the complications it will create for the beef industry.
“First and foremost, the numbers of lesser prairie chickens that are out there thriving on rangeland at every different life stage that they go through are thriving in pasture, in the same sort of rangelands and varying diverse grasslands that are cultivated by cattle producers,” Johannes said.
The lesser prairie chicken gravitates to areas where cattle producers are actively working to cultivate a profile of vegetation that is beneficial for livestock and many wildlife species.
“Catching cattle producers up under these overly broad restrictions under the ESA are not appropriate given the work that they are doing to support the habitat that the species needs to thrive,” Johannes said.
NCBA is also concerned, Johannes said, with the way the listing was written and the dangerous precedent that this listing could set for other bird species, such as the sage-grouse.
“We think this line between the Northern distinct population segment and the Southern distinct population segment is pretty arbitrary,” Johannes said. “There is not a whole lot of genomic or geospatial evidence to support the division of those two groups of birds.”
The 4(d) rule written for the Northern distinct population segment, Johannes said, is overreaching, which brings up concerns about the power that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving away to third parties to oversee the way that private landowners graze on their ranches in those states.
“When listing a species under the Endangered Species Act, fish and wildlife can choose endangered or threatened,” Johannes said. “If they choose threatened for a certain population segment, like the Northern DPS (distinct population segment) of the lesser prairie chicken, they can write what is called a 4(d) rule in the listing. 4(d) rules are intended to exempt certain activities from the civil and criminal penalties that come along with ‘take’ of a species that has been listed.”
“Take” does not only mean hunting of the animal, Johannes said, but can also mean the incidental killing of a bird in the course of agricultural operations, or disturbing the bird during nesting, for example.
Johannes said 4(d) rules generally allow for industries like agriculture to continue their normal activities within reason where there might be a habitat for a listed species, but this 4(d) rule does the opposite.
“It does not really help cattle producers comply with the listing, and it puts an unnecessary level of restriction on their day-to-day operations,” Johannes said. “This particular rule is saying that you will not qualify for those legal protections that the 4(d) rule is designed to provide- that is the purpose of this- you will not get those protections unless you are following a grazing management plan that has been approved by a third- party.”
There has not been a conclusive answer to whom these third- parties will consist of, Johannes said, which is a concern because many activist groups would welcome the opportunity to apply to be a third party in this circumstance to attempt to shut down cattle grazing in those areas.
“Needless to say, this is a system that is not up and running, it is not in place yet, and it is not ready for cattle producers to use, so you are painting them into a corner,” Johannes said.
The Beef Buzz is a regular feature heard on radio stations around the region on the Radio Oklahoma Ag Network and is a regular audio feature found on this website as well. Click on the LISTEN BAR for today’s show and check out our archives for older Beef Buzz shows covering the gamut of the beef cattle industry today.