Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 10, 2018

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Bishop, House Committee Trying to Kill Lifesaving Protections for Grouse, Prairie Chickens

Armed Services Committee Amendment Would Also Strip Protections From Endangered Beetle

WASHINGTON— In a party line vote, the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee passed an amendment late Wednesday night by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) that would prohibit the greater sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken from being protected under the Endangered Species Act for the next 10 years. 

The amendment would also immediately end protections for the American burying beetle, short-circuiting the science-based process that’s legally required by the Endangered Species Act.

“Rob Bishop is determined to sign the death warrant for these birds as a gift to his friends in the oil and gas industry,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful that he’s hiding behind our military to justify this cruel proposal. The military has been a good steward of its land and natural resources. It doesn’t need or want this, and is already effectively conserving sensitive wildlife like the prairie chicken and burying beetle.”

Bishop has repeatedly targeted the grouse, prairie chicken and burying beetle, including slipping this rider into previous National Defense Authorization Acts.  

In 2017 the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that the lesser prairie chicken continues to decline across its remaining range. The USGS has predicted that all remaining populations of the chickens will fall below the critical threshold of 500 birds by 2037, when the agency says no population will have more than a 25 percent chance of avoiding extinction. The bird’s core habitat faces a nearly unprecedented rate of oil and gas development; the western Permian Basin includes the highest lease rates in the United States. For example, in a 2017 auction in New Mexico, 99 percent of the parcels offered by the Bureau of Land Management for development were leased for development.

A multiyear effort by the U.S. Department of the Interior resulted in the department adopting land-use plans in 2015 that restricted fracking and oil drilling inside important sage-grouse habitat. That in turn protected hundreds of species like pronghorn, elk, golden eagle and native trout that depend on intact sage brush landscapes.

Beginning in 2017 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has taken steps to dismantle those plans and allow new oil and gas extraction in these areas. Those steps include putting nearly 2 million acres of sage-grouse habitat on the auction block, despite the fact that greater sage grouse populations continue to decline across the West.

“These three amazing animals are going to go extinct because of the greed of Rob Bishop and Ryan Zinke,” said Hartl. “Two of America’s most iconic bird species will be lost forever in our lifetimes just to enrich a few special interests.”

The best available science continues to demonstrate that the American burying beetle is highly endangered. The beetle has declined by more than 90 percent and is ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered.” Captive-breeding and reintroduction efforts increased the total number of populations from just two in 1989 to more than 20 by 2011, but the species is still missing from most of its historic range. Despite the existence of a habitat conservation plan that allows for oil and gas development while simultaneously protecting the American burying beetle, the oil and gas industry continues to push to strip protections for the insect. In 2017 three oil and gas associations sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an attempt to strip Endangered Species Act protections.

In March Congress required the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a status review of the burying beetle by September 2018, and to either downlist or delist the burying beetle if the best available science indicates such action is warranted. 

“Congress shouldn’t interfere in decisions that are best left to expert scientists that understand how extinctions happen,” said Hartl. “The American people do not support these radical and malevolent political proposals.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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