Biden vetoes two Republican-led bills to undo protections for prairie chicken and northern bat

photo by: Adrian Hedden/Carlsbad Current Argus via AP, File

A lesser prairie chicken is seen amid the bird's annual mating ritual near Milnesand, N.M., April 8, 2021.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has vetoed Republican-sponsored bills to undo federal protections for two endangered species that have seen their populations plummet over the years: the lesser prairie chicken and the northern long-eared bat.

The two GOP measures would overturn “science-based rulemaking” that offers important protections for the once-abundant species and would undermine the Endangered Species Act, Biden said.

“The lesser prairie-chicken serves as an indicator for healthy grasslands and prairies, making the species an important measure of the overall health of America’s grasslands,” the White House wrote late Tuesday in a veto statement about the prairie bird. It’s a member of the grouse family found in parts of the Midwest and Southwest, including the oil-rich Permian Basin in New Mexico and Texas. The bird’s range also extends into parts of Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

Environmentalists have long sought stronger federal protections for the prairie bird, which they consider severely at risk due to oil and gas development, livestock grazing and farming, along with roads and power lines. The crow-size, terrestrial birds are known for spring courtship rituals that include flamboyant dances by the males as they make a cacophony of clucking, cackling and booming sounds.

The long-eared bat is one of 12 bat types decimated by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. The disease has spread across nearly 80% of the bat’s historic range in the eastern and north-central United States and has caused estimated population declines of at least 97%.

“Bats are critical to healthy, functioning ecosystems and contribute at least $3 billion annually to the United States agriculture economy through pest control and pollination,” Biden said in a separate veto statement. He said the GOP bill “would undermine America’s proud wildlife conservation traditions and risk extinction of the species.”

The two bills approved by Congress were backed mostly by Republicans and represent rare congressional involvement in matters usually left to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Endangered Species Act tasks the executive agencies with deciding which animals and plants to list as endangered or threatened and how to rebuild their populations.

Republicans say protections for the lesser prairie chicken interfere with U.S. oil and gas production and jeopardize thousands of American jobs.

Designation of the bird as an endangered species “is another attack on low-cost energy for the American taxpayers,” said Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s an attack on jobs in America and it’s making us more dependent” on hostile countries in the Middle East and South America, he said.

Republicans and the logging industry also criticized the endangered listing for the long-eared bat, contending it would hamper logging and other land uses that aren’t responsible for the bat’s sharp decline. The bat is found in 37 eastern and north-central states, Washington, D.C., and much of Canada.

The American Loggers Council, an industry group, said in a statement that changing the bat’s status from “threatened” to endangered would “do nothing to reduce the mortality of the bat, but will contribute to the declining numbers of loggers in the U.S. and threaten the forest products industry.”

Citing criteria used by the Fish and Wildlife Service, “the American logger should be considered for listing as threatened or endangered and afforded the same protection,” the group said.

Environmental groups hailed Biden’s actions.

Veto of the lesser-prairie chicken measure puts the bird “on a more certain path to recovery,” said Michael Parr, president of American Bird Conservancy. “Present-day populations are thought to average a mere 32,000 birds. Every coordinated effort is needed to ensure a safer future for this iconic species.”

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said conservationists are grateful for Biden’s actions “but remain greatly troubled that his veto is the only thing standing between grossly misguided, anti-wildlife members of Congress and the future of wildlife. The American public, regardless of party affiliation, overwhelmingly supports the Endangered Species Act and believes it should be fully funded to protect species from extinction. Congress needs to wake up to this fact and cease their continual attacks.”

West Virginia’s Joe Manchin was the only Democratic senator to back repeal of protections for the lesser prairie chicken, while Manchin and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., voted with unanimous Republicans to remove protections for the long-eared bat.


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