WSJ Opinion: Washington’s Chicken Retreat

Land owners—and prairie chickens—win one against the feds.

Victories against the Obama regulatory juggernaut are rare, and thus all the more worthy of note. Congratulations, then, to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Republicans in Congress over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision on May 10 to drop its quest to list the lesser prairie chicken as an endangered species.

Fish and Wildlife’s decision in 2014 to list was never about helping that particular range bird. It was part of an attempted federal land grab by green activists. Using a strategy called “sue and settle,” these groups propose species for protected status under the Endangered Species Act, then sue the Obama Administration to follow through. The agency then settles the suits on terms that the greens want.

Their goal in the case of the prairie chicken was to impose development restrictions on private landowners in five western states. Because the prairie chicken’s range is so wide, the greens hoped to shut down oil and gas drilling in much of the West, especially and around the fossil-fuel rich Permian Basin.

Mr. Pruitt (joined by four other states) sued, arguing that Fish and Wildlife had ignored years of cooperation between states and landowners to develop a voluntary and successful plan for conservation. Federal Judge Robert Junell agreed in September and vacated the listing, and the Administration has now decided not to appeal. House Republicans also fought the illegal listing with policy riders to spending bills.

The biggest beneficiary is the prairie chicken, which has a far better chance of revival under cooperative private stewardship than it does under the coercive methods of a federal bureaucracy.

WSJ Opinion dated May 24, 2016

 

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