By Christina Calloway
and Vanessa Kahin
County commissioners from Roosevelt and Curry County met Friday in their respective counties and reached the same conclusion: They must move forward with their intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.
The Roosevelt County commission also voted to approve its participation in the Permian Basin Petroleum Association lawsuit at a $10,000 price.
Three Curry County Commissioners were present during the meeting — Ben McDaniel, Frank Blackburn and Wendell Bostwick. Curry County Commissioner Tim Ashley participated in the lawsuit discussion via telephone.
Commissioner Robert Sandoval could not be present due to a death in his family.
The Roosevelt County commissioners expressed their fears for the negative impacts the listing will have on the county and its residents because they say the designation affects the future of agriculture and energy in eastern New Mexico.
Curry County’s resolution for the notice of intent to sue cites how the listing will “adversely affect communities, industries and citizens who are located within, reside, ranch, farm, and use the millions of acres of mixed ownership lands identified as lesser prairie chicken habitat.”
Furthermore, the resolution states that the scope of protection imposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service in listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened will “result in harm to working families, local industries and communities, and will adversely affect economic development progress as well as the continued economic growth of the state of New Mexico.”
The resolution notes that Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico have developed and are in the process of implementing a conservation plan, which already addresses all known threats to the lesser prairie chicken.
According to the resolution, these states are implementing these measures in voluntary collaboration, with no need for federal or Endangered Species Act overreach.
The intent to sue is in hope of avoiding the aforementioned economic strain brought on by the listing. The resolution makes a statement encouraging Gov. Susana Martinez to formally oppose the listing.
Officials with both counties feel the best way to oppose the listing is to take legal action.
“I do think it’s important to say, ‘enough is enough,’” Bostwick said.
Before approving the resolution, Roosevelt County Commissioner Jake Lopez expressed his concerns about the cost of filing a lawsuit.
Sandoval also expressed his concern over the cost of the suit via a letter he wrote to his respective commission.
Sandoval expressed other concerns about joining the lawsuit, including whether or not the suit would affect the county’s chances of receiving grants or subsidies from the federal government, and what would happen should the county lose the lawsuit.
“Although I cannot vote today, if I could, I would say that I was not at all prepared with the information that we’ve been given in order to take on this task and I request that this matter be tabled until these questions are answered,” Sandoval wrote in his letter.
Roosevelt Commission Chair Kendell Buzard said he’s heard figures up to $1 million to file the lawsuit but with growing support from other counties, agencies and associations affected by the listing, Buzard said a split cost would be more affordable.
Roosevelt County Attorney Rick Queener added he expects similar county government groups and agencies in the four other states the bird populates to follow suit.