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Is Compromise The Only Solution For The Lesser Prairie Chicken Saga?

Experts discuss the future of the lesser prairie chicken's ongoing battle in the oilfields

MIDLAND -- The lesser prairie chicken's days could be numbered.

Nature experts say one hasn't been seen in Midland County since the 1950's.  The question remains: Will it be labeled an endangered species?

If it is, that could prove problematic for oil companies who want to get at the black gold buried underneath the bird's native habitat.

Experts describe it as a lose/lose situation.

If the lesser prairie chicken is put on the endangered species list, it could limit oil companies abilities to drill in certain areas.

If it isn't, the oil companies could wipe out its habitat.

But Hoxie Smith, director of Midland College's Petroleum Professional Development Center, sees hope on the horizon for oil companies and the lesser prairie chicken.

"If the oil and gas operators can do some things to help basically offset any kind of impact they would be making in their drilling activities and can work with state agencies, which are really more familiar with the local habitats than the federal government is, I think that that's a better situation," Smith said.

According to Smith, some sort of compromise might be the only way energy companies and the bird can co-exist.

The prairie chicken makes its home in one of the most oil rich areas in America.

"They need a habitat that's primarily sandy-type grasslands with some shrubs for cover," Michael Nickell said.  Nickell works at the Sibley Nature Center.

Smith doesn't think the government simply putting the prairie chicken on the endangered species list is a good enough solution.

"What are they going to do that's going to really improve the habitat?  They can exclude people from operating in areas, but there's a lot more than that that probably needs to be done," Smith said.

But Nickell warns of the dangers of letting any animal die out.

"A lot of times we don't know exactly what an organism's ultimate roll is within an ecosystem until after it's no longer there," Nickell said.

In any case, the oil companies and the lesser prairie chicken are both fighting an uphill battle.

There is expected to be a ruling by the federal government concerning placement of the lesser prairie chicken on the endangered species list in spring, 2014.

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