ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) - A chicken fight is garnering a lot of attention.
Federal wildlife officials are considering to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, something critics argue would hurt the state's economy.
On Tuesday people rallied in protest of the listing as Roswell became the last stop for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife seeking public opinions on the proposal.
Wildlife officials say the lesser prairie chicken population has declined over the years, and are now considering whether to list it as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
"It was a candidate species based on the fact that the populations were declining due to drought, due to habitat fragmentation, due to oil and gas development," explained Cal Baca, USFWS chief of the Wildlife Management Division.
Since then, Baca said state wildlife officials have been working with affected states to voluntarily provide conservation work.
The chicken is believed to live in areas across five states: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and is listed as threatened in Colorado. But not everyone is on board for protecting it as threatened, arguing it would hurt jobs and the economy especially in the oil and gas industries.
"We need to really and truly concentrate on what's important here, and for so long the economy has been down, the last thing we need is to have to worry about now that we're kind of growing a little, to go down again," said Dorrie Faubus-McCarty, executive director of the Roswell Chamber of Commerce.
Faubus-McCarty said the federal listing would halt drilling in some areas and enforce protections for the chicken that could be a detriment to farmers and ranchers.
Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., was in Roswell for the rally, and spoke to the crowd.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service is working with bad science, with bad ideas, and with an assumption that you have to kill jobs in order to protect a species," said Pearce.
Fish and Wildlife officials said efforts are already underway to protect the prairie chicken. State wildlife agencies from the affected states are working on conservation strategies they hope can protect both sides.
Hundreds discussed the issue at a meeting in Roswell Tuesday evening.
"How can we protect both? How can we make sure that we're not endangering but yet on the other hand we can continue to grow our economy," said Faubus-McCarty.
Baca said many New Mexico wildlife officials are working to prove that a federal listing is unwarranted, claiming they can reveal "through science and research that the conservation on the ground now for the lesser prairie chicken is showing stabilizing and increasing populations across its range."
The protest rally took place at the Roswell Industrial Air Center. Then, at 6:30 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service hosted its last public hearing on the matter at the Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell Fine Arts Theater.
People can still submit comments online to U.S. Fish and Wildlife until March 11th (Docket number FWS-R2-ES-2012-0071).
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