Inhofe Leads Bipartisan Letter Requesting Six-Month Delay, Amendment to Lesser Prairie Chicken Decision

    

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, today sent a letter to Dan Ashe, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), requesting a six-month delay of the listing of the lesser prairie chicken (LPC).  The letter also requests Ashe to consider amending the settlement agreement governing the LPC listing decision so that a final listing decision is not required until June 11, 2014.  This additional 10 weeks would provide the maximum amount of time to consider the listing decision allowed under federal law, enabling the states to demonstrate the effectiveness of their range-wide conservation plan. Inhofe led the letter with Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), and all 10 senators from the five states that would be affected by a listing, including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). This is the first bipartisan letter addressing the lesser prairie chicken and states:

“We understand that you have the authority…to temporarily delay a final listing decision of the LPC if there is dispute over the status of the species. With an influx of significant new public input from the reopened comment period, and with the submission of the five-state conservation proposal, we encourage you to consider a six-month extension under this authority.

The letter goes on to state, “We would also request that you consider extending the final decision deadline beyond March 30, 2014 to June 11, 2014.  If FWS is held to the court settlement governing the listing of the LPC, then March 30, 2014, would be the final decision deadline if all time and extensions allowed under the settlement are exercised.  We understand this timeline, however, to be inconsistent with the timeline allowed under the Endangered Species Act… This inconsistency has resulted in less time for state wildlife conservation agencies and stakeholder groups to work with the FWS toward the approval of voluntary conservation efforts, which have great potential for protection of the species… Given the ground-breaking nature of the five-state plan, we are interested in giving participants the maximum amount of time to enroll in these programs and demonstrate their effectiveness. 

Today’s letter follows a February 20th letter to Director Ashe requesting an extension to the comment period for the proposed threatened listing of the LPC, which can be viewed by clicking here

On February 27th, Director Ashe agreed to provide the extension of the comment period.

On May 21st, Inhofe offered an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill (S. Amdt. 958) that would have provided an 18-month statutory delay of any decision related to the LPC.

Fish and Wildlife Service’s processing of the LPC is the result of a 2011 consent decree Settlement Agreement between the FWS and the WildEarth Guardians.  This agreement governs the timelines under which FWS must make decisions, and in the case of the LPC has resulted in deadlines that are inconsistent with federal law.

The full text of the letter is below and you can download a copy of the letter here.


The Honorable Daniel M. Ashe

Director

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

1849 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20240

 

Dear Mr. Director:

Thank you for your attention to efforts that increase conservation of habitat vital to the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC).  For years, individuals, companies, and state and federal agencies have been working to protect this species and bolster its population.  Since the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed a “threatened” listing of the species last fall, state wildlife managers have worked together to prepare a five-state plan for preservation of the LPC.  We applaud your decision to reopen the public comment period on the proposed listing to allow additional comments to be filed on the range wide conservation plan so they can be included in the Service’s official evaluation.  We encourage you to carefully evaluate the merits of the proposed five-state plan and included CCAAs and its potential for ensuring a healthy LPC population. 

The recently proposed five-state conservation plan has great potential for increasing protection of the species across our five states.  We recognize that some additional time may be necessary for effective participation in the five-state plan to be secured.

We understand that you have the authority under 16 U.S.C. 1533 to temporarily delay a final listing decision of the LPC if there is dispute over the status of the species.  With an influx of significant new public input from the reopened comment period, and with the submission of the five-state conservation proposal, we encourage you to consider a six-month extension under this authority.  Such an extension is permissible under both the law and the settlement agreement and would provide additional time to assess the benefits of the proposed plan and whether conservation efforts have been established to the point that a listing is not warranted.

We would also request that you consider extending the final decision deadline beyond March 30, 2014 to June 11, 2014.  If FWS is held to the court settlement governing the listing of the LPC, then March 30, 2014, would be the final decision deadline if all time and extensions allowed under the settlement are exercised.  We understand this timeline, however, to be inconsistent with the timeline allowed under the Endangered Species Act.  FWS has acknowledged that it was late in proposing the initial threatened decision for the LPC, but in the amendment filed to the settlement agreement, FWS said it would continue to comply with the remaining procedural deadlines under the settlement agreement, even though this would establish a timeline that appears inconsistent with federal law.  This inconsistency has resulted in less time for state wildlife conservation agencies and stakeholder groups to work with the FWS toward the approval of voluntary conservation efforts, which have great potential for protection of the species. 

If the settlement agreement were not a component of this discussion, then the procedural timeline for the consideration of the LPC proposal would have begun on December 11, 2012 – the date FWS published its proposed threatened listing for the LPC in the Federal Register – and FWS would be allowed to delay a final decision until June 11, 2014.  We request that you consider further amending the settlement agreement to provide FWS and all stakeholders with this additional time so that the full amount of time allowed under the law can be utilized.  Given the ground-breaking nature of the five-state plan, we are interested in giving participants the maximum amount of time to enroll in these programs and demonstrate their effectiveness. 

Thank you for your continued effort to ensure that the most accurate analysis of the LPC is completed, and for your consideration of the extensive efforts to protect the species being carried out across our five states.

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