WASHINGTON, D.C. — In advance of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) March 31 deadline on the listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC), U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, today sent a letter to remind FWS Director Dan Ashe of the hard work that Oklahoma and four other states together with the FWS have done to successfully establish a voluntary range-wide conservation plan (RWP) and Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAAs).
Inhofe writes, "[O]ver the last several weeks, almost 13 million acres have been collectively enrolled for protection under the conservation practices of the RWP and the variety of other federal, state and private sector conservation programs coordinated under the RWP. This figure is significantly higher than the 9.7 million acres initially targeted by the RWP, which the Service formally endorsed and found to provide the requisite conservation benefit to protect the LPC, and includes over $21 million in up front funding to begin implementation of the RWP’s fine-tuned details. The funding mechanism of the RWP will only continue to grow as time goes on; the money in hand today only incorporates the existing mitigation needs of the range."
Inhofe continued, "The fact that the RWP has coordinated conservation across five states and across so many industries, including oil and gas, electricity transmission, ranching, agriculture, and transportation and infrastructure development, demonstrates that the state governments and private industry are standing by ready to conserve the LPC without the need for a listing under the Endangered Species Act.”
You can read the full text of the letter by clicking here.
During his tenure on the EPW Committee, Inhofe has made it a priority to avoid a listing of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), working closely with Ashe to advance public-private partnerships to conserve the species.
On June 13, 2013, Inhofe was the lead on a bipartisan letter requesting a six-month delay to the LPC listing decision in order to provide the maximum amount of time to consider the LPC listing allowed under federal law. This resulted in an extension that allowed time for an evaluation of the science behind the listing decision and for the five-state plan to demonstrate results. This letter was in follow-up to a letter on Feb. 20, 2013, requesting an extension to the comment period for the proposed threatened listing, which Ashe agreed to provide within a week of the request.
During this time, Inhofe offered an amendment on May 21, 2013, to the Senate Farm bill (S. Amdt. 958) that would provide an 18-month statutory delay of any decision related to the LPC. The amendment was not permitted a vote. On June 19, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted an amendment offered by Congressman Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) to the House Farm Bill ordering a study by United States Department of Agriculture of the cost effectiveness of various conservation plans, including the Range Wide Plan (RWP) submitted by the five states. The amendment was included in the final language of the Farm Bill which was signed into law on Feb. 7, 2014.
In February 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a public hearing in Woodward, Okla. concerning the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Ashe also visited Oklahoma City and Woodward in September 2012 to hear local concerns on how a listing of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken would negatively affect agriculture, transportation, energy development, and the general economy.
In April 2012, Ashe gave Inhofe an assurance at an EPW hearing that FWS "will provide as much flexibility as [it] can" for Oklahoma as it goes forward with a listing decision for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. He also said that he sees Oklahoma as a "leader" in voluntary efforts. Later in June 2012, Director Ashe called Senator Inhofe to inform him that FWS would not list the Sand Dune Lizard under ESA due to the tremendous success of voluntary efforts and said that Oklahoma has the 'right ingredients' for a similar decision on the Lesser Prairie-Chicken.