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February 06, 2020

Inhofe Questions Witness At EPW Hearing On Oversight Of The U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) senior member of the Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee, questioned yesterday’s witness, Rob Wallace, at an EPW hearing to receive testimony on the status of Oklahoma’s two endangered species—the American Burying Beetle and Lesser Prairie Chicken.

Rob Wallace is the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks for the Department of Interior.

Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Wallace, in Oklahoma we have two of the endangered species where there is activity going on right now that is very meaningful for our developers and our farmers — it’s very important to them. One is the American Burying Beetle. We understand that now, due to the resurgence of the beetle, that they are proposing a down listing of the species from endangered to threatened. It’s my understanding that’s supposed to be some time around June of this year. 

The second thing, is on the prairie chicken. We've had Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico very active in promoting and helping Fish and Wildlife on this issue and I think that we're in the position now where a decision is going to be made as to whether or not list the prairie chicken. I'd like to have you respond to this question as to where are we now on the burying beetle. I think we're in good shape on that, but is there anything else that we can do during the decision that's going to be made on the prairie chicken? When I’m talking about five states trying to work cooperatively with you that might impact the decision.

Wallace: Senator, as to your first question about the American Burying Beetle. We are working on down listing from endangered to threatened with a tailored 4(d) rule. Which provides more flexibilities on how to manage that to the states. We feel like we're working cooperatively with organizations that are impacted by that.

Inhofe: Does the date still look good in terms of June 2020?

Wallace: We're still on track. Yes sir.

Inhofe: Good. And on the prairie chicken?

Wallace: The prairie chicken, I believe, we’re under a consent decree for spring of 2021 to make a listing decision. I know there’s been a lot of work with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Managers to stand up some conservation areas that may go toward providing some assurance about the long term health of the prairie chicken.

Inhofe: Yes. The other question was is there anything that we can do, our stakeholders, the five states that are involved in this, that would be of assistance in helping with this decision.

Wallace: I’m sorry, I misunderstood. Let me come back to you on that. When I talked to the service in preparation for this hearing, I got the sense that things were working pretty well with the affected parties.

Inhofe: I think that's right.

In my remaining time, I am also concerned about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The new interpretation of the rule inserts the word "unintentional," damage that is done unintentionally. I think about if you're doing a bridge project and by accident something happens that you would not find yourself in a criminal situation. I am concerned about that. And, I know our state highway three bridge rehab project ended up taking a number of months longer than it would have otherwise in order to comply with this. I am concerned about that. Can you speak to the length of details of delays in projects that happen as a result of criminalizing the incident take? Now, hopefully that is going to be changed. Any comments on the change of that rule?

Wallace: Well as you’re aware Senator, was a solicitor's opinion shortly at the beginning of this new administration that said that incidental take under the Migratory Bird Treaty is not a prohibited activity. Which goes to your concern about your constituents. There is a regulation that has been proposed that was issued, I think earlier this week, its proposed regulation asking for forty-five days of public comment on that proposed rule but it basically puts into regulation what the solicitor said back in December of 2017.

Inhofe: Yes, I’m hoping you will support that rule. Thank you very much, Mr. Wallace.

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