U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and five Senators today sent a letter to the Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Daniel Ashe requesting a 60-day extension of the comment solicitation period and a six-month extension of any final decisions on the proposal by the Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species. Senators on the letter include Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).
The Senators wrote, "The outcome of this listing proposal is vitally important to many sectors in the local economies of our states, including agriculture; oil and gas development; ranching; transportation; and wind energy. Listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken under the Endangered Species Act would negatively impact these sectors for many years to come. With this in mind, and knowing that conservation efforts are ongoing and that the science evaluating the status of the species is still developing, it is imperative to provide sufficient time to evaluate the true health of the species rather than simply hold fast to arbitrary court-mandated deadlines that do not account for ongoing species recovery developments."
The letter acknowledges that the wild life agencies in five states home to the Lesser Prairie Chicken are working hard to finalize and submit a conservation plan by mid-March, the same time as the comment period is scheduled to end. The 60-day extension would allow state agencies time to incorporate comments to the Service's proposal as well as allow the states to complete this spring's aerial population survey, which is conducted in the month of April.
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, working closely with Ashe to advance public-private partnerships to preserve the species.
In February, 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 last September to hear locals 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.
The full text of the letter is available in PDF format below: