U.S. Representative K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) today announced that the Fish and Wildlife Service will reopen the public comment period on the potential listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe announced the decision in a Feb. 27 letter to Rep. Conaway. Rep. Conaway joined eight of his House colleagues earlier this month in asking Director Ashe for at least a 60-day extension of the comment period and at least a 90-day extension of the final listing deadline for the proposed rule to add the lesser prairie chicken to the Endangered Species Act's threatened list. Please click here to read that letter.
Rep. Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, thanked Director Ashe for reopening the comments.
"Texas farmers and landowners are rightly concerned about the proposed rule's impact on their land and their livelihoods. I believe there are no better stewards of our nation's natural resources than those who work and depend on the land. I appreciate the Fish and Wildlife Service's recognition that it must work with farmers and landowners, and I look forward to hearing the responses gathered when the comment period is reopened," Rep. Conaway said.
The Feb. 7 letter to Director Ashe was also signed by Reps. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), Stevan Pearce (R-N.M.), Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).
The full text of the letter from Director Ashe is below:
February 27, 2013
The Honorable Michael Conaway
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative Conaway:
Thank you for your letter of Feb. 7, 2013, also signed by several of your colleagues, regarding the proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act.
As you referenced in your letter, the five state fish and wildlife agencies, working together under the auspices of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, are developing a range-wide conservation plan for the letter prairie chicken. Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects that range-wide plan to inform our listing determination, we will re-open the comment period upon receipt so that the public can comment on the plan and any other information relevant to the proposed listing rule.
The service committed through a court-approved settlement agreement to complete a final listing determination for the lesser prairie chicken by Sept. 30, 2013, unless we find that substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination requires additional time. While we have no basis to make that finding at the present time, we will revisit the question of whether an extension is needed after the close of the final comment periods later this spring.
The service appreciates how private landowners, companies and public management agencies have been working to manage habitat and conserve the species, and we recognize that we cannot restore, protect and reconnect habitat for the lesser prairie chicken without the voluntary assistance of these entities. It is the service's intent to work with our partners and private landowners to keep the lesser prairie chicken on the landscape, reverse its decline, and help the species coexist with those who make their living from the land. To this end, we have provided an expedited review of the draft Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurance for oil and gas, and look forward to continuing to work with WAFWA on that aspect of the conservation plan.
Thank you again for you interest in conservation of the lesser prairie chicken. Previous commitments prevent me from meeting with you personally under the third week of March, but I am tracking this issue closely and am encouraged by the conservation planning efforts underway.