U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), today sent a letter to Dan Ashe, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), requesting that he immediately approve the range wide conservation plan (RWP) and its corresponding Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs). The RWP and CCAAs were developed by the wildlife conservation agencies of the five states affected by an LPC listing, including Oklahoma's. The RWP and CCAAs are voluntary, state driven, and aim to restore LPC habitat and improve the health of its population.
"Oklahoma and the other states have worked tirelessly to develop a state-driven, voluntary, range-wide conservation plan," wrote Inhofe. "If the RWP and CCAAs are approved early enough, the conservation activities conducted in the next few months will be sufficient to render any LPC listing unnecessary."
The letter goes on to state, "State driven, voluntary conservation plans that effectively protect species and are approved by the Service must be considered the best approach to species conservation across the country; otherwise, a Service bias toward listings will result in decades of regulatory and government interference in the lives of Americans I eagerly request the Service's swift consideration and approval of the RWP and its related CCAAs."
Inhofe added, "Expeditious approval of the RWP and CCAAs will allow the state and affected industries to enroll acreage in conservation plans, demonstrate results by June 2014, and preclude the need for a listing under ESA."
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.
On February 20th, Sen. Inhofe sent a letter to Director Ashe requesting an extension to the comment period for the proposed threatened listing of the LPC.
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.
On June 19, 2013, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment offered by Steve Pearce (R-NM) to the House Farm Bill ordering a study by USDA of the cost effectiveness of various conservation plans, including the RWP.
The full text of the letter is below.
The Honorable Daniel M. Ashe
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Director Ashe,
As you know, a listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) would have a wide-ranging, negative impact on substantial economic activity in western Oklahoma. The adverse impact of a listing would remain for decades and cut across all industries including agriculture, ranching, oil and gas, renewable energy, transportation, construction, and other job creating sectors. Western Oklahoma is not unique in this regard; the other states in the LPC's five state range are in the same situation.
Oklahoma and the other states have worked tirelessly to develop a state-driven, voluntary, range-wide conservation plan (RWP). Embedded within the RWP are Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) for affected industries that would produce robust, long term conservation of the LPC and ultimately preclude the need for a listing. The historic precedent set by the overwhelming response of landowners in New Mexico to the availability of the CCAA protecting the sand dune lizard and the LPC demonstrates that if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) makes a CCAA available on a timely basis, landowners will enthusiastically enroll their properties. But this will only be the case if the RWP and CCAAs are quickly approved. Unless this happens, affected industries will not have enough time to enroll significant acreage into the RWP conservation programs given the deadlines facing the Service. Underutilization of these conservation programs may ultimately result in less effective conservation of the LPC over the long run, even in the event of a listing. Alternatively, if the RWP and CCAAs are approved early enough, the conservation activities conducted in the next few months will be sufficient to render any LPC listing unnecessary. Effective conservation of the LPC without a listing will enable the Service to meet its species conservation responsibilities while enabling economic development activities to continue throughout the range. It will also help the Service better manage its limited financial resources and mission obligations across the country.
It is my understanding that following the close of this comment period, the fourth iteration of the RWP will be submitted to the Service for review. The states have worked diligently to create the RWP and corresponding CCAAs, and they have demonstrated an eagerness to resolve any deficiencies that may have been identified by the Service so it can ultimately and swiftly be approved. Further, it is my expectation that the Service, when addressing the CCAAs, will work as expeditiously as possible to carry out its obligations under the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA). Given the precedent established by the Service in the consideration of earlier CCAAs for the LPC, I expect that the NEPA requirements for the RWP associated CCAAs will be satisfied with no more than an Environmental Assessment, and I urge you to commence that process immediately as well in conjunction with the states and others who can lend their appropriate assistance and resources. The RWP and corresponding CCAAs are robust. They will successfully conserve the species and ultimately prevent the need for a listing.
State driven, voluntary conservation plans that effectively protect species and are approved by the Service must be considered the best approach to species conservation across the country; otherwise, a Service bias toward listings will result in decades of regulatory and government interference in the lives of Americans. Because of issues that have surfaced with the American Burying Beetle in recent months, Oklahomans are far too aware of this reality. Oklahomans stand united in their desire to see the LPC protected, and they are equally eager to allow the state wildlife agencies to drive the process without heavy handed interference by the federal government. We appreciate your diligent work on this matter and eagerly request the Service's swift consideration and approval of the RWP and its related CCAAs.