U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, introduced two bills today to address the listings of the American Burying Beetle (ABB) and the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The American Burying Beetle Relief Act of 2014, S. 2678, would remove ABB from the list of endangered species under ESA. The ABB population has grown significantly and appears to exist in far more areas than it did prior to its listing in 1989, yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has not changed or removed ABB from its listing. At the time of introduction, cosponsors of the bill included Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Text of the legislation is available by clicking here.
"The American Burying Beetle's population growth has occurred despite very limited recovery projects by the Fish and Wildlife Service, underscoring how little we actually know about the Beetle and its risk of extinction," said Inhofe. "The Endangered Species Act is designed to protect species that may go extinct, and the ABB is showing increasing resiliency. Delisting the ABB is an appropriate step given the expansion of the population since 1989 and the lack of understanding about what may pose as a risk to the species' health."
In 1989, fewer than 12 beetles were believed to exist in Eastern Oklahoma and around 520 beetles were off the coast of Rhode Island. Today, the FWS has identified an ABB population in the Midwest region, which includes Oklahoma, that far exceeds the targets set in its 1991 Recovery Plan. In Nebraska, which is also in the Midwest region, there is estimated to be more than 3,000 ABB, making it among the largest known populations, even though none were known to exist there prior to 1989. In Oklahoma, the ABB population is believed to be well into the thousands and exists in 45 of the 77 counties.
"I want to thank Sen. Inhofe for introducing this important bill to delist the American Burying Beetle," said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association. "This unnecessary protection has prevented homebuilders in the eastern part of the state from completing projects and contributing to the growth of Oklahoma's economy. With a delisting of the beetle, one less regulatory burden will face our members as they build homes throughout Oklahoma."
Oklahoma Secretary of Energy & Environment Mike Teague said, "We continue to hear from industry of impacts on development due to the expansion of the range of the American Burying Beetle compounded with the removal of the historic mitigation options. It is slowing projects and delaying the installation of critical infrastructure necessary for economic development. With the thriving population in Oklahoma, the need to delist this species is clear, and I appreciate Sen. Inhofe's leadership on this legislation."
The Lesser Prairie Chicken Voluntary Recovery Act of 2014, S. 2677, would remove the LPC from the list of threatened species under ESA for a period of five years to allow the state-driven conservation plans to take affect. At the time of introduction, cosponsors of the bill included Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Text of the legislation is available by clicking here.
"The voluntary conservation plan established by the states enrolled 9 million acres and committed $43 million to conservation projects -- a greater commitment than expected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," said Inhofe. "Despite states already appropriately addressing the problem, the federal government was quick to insert itself into the situation and proceeded in listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken this past March. Last year, the bird's population grew by 20 percent because of increased rainfall. With more rain coupled with the states' conservation plan, the bird can be successfully conserved without federal government intervention. My legislation gives the states the opportunity to implement their plan for five years, at which point FWS will have the option to reconsider the status of the bird and its health. As we have seen with the American Burying Beetle, it is much more difficult to delist a species than it should be, and this impediment can greatly hinder economic development for communities where these species exist."
"We applaud Senator Inhofe for introducing a bill that recognizes our agricultural producer's conservation efforts for the Lesser Prairie Chicken. This bill will allow the delisting of the LPC in 5 years while Oklahoma farmers and ranchers continue to be the best stewards of their land," said Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Tom Buchanan.
"We appreciate the effort that Senator Inhofe has put forth in his treatment of the recovery of threatened and endangered species in the introduction of the American Burying Beetle Relief Act of 2014 and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Volunteer Recovery Act of 2014," said Roger Kelly, director of Regulatory Affairs for Continental Resources and chairman of the Regulatory Committee for the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance. These bills represent a common sense approach to the recovery of the subject species based on credible science and conservation activities that will benefit both the species and the American people."
During Inhofe's tenure on the EPW Committee, Inhofe made it a priority to avoid a listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), working closely with FWS Director Dan Ashe to advance public-private partnerships to conserve the species. On March 24, Inhofe sent a letter to Ashe ahead of the listing deadline reiterating the hard work that Oklahoma and four other states together with FWS have done to successfully establish a voluntary range-wide conservation plan (FWP) and Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAAs). On March 27, the LPC was listed as "threatened," and while better than an endangered listing, Inhofe called the decision "purely political" in nature.