U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, warned today that the Obama Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seems poised to go through with a proposed listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Director Ashe said that Oklahoma faces an ‘uphill battle’ to avoid a listing but that there are still steps the state can take potentially to avoid it. Inhofe’s concerns follow a meeting that he arranged yesterday between key Oklahoma leaders and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe to discuss further Oklahoma’s voluntary efforts ahead of FWS’s decision whether to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken. FWS has until September 30, 2012 to announce its decision.
“(Wednesday) we received the news from FWS Director Ashe that Oklahoma faces an ‘uphill battle’ to prevent the listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken but there are still steps we can take potentially to avoid it,” said Inhofe. “We will continue to do everything in our power to come to a compromise with FWS so that we can stop this listing from taking place, while working to preserve the species.”
Inhofe said listing the animal as an endangered species would have a devastating effect on the Oklahoma economy. The Lesser Prairie Chicken population in Northwest Oklahoma is a major stumbling block in building wind energy transmission lines between Guymon and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
“Oklahomans have invested millions of dollars and a great deal of time in voluntary efforts which will do much to increase the number of prairie chickens without destroying jobs,” Inhofe said. “ On the other hand, a listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken will have devastating effects on Oklahoma’s economy. It will harm our state’s agriculture, the construction of highway infrastructure, and numerous energy development sectors including oil and gas; our wind industry, especially in Woodward, will be particularly hard hit.”
Inhofe questioned the timing of the meeting right before President Obama’s State of the Union address.
“The timing of this meeting was interesting as it was held just hours before the State of the Union address when President Obama said we need to have an ‘all of the above’ energy plan and lauded the increase in American energy production – including oil, gas and wind,” Inhofe said. “Yet, here we have another example of how the Obama Administration’s regulatory agenda is harming oil, gas and wind jobs.
“One area of great concern is that at yesterday’s meeting, FWS still could not explain why the ranking of the Lesser Prairie Chicken changed so dramatically on the agency’s priority list over the past two years, bringing us to the point that FWS must make a decision. Oklahomans deserve to know exactly why the Lesser Prairie Chicken is now a priority species when very recently, it was not.”
Inhofe hosted the meeting which included several key Oklahoma officials, including Secretary of Environment Gary Sherrer, Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, State Senator Mike Schulz, State Representative Gus Blackwell, Director of ODWC Richard Hatcher, Director of the Office of the Secretary of the Environment Tyler Powell, and Sarah Pope of the Association of Conservation Districts, as well as Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and Endangered Species Program Director Gary Frazer.
The meeting was part of Inhofe’s ongoing work with FWS on voluntary efforts in Oklahoma, which are proven to be more successful in preserving species than an ESA listing. In September 2011, Director Ashe travelled to Edmond and Woodward, Oklahoma at Inhofe’s request, where he heard directly from Oklahomans about the devastating consequences of a listing for jobs and the economy.
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