WASHINGTON - The head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told a group of Oklahoma officials here this week that they face an uphill battle in preventing the lesser prairie chicken from being listed as an endangered species - a move that could threaten energy development in western Oklahoma, Sen. Jim Inhofe said Wednesday.
At Inhofe's invitation, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and endangered species program director Gary Frazer met Tuesday with state legislators and state officials, including Secretary of Environment Gary Sherrer and Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said Ashe told the Oklahomans there are still steps that could be taken that might prevent the listing, which would prevent a range of activities in the bird's habitat of prairie grasslands in Oklahoma and neighboring states.
"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.
"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.
"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. Oklahoma will be particularly hard hit."
State Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Altus, who was among the Oklahomans at the meeting, has been heading up a task force on ways to improve the birds' habitat to avoid the listing.
In a joint statement, Sherrer and Reese said Wednesday, "Over recent years Oklahoma has built a coalition of state agencies, industry organizations and private landowners who are making great strides to develop practices to preserve the lesser prairie chicken.
"We believe that the state is best equipped with the partnership developed to conserve the chicken and a listing of this species will result in this partnership's hard work going to waste. Our goal has always been to increase the number of the lesser prairie chickens and we believe our plan can accomplish that."