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Oklahomans Meet With FWS Director on Prairie Chicken ESA Listing

FWS Director Ashe Tells Oklahoma Leaders They Face 'Uphill Battle' to Avoid Listing

Meeting Tuesday in Senator Inhofe's Office with Key Oklahoma Leaders and FWS Director Dan Ashe Discussing Listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken

Washington, D.C. - Senator James 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. Senator 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.

"Yesterday 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," Senator Inhofe said. "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.

"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.

"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.  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.

"I appreciate Director Ashe for meeting with members of the Oklahoma state government; I hope that he will recognize Oklahoma's significant progress in these efforts and make the right choice.  Oklahomans should know that our oversight is ongoing and we will continue to use every tool possible to prevent this listing from occurring."

Senator 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.

Secretaries Gary Sherrer and Jim Reese: "We want to thank Senator Inhofe for his continued hard work on this important issue for Oklahoma. 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."

The meeting was part of Senator 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 Senator Inhofe's request, where he heard directly from Oklahomans about the devastating consequences of a listing for jobs and the economy.