WASHINGTON — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it has endorsed a plan by Oklahoma and four other states to protect the lesser prairie chicken, a victory for those trying to keep the bird off the federal list of protected species.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who has been pushing the federal agency to allow state conservation efforts time to work, praised the announcement.
“Fish and Wildlife's decision to endorse the five-state, range-wide conservation plan developed by the state wildlife agencies is a good next step to ensure that the conservation of the lesser prairie chicken precludes a listing under the Endangered Species Act,” Inhofe said.
“It is vital to maintain the conservation efforts at the state level. ... A listing could harm Oklahoma's farmers and ranchers, our booming energy industry and the future development of infrastructure in our state.”
Brian Woodard of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association testified last year during a congressional hearing in Edmond that a designation of Oklahoma as a critical habitat for the species would be “economically chilling” to the state's oil and gas industry.
The prairie chicken was a consideration in developing the planned $2 billion project by Clean Line Energy to erect a transmission line from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Tennessee. Clean Line agreed to use a planning tool developed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to help pick the best sites for its project.
Despite the endorsement of the plan by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service could still list the bird — a species of prairie grouse — as protected.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will “carefully consider the plan, its implementation and effectiveness when it makes a final determination on whether to list the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act in March, 2014,” according to the agency.