Woodward, Okla. —
OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION'S VIEWPOINT
Richard Hatcher, Director of Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, then took the stand to address the board.
Hatcher agreed that he believed partnerships were in place to voluntarily limit threats to the prairie chicken, without the necessity of listing it under the Endangered Species Act, and that the state of Oklahoma had the preservation of the bird under control.
He also mentioned that Candidate Conservation Agreement Assurances (CCAA's) were currently under development that would give landowners who agree to implement conservation measures the assurance that they will not be asked to do more if the species later requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
Hatchet expressed the seriousness which the state was taking in the preservation of the bird, stating it had already committed over $1 million to research to benefit the preservation of the species through the University of Oklahoma and through the efforts of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Hatcher said that the wildlife protection agencies of the 5 states the lesser prairie chicken resides in, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas, are currently working together to ensure the preservation of the species. He said the Endangered Species Act was not necessary to the birds' preservation and that through partnerships they would be able to limit damage from energy transmission lines, wind farms, agriculture, and the oil industry voluntarily and at the state level.
"Five states will go on record saying we can conserve this species on state level," he said.
STATE SENATOR SPEAKS OUT
State Sen. Mike Shulz, R-Altus, speaking on behalf of himself as well as State Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, also encouraged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to hold off on their decision to list the prairie chicken as threatened.
Shulz, who previously served on the Oklahoma Endangered Species and Economic Development Task Force, praised the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's plan known as the Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Conservation Program. He said it is a program designed to help private landowners develop, preserve, restore, enhance and manage wildlife habitat on their land.
The senator said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now just needs to give the state time for the conservation plan to work.
"I believe it's critical for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow this plan to be fully implemented and see the results we expect before any risk determination is made," he said.
Shulz referred to a recent arial survey across the entirety of the prairie chickens' habitat, which he claimed had come back better than anticipated with more than 37,000 birds counted across the range. He took the survey results as a positive indication of the effectiveness of the state's conservation plan, especially considering the record droughts the area has undergone over the last 2 years.
The state senator also argued that listing the bird as threatened could have negative side effects, as landowners might then be more concerned with keeping the bird off their land to avoid the federal regulations that go along with it than they are concerned with preserving the bird.