Groups are continuing efforts on several fronts to convince federal officials there’s no reason to list the lesser prairie-chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
This month, state wildlife agencies submitted a third draft plan to preserve and expand the bird’s habitat while another group of interested parties has launched a second year of aerial surveys to count the birds.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its counterparts in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado submitted a plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that covers the bird’s entire range. The plan includes habitat management and voluntary conservation.
“While we do not need a chicken on every acre, we do need to have the right acres in the right areas to conserve the species, and we are getting there in Texas through voluntary landowner agreements and related efforts,” said Ross Melinchuk, TPWD deputy executive director for natural resources.
There are 427,685 acres from the Texas Panhandle and Rolling Plains enrolled in voluntary conservation agreements to enhance habitat, according to an agency news release.
Under the agreements, landowners pledge to conserve and restore habitat in exchange for assurances they won’t have to meet stricter regulations that could result from USFWS listing the prairie-chicken as threatened.
The plan was funded by a grant from USFWS with support from Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, according to the release. Western Association helped Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group design the plan over the past 12 months.
USFWS will reopen public comment on the situation soon. Also, the plan can be read at http://bit.ly/17w0Nwj. Interested parties can send comments on the plan to Jan Caulfield Consulting at email@example.com. Texas landowners or others with questions or comments about the plan can contact Sean Kyle, TPWD biologist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the aerial survey, the oil and gas industry has committed $150,000 to assist the effort.
“We want to make sure any listing determination, which could have widespread economic impact, is based on the best available science,” said Obie O’Brien, governmental affairs vice president with Apache Corp., an oil and gas exploration and production company that is among those providing funding.
The oil and gas industry, wind energy developers and agriculture producers are concerned that a listing would result in too many restrictions on their activities.
The first survey by helicopter covered more than 300,000 square miles and found more birds than expected, especially in the northern part of its range in Kansas, despite the ongoing drought.
“Last year’s aerial survey reported the first statistically valid, range-wide population estimate for the lesser prairie-chicken at an estimated 37,170 birds, but the continuing drought has been pretty horrendous, and could affect this year’s results,” Kyle said.
There are also efforts on the ground in Texas, led by TPWD, to count birds.
For more information on management options and available funding and assistance for landowners go to http://lesserprairiechicken.com.
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