Governors Speaking Out on Proposed Lesser Prairie Chicken Listing 1/4/13
January 4, 2013
Denver - Governors of five states that are home to the lesser prairie chicken say they're disappointed the federal government has proposed listing the bird as threatened.
However they said they're encouraged that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn't proposing listing the lesser prairie chicken as endangered. A final decision on a listing is expected this fall.
Some ranchers, wind farms and others have worried that listing the bird as threatened could hurt their operations by leading to more regulations on the bird's habitat.
The governors of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas released a statement Thursday saying that conservation efforts by their states, along with commitments from industry leaders and landowners, to address risks to the bird should support a decision not to list the species as threatened.
The Lesser Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) a species in the grouse family, is slightly smaller and paler than its near relative the Greater Prairie Chicken.
About half of its current population lives in western Kansas, with the other half in the sandhills and prairies of western Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, the Llano Estacado region of Texas and eastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado.
Texas counties which are home to the lesser prairie chicken habitat include: Ochiltree, Lipscomb, Roberts, Hemphill, Gray, Wheeler, Donley, Deaf Smith, Bailey, Lamb, Cochran, Hockley, Yoakum, Terry, Andrews, and Gaines.
FWS noted that state conservation agencies already are working to preserve the bird’s grasslands and prairie habitat with the US Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal agencies; and the George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center in Bartlesville, Okla., and other private partners on a voluntary conservation effort across Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
FWS Director Dan Ashe said the US Department of the Interior agency was encouraged by those efforts. "More work needs to be done to reverse [the bird’s] decline,” he continued. "Similar to what state and federal partners in this region accomplished when the dunes sagebrush lizard was proposed, we must redouble our important work to identify solutions that provide for the long-term conservation of the species and also help working families remain on the land they have stewarded for generations.”
FWS said it will accept public comments on the "threatened" status proposal for 90 days following its Nov. 30 listing in the Federal Register. It also has scheduled public hearings on the matter in Woodward, Okla., on Feb. 5, 2013; Garden City, Kan., on Feb. 7; and Lubbock, Tex., on Feb. 11.
Recent Study Findings
Through a multi-state collaborative effort, the first statistically-valid, range-wide population estimate for the lesser prairie chicken is an estimated 37,170 birds, according to a report released by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA) Grassland Initiative and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group.
Aerial surveys this spring detected several previously unknown breeding areas, known as leks, despite severe drought conditions across the region last year. They also discovered leks in Kansas beyond what was thought to be the northern limit of the historic range of the species.
Lesser prairie chicken numbers have been largely increasing in Kansas for the last 15 years, while populations have declined in parts of the southern portion of the range, including Texas. Biologists believe this expansion may represent a northward shift in the population of the species caused by climatic conditions associated with changing precipitation patterns.
To help restore habitat for the bird, state and federal experts developed a tool called Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) to work with private landowners and managers in the geographic range of the lesser prairie-chicken.
This voluntary program was designed to help reverse declining bird numbers by promoting habitat conservation and restoration through practices such as prescribed grazing, upland wildlife habitat management, brush management, prescribed burning, range planting and restoration and management of rare or declining habitats.
The program also provides assurances to landowners that, beyond what is detailed in the CCAA agreement, they will not be required to meet any new regulations if the bird is listed under the Endangered Species Act.
To date, close to 315,000 acres of Texas ranch land have enrolled in CCAAs.