Saturday, October 26, 2013

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endorses Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan

Lesser Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicin...
Lesser Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed the Western Association
of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ *Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide
Conservation Plan*, a landmark, collaborative planning effort to conserve a
species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The range-wide plan (RWP) represents a dedicated effort by the five range
states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado to conserve the
lesser prairie-chicken. After an extensive review, the Service found the
plan is consistent with criteria proposed last May for conserving the
species, which is proposed for listing under the ESA. The plan calls for
providing financial incentives to landowners who voluntarily manage their
lands to benefit the species. It also includes a framework for mitigating
the potentially harmful effects to lesser prairie-chicken habitat from
development activity throughout its range.

“The unprecedented collaborative efforts of WAFWA and the five state
wildlife agencies have produced a sound conservation plan for the lesser
prairie-chicken,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “We applaud the states’
commitment to lead conservation actions across the bird’s range.”

The Service’s endorsement is not a decision by the Service that
implementing the plan will preclude the need to protect the lesser
prairie-chicken under the ESA. The 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 ESA
in March, 2014.

Under the plan, agreements with participating landowners will aim to
improve habitat conditions for the lesser prairie-chicken, increase
populations and provide for long-term conservation of the species. The plan
also establishes a framework for mitigating impacts from a wide range of
activities with a goal of providing a net conservation benefit to the
species.

“We are encouraged to see U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsement of the
five-state, range-wide plan to conserve this iconic grassland bird and its
native prairie habitat,” said Carter Smith, WAFWA president and Texas Parks
and Wildlife Department executive director, speaking on behalf of WAFWA and
the five state agencies. “Years of due diligence have gone into this plan,
guided by scientific research and monitoring, and developed with input from
landowners, agriculture, wind and oil and gas interests and other
stakeholders. We can now work at the local level to implement the plan,
facilitate more conservation for the bird while allowing sustainable land
use and responsible economic development, and hopefully preclude the need
to list this species.”

In the coming weeks, the Service will revise the May 6, 2013, proposed 4(d)
special rule for the lesser prairie-chicken to more specifically identify
the range-wide conservation plan as one that, when implemented, will
address the conservation needs of the species. If the Service ultimately
determines that the lesser prairie-chicken should be listed as a threatened
species, the revised 4(d) rule would provide a mechanism for ESA
compliance. Linking the plan to a 4(d) special rule would offer
participating landowners and industry participants regulatory certainty, as
actions carried out in accordance with the plan would be in compliance with
the ESA, even if the species requires ESA protection.

The lesser prairie-chicken is a species of prairie grouse commonly
recognized for its colorful spring mating display and orange eye combs.
Once abundant across much of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and
Colorado (the five range states), the lesser prairie-chicken’s historical
range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84
percent. The substantial decrease in the range of the species is primarily
a result of habitat fragmentation and loss caused by development and
conversion of the species’ native grassland habitat to other uses. Last
year, the population declined by an estimated 50 percent, primarily due to
drought conditions in the West.

America's fish, wildlife and plant resources belong to all of us, and
ensuring the health of imperiled species is a shared responsibility. The
Service is actively engaged with conservation partners and the public in
the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover
imperiled species such as the Working Lands for Wildlife program. To learn
more about the Endangered Species program, go to
http://www.fws.gov/endangered/*.*

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies was founded in 1922.
It currently consists of 23 member states and provinces that have primary
responsibility and authority for protecting and managing fish and wildlife
in the western United States and Canada. WAFWA promotes the principles of
sound resource management, as well as strengthening partnerships and
cooperation among local, state, and federal agencies, non-government
conservation organizations, and private industry. To learn more about WAFWA
and other conservation efforts, and to find a copy of the Lesser
Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan, please go to www.wafwa.org.