More land for the prairie chicken

aachickensOne of the West’s most iconic bird has a little more room to range.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has approved the acquisition of more than 3,000 acres of lesser prairie chicken habitat as an addition to the Yoakum Dunes Preserve in the Texas Panhandle, which is dedicated to the conservation of this iconic grasslands species.

The acquisition of these lands was made possible through a donation by Concho Resources Inc. in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy of Texas. Concho is an oil and gas company operating in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico whose $400,000 donation to The Conservation Fund made these acquisitions possible. The donation will leverage $1.2 million in federal Pittman Robertson funds. TPWD expects that the leveraged funds will facilitate the purchase of additional land that will enhance the conservation value of the Yoakum Dunes Preserve, which is a joint project of TPWD and The Nature Conservancy of Texas.

“Acquisition of these and other tracts throughout the lesser prairie chicken’s range will help bolster population recovery of this once abundant game bird,” said Ross Melinchuk, TPWD deputy executive director for Natural Resources. “Protection of the lesser prairie chicken is one of our top conservation priorities. It all comes down to habitat, and this acquisition made possible through a generous donation from Concho and a longstanding partnership with The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy will provide additional breeding and nesting habitat for the species in a critically important part of its range.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. TPWD is working with state wildlife agencies in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, as well as oil, gas, wind, electrical transmission, and agricultural industry stakeholders from all five states on development of a range-wide conservation planthat will serve as a conservation blueprint for the species once it is finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Yoakum Dunes Preserve was created by The Nature Conservancy in November 2007 as part of the ongoing effort to protect some of the last available habitat for this species.

“For half a decade, The Nature Conservancy has worked alongside Texas Parks and Wildlife, private landowners and other partners to secure critical habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, a species that has seen a 90 percent decline over the last one hundred years,” said Laura Huffman, Texas state director of The Nature Conservancy. “To-date we have assembled the largest protected area for the lesser prairie chicken in Texas. This latest acquisition is a key milestone in our quest to secure the future of this iconic bird.”

The acquisition exemplifies the importance of public-private conservation partnerships.

“Much of the lesser prairie-chicken’s habitat is on private land in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas, so it is essential for federal, state and private partners to work together with landowners to find solutions that fulfill conservation priorities and address the needs of a struggling species,” said Andy Jones, Texas director for The Conservation Fund. “We’re extremely grateful to Concho Resources Inc. for its continued understanding and generous support for the protection of important lesser prairie-chicken habitat in Texas and New Mexico.”

The draft conservation plan has been through several rounds of public comment, including several public meetings in Panhandle locations and in Austin. It includes management goals and voluntary programs and practices to be applied throughout the bird’s range. Another draft is expected to be distributed for additional public comment in early June. The USFWS is expected to publish a final rule on whether to list the lesser prairie-chicken in September of this year.

See the latest range-wide plan and find more information on the TPWD lesser prairie-chicken web page.