Texas Parks & Wildlife Department will host two informational meetings in December for private landowners regarding the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan and the landowner enrollment process.
The meeting for landowners in the southern plains will be held in Sundown (Sundown School, S School Avenue) at 7 p.m. Dec. 11. The meeting for landowners in the northeast Panhandle will be held in Pampa (USDA Center, 12125 E. Frederic Ave. [Hwy. 60]) at 1 p.m. Dec. 12.
These meetings mark the implementation of a multi-state plan to conserve the lesser prairie- chicken, an effort the plan’s backers hope will preclude the need to list the bird as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is set to make a listing decision by March 30, 2014. The federal agency in October endorsed the range-wide plan developed by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and state wildlife agencies in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas.
Topics to be covered at the December meetings include a brief description of the conservation plan, deadline for the federal listing decision, timeline for conservation plan implementation, a description of the landowner enrollment process, and examples of per acre payments for participation in the plan. The goal is to provide landowners with sufficient information about the process and potential ranch income to help them to determine whether or not participation in the plan is a good fit for their operation.
At the meetings, landowners will learn how a significant benefit of enrollment is “incidental take” coverage for proactively managing their property for LPC habitat. In effect, this means that if landowners enroll in the plan and commit to certain habitat management actions, they can continue their ranching and other land use operations without penalties even if the bird is listed.
In addition, landowners can be paid as much as $10 per unimpacted (undeveloped) acre in the southern plains and $27 per unimpacted acre in the northeast Panhandle for grazing management and other habitat maintenance practices to develop high quality LPC habitat. Landowners could also receive payments ranging from $65 to $460 per unimpacted acre for habitat restoration practices including native range planting and brush management.
Funds available for the program will increase over time as industry enrollment increases. However, funding during the initial landowner sign-up in December and January will be targeted toward landowners in the “focal areas”—areas determined to have the greatest long-term potential for restoring and/or maintaining LPC populations. Landowners may contact their local TPWD biologist to determine if their property is in one of the focal areas, or they may check the online Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool or CHAT (http://kars.ku.edu/maps/sgpchat/) to determine if their property occurs in a focal area, shown as category CHAT 1. As funding increases future enrollment meetings will include landowners outside the focal areas in categories CHAT 2 and CHAT 3.