It is another step in the process for the lesser prairie chicken.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and other state wildlife agencies in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado have submitted the third draft of a range-wide plan to conserve the lesser prairie chicken to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is considering whether to list the bird as a threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The multi-state plan includes habitat management goals and voluntary conservation practices to be applied throughout the lesser prairie-chicken’s range, actions which could help preclude the need to list the bird.
“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,” explained Ross Melinchuk, TPWD deputy executive director for natural resources.
“It is noteworthy that 44 landowners across the Texas Panhandle and Rolling Plains have enrolled 427,685 acres in voluntary conservation agreements to help conserve this species, a nearly four-fold increase since 2010,” Melinchuk said.
Under the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, landowners voluntarily help conserve and restore habitat for the bird on private land in Texas and other states. In exchange for management practices such as prescribed grazing, brush management, and prescribed burning, landowners receive assurances that they will not be required to meet any new regulations should the bird be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Funding for the multi-state plan came from a grant from the USFWS with support from the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Grassland Initiative. WAFWA collaborated with the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, made up of biologists from the five state wildlife agencies and other partners, to develop the range-wide conservation plan.
The lesser prairie chicken is a grassland grouse species native to parts of the five states. It has been a candidate for listing since 1998. The USFWS proposed to list it as threatened last December, and is expected to issue a final rule in September.
Throughout the multi-state planning process, which started last April, the state wildlife agencies have reached out to the public, seeking feedback on two previous draft plans, and they’ve been encouraged to see support for a state-led effort to conserve the species.
“Historically, state conservation agencies saw drought conditions like the ones we are observing now back in the 1930s, and biologists thought the species had become extinct,“ said Bill Van Pelt, the WAFWA’s grassland coordinator. “However, we believe that with habitat conservation efforts available through various Farm Bill programs, plus landowner enrollments in conservation agreements, we are seeing lesser prairie chickens maintained on the landscape and even expanding into new areas in some parts of their range.”
Before finalizing the range-wide plan for submittal to USFWS in May, the five state wildlife agencies are again seeking public feedback on the latest draft. The Range-wide Conservation Plan for the Lesser Prairie Chicken can be seen on TPWD’s lesser prairie-chicken web page at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/lesserprairiechicken/.
Any interested parties may send comments about the range-wide plan to Jan Caulfield Consulting at firstname.lastname@example.org. Texas landowners or others with questions or comments about the plan may contact Sean Kyle, TPWD biologist in Lubbock, at email@example.com.