WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2013—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan, an effort to conserve a species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The range-wide plan represents an effort by the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken. The USFWS reviewed the plan and found it consistent with criteria proposed last May for conserving the species, which is proposed for listing under the ESA.
The plan would provide financial incentives to landowners who voluntarily manage their lands to benefit the species. It also includes a framework for mitigating the effects to lesser prairie-chicken habitat from development activity.
“The unprecedented collaborative efforts of WAFWA and the five state wildlife agencies have produced a sound conservation plan for the lesser prairie-chicken,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “We applaud the states’ commitment to lead conservation actions across the bird’s range.”
However, USFWS’s endorsement does not preclude the need to protect the lesser prairie-chicken under the ESA. According to the USFWS announcement, the agency will 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.
“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,” said Carter Smith, WAFWA president and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director.
The Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), which unites sportsmen to communicate with the agricultural community on conservation issues, helped develop the range-wide plan for the lesser prairie-chicken.
Ed Arnett, director of the TRCP Center for Responsible Energy Development, said implementation of the plan is critical to avoid a listing of the lesser prairie chicken.
"The fact that a once fairly common game bird now is being proposed for ESA listing should concern every sportsman nationwide regardless of whether they hunt this species or not,” Arnett said. “The current situation is a clear indication that development, land conversion, management and conservation are out of balance to the detriment of game species and the sportsmen that pursue them."
Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, described the plan as an innovative collaboration that allows states, landowners, farmers, ranchers, and energy producers to work together to preserve habitat.
“Given FWS support, the Range-Wide Conservation Plan should absolutely prevent the need to list the Lesser Prairie-Chicken,” Neugebauer said. “I strongly encourage the FWS to act quickly, and deliver a ‘not warranted’ decision on the proposed listing.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kans., expressed “reserved support” for the Range-Wide Conservation Plan, which he said is a step in the right direction. Huelskamp emphasized that a species listing would have “potentially devastating” impacts on farms and ranches. He further added that the USFWS “continues to be focused on crafting settlements with litigious environmental groups.”
“I appreciate their recognition that voluntary conservation efforts of private individuals, as well as state and local agencies, are the most effective tool to protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken,” Huelskamp said. “Even so, I remain concerned that the proposal was not seen as adequate to prevent the bird from being listed as an endangered species.”
He said the plan lacks specific targets for population numbers and for protected habitat.
“Without them, there is no guarantee that any conservation efforts will ever be enough to prevent a listing or to delist the bird later,” he said.
The USFWS announced it will revise the May 6, 2013, proposed 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 USFWS ultimately determines that the lesser prairie-chicken should be listed as a threatened species, the revised rule would provide a mechanism for ESA compliance.
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