The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has launched a new program to restore degraded rangeland to high quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat and reduce grassland habitat losses. The WAFWA Grassland Restoration and Retention Program will be fueled by voluntary donations from conservation-minded individuals, organizations, businesses and industry. The program will complement other efforts being implemented through the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan and expedite progress towards the plan’s goals.
Donations will help increase the amount of usable habitat for lesser prairie-chickens within high priority conservation areas. The program will provide financial support to landowners for mechanical removal of invasive trees, grass planting, and conversion of idle grasslands to grazing lands. WAFWA will maximize the benefits to the bird by utilizing donations to secure additional funding through matching grants or leverage existing USDA programs such as the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“This is a new tool in our conservation toolbox that will enable us to advance conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken,” said J.D. Strong, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Director and Chair of the Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative Council. “We’ve received significant support for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan from industry and landowners, and we’ve also received support from various entities and conservation partners outside of the range-wide plan. We’re hopeful that this new program will provide another way for people who are interested in the bird’s long-term survival to get involved in its conservation.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing the status of the lesser prairie-chicken, which could result in the bird being placed on the endangered species list again. The bird was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, but a 2015 court decision vacated federal protections on procedural grounds. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service commenced another status review of the lesser prairie-chicken in 2016 which is scheduled to be completed this winter. WAFWA scientists believe that additional habitat restoration in addition to the existing conservation efforts is needed to minimize the risk of a federal listing. The initial goal for the program is to create 75,000 acres of new habitat over the next three years to increase the population of birds in priority areas.
“We plan on focusing initial efforts on mechanical brush management in the mixed grass and shinnery oak ecoregions,” explained Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Program Manager. “This management practice gives us the most bang for our buck because it immediately improves degraded rangeland to a condition where it can be utilized by lesser prairie-chickens.”
WAFWA is seeking $10 million in donations to fund the first phase of the effort. Funds will be leveraged or matched with other funding sources to the maximum extent possible. Interested donors can make contributions to WAFWA’s Foundation for Western Fish & Wildlife. The foundation is a 501c(3) non-profit so all donations are tax deductible. Interested donors should contact Sean Kyle for more information about contributing to this program.
WAFWA, Industry Services Director
WAFWA Grassland Restoration and Retention Program
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan
Roger Wolfe, 785-256-3737
Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 23 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40 percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.
Photo Credit: Grant Beauprez
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has finalized permanent conservation agreements with three private landowners to conserve 3,682 acres of high-quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat in northwestern Kansas.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has finalized permanent conservation agreements with a private landowner to conserve 968 acres of high-quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat in south-central Kansas. In addition, a 160-acre tract owned by another private landowner that is fenced and managed with the property will be protected under a 10-year conservation agreement that was finalized this week. These two tracts of land are immediately adjacent to a 1,781-acre tract which was placed under a permanent conservation agreement earlier this year. The conserved acreage is all native rangeland currently being managed for livestock production, and this historical use will continue.
“Thanks to conservation-minded landowners, we now have a complex of 2,909 acres being managed with the needs of the lesser prairie-chicken in mind,” said Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Program Manager. “The ranch is in very good condition due to a long history of good management and there are two active leks on the property.”
The permanent conservation easement on the 968-acre tract was purchased by WAFWA and will be held and monitored by Pheasants Forever. The easement restricts future development and activities that would be detrimental to the habitat for the bird. All other property rights associated with historical use of the land will be retained by the private landowner. WAFWA has also established an endowment that will provide the landowner with sufficient payments to implement a lesser prairie-chicken conservation plan in perpetuity. This transaction not only permanently protects key prairie habitat, but also ensures that this property will remain a working cattle ranch.
"Pheasants Forever is proud to partner with WAFWA and the private landowners to complete this voluntary conservation easement,” said Jordan Martincich, Director of Development for Pheasants Forever. “The conservation values associated with this project will have a positive impact on wildlife habitat for future generations. We hope other landowners will partner with Pheasants Forever and WAFWA to perpetually protect their working lands for the benefit of wildlife and the benefit of the ranching community."
The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken by providing a mechanism for voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry and improving coordination between state and federal conservation agencies. Funding for WAFWA’s conservation efforts comes from voluntary mitigation payments by industry partners that are enrolled in the plan. The plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat. Landowners interested in participating in one of the short-term, long-term or permanent conservation options available under the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan should contact Roger Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org
WAFWA news releases available at http://www.wafwa.org/news/
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan can be found HERE
Media Contact: Roger Wolfe (785) 256-3737 email@example.com
Photo Credit: Conservation Media
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has released a new video demonstrating how the mitigation program in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan is successfully conserving habitat for this iconic grassland bird. The video documents work being done on a West Texas ranch that is being funded by industry participation in the plan. The video was produced through a partnership between WAFWA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Pheasants Forever.
The range-wide plan allows industry to continue operations while reducing and mitigating impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat. Industry contributions support conservation actions implemented by participating private landowners. Pioneer Natural Resources is one of more than 160 companies that are enrolled in the plan.
“Pioneer jumped into this program because it gives us the ability to control our own fate,” said Pioneer VP Legal and Chief Compliance Office Ron Schindler, who appears in the video. “We were able to voluntarily jump in and do some things that would allow us to have some predictability with our future. WAFWA’s expertise helps us select places for production that are less impactful to the chicken first, and on places where we just can’t avoid them, WAFWA also helps us with designs and offsets so that if we impact the chicken in a particular place they get double the habitat elsewhere.”
Randy Beasley’s ranch in Yoakum County in West Texas is a textbook example of how the plan is improving lesser prairie-chicken habitat. Beasley’s ranch has been in his family since 1941. He recalls a time before mesquite invaded the landscape, when lesser prairie-chickens abounded. WAFWA entered into a 10-year contract with Beasley to improve habitat on 15,457 acres of his ranch. Beasley is implementing a conservation plan developed by WAFWA to increase native grass production and reduce the proliferation of mesquite and shinnery oak. Mesquite and shinnery oak are native plants but their abundance has increased dramatically since historic times due to fire suppression. Dense stands of these woody plants suppress native grasses which provide important habitat for the bird as well as forage for livestock. Lesser prairie-chickens also avoid mesquite-infested rangelands. Ideal habitat in this region consists of a diverse stand of native grasses, forbs, and shrubs such as shinnery oak. Since the contract was initiated in March 2015, more than 2,800 acres of mesquite have been mechanically removed with another 2,400 acres slated for removal. In addition, more than 7,500 acres of shinnery oak has been chemically suppressed. WAFWA biologists are now working with the landowner to reintroduce fire to portions of the ranch so that the benefits of these restoration practices will be maintained into the future. WAFWA biologists have documented lesser prairie-chickens on the ranch and expect the birds to soon reoccupy areas where recent restoration work has occurred.
“Since we’ve started this wildlife program, we’re starting to see grass grow and we’re seeing chickens again like we did in the past,” Beasley said in the video. “It’s one of those things that is good for us financially, it has been good for the land, for the cattle and it has been a dream come true.”
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the five state wildlife agencies where the birds are found: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. The plan was developed to ensure long-term viability of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry. To date, industry partners have committed over $63 million in enrollment and mitigation fees to pay for conservation actions, and landowners across the range have agreed to conserve over 145,000 acres of habitat through 10-year and permanent conservation agreements.
“It is encouraging to see the progress we’ve made in just a few short years,” said J.D. Strong, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “This new video underscores how private landowners and industry support are making a difference for the long-term survival of the lesser prairie-chicken. Industry and landowner support for conservation efforts are critically important right now as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving through the process to determine if the bird warrants being listed again under the Endangered Species Act. We applaud the participation of landowners and industry who care about the future of this species.”
WAFWA video HERE
WAFWA news releases available at www.wafwa.org/news/
Contact: Jim Pitman, 620.208.6120
The latest lesser prairie-chicken survey shows bird population trends remain stable after six years of aerial survey data collection. The survey indicates an estimated breeding population of 33,269 birds this year, up from 24,648 birds counted last year. Though scientists are encouraged by the numbers, they know that year-to-year fluctuations are the norm with upland birds like the lesser prairie-chicken.
“The survey results indicate a 34% increase in the number of birds, but we don’t read too much into short-term population fluctuations,” explained Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Program Manager. “The monitoring technique used for this survey is designed to track trends which more accurately reflect the amount of available habitat and population stability. The bottom line is that the population trend over the last five years indicates a stable population, which is good news for all involved in lesser prairie-chicken conservation efforts.”
Lesser-prairie chickens can be found in four ecoregions in five states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Wildlife biologists note prairie chicken numbers regularly fluctuate up and down from year to year due to changes in habitat conditions mainly influenced by weather patterns. The surveys this year indicated apparent population increases in three of the four ecoregions and range-wide, with an apparent decrease estimated in the fourth ecoregion.
The short-grass prairie ecoregion of northwest Kansas saw the biggest apparent annual increase in birds, followed by the mixed-grass prairie ecoregion of the northeast Panhandle of Texas, northwest Oklahoma and south-central Kansas. The sand sagebrush ecoregion of southeast Colorado and southwest Kansas also registered an apparent annual increase in the number of breeding birds. An apparent annual population decline was noted in the shinnery oak ecoregion of eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.
“We’d also like to point out that the aerial surveys this year were taken before the late spring snowstorm blasted through much of the bird’s range, just prior to the peak of nest incubation,” said Wolfe. “Like all wildlife, the health of these birds depends on the weather. Rainfall at the right time means healthy habitat for the birds, and heavy wet snow like we saw in late April can have a negative impact on survival and productivity. We’ll know more about the impact of that weather event after aerial surveys are completed next year.”
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure long-term viability of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry. The plan allows industry to continue operations while reducing and mitigating impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat. Industry contributions support conservation actions implemented by participating private landowners. To date, industry partners have committed over $63 million in enrollment and mitigation fees to pay for conservation actions, and landowners across the range have agreed to conserve over 145,000 acres of habitat through 10-year and permanent conservation agreements.
Contact: Roger Wolfe, 785.256.3737
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