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/
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan can be found HERE
Contact: Jim Pitman, 620.208.6120
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.
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
Photo Credit: Grant Beauprez
On March 31, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service its third annual report detailing achievements under the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan. Among other highlights, WAFWA reported on the purchase of an ecologically significant piece of property in Kansas, which permanently protects nearly 30,000 acres of high-quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat.
The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado and is administered by WAFWA. It was developed to promote conservation by providing a blueprint for lesser prairie-chicken conservation through voluntary cooperation of landowners, land management agencies and industry participants. This plan allows participants to continue operations while restoring and maintaining habitat and reducing development impacts to the bird and its habitat. “As we close out our third year of implementation, we’re really hitting our stride,” said Alexa Sandoval, Director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “We are encouraged that despite an oil and gas industry downturn, support for this collaborative conservation approach remains strong. We commend all of our partners for their participation in the range-wide plan.”
The plan was endorsed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013, and as part of the conservation effort, the states agreed to report annually on the overall progress of the plan. Findings for 2016 include:
Land conservation efforts on private land increasing
By the end of 2016, WAFWA was conserving 16 sites totaling 133,703 acres either through fee title ownership or long-term contractual agreements. Three of those sites, totaling 33,053 acres, are permanently conserved through perpetual conservation easements or fee title ownership. The other 13 sites were 10-year contracts with private landowners, covering 100,650 acres across the range, three of which were executed during the past year.
Most significantly, a 29,718-acre land acquisition by WAFWA was finalized in June 2016, permanently protecting high-quality habitat in the sand sagebrush ecoregion. The property was purchased from a willing seller and will continue to be managed as a working cattle ranch using livestock as the primary tool to create optimum habitat for the bird. In addition, 1,781 acres of privately owned native rangeland is now permanently protected in the mixed grass ecoregion. WAFWA purchased a perpetual easement on the property that protects the conservation values of the site. The easement is held by Pheasants Forever.
Lesser prairie-chicken population stable
The annual lesser prairie-chicken aerial survey used to monitor populations was conducted from March through May 2016. The latest survey showed population trends have been stable after five years of data collection. An estimated breeding population of 25,261 birds was documented in 2016, which scientists say is not statistically different from the estimate of 29,162 birds in 2015 given the variability associated with the survey methodology. Aerial surveys for 2017 are underway and will run through mid-May. Results are anticipated in early July.
Industry projects generate mitigation credit, offset by conservation
In 2016, 114 industry related projects were processed and mitigated. There continues to be a surplus of credits available with a range-wide positive value of 71,639 units. This reflects the continued low energy prices that have slowed industry development in the region. WAFWA has focused on committing enrollment and mitigation fees for conservation contracts to benefit the bird and to ensure companies have available mitigation credit to develop as energy prices rebound. In July 2016, WAFWA developed a process to address non-payment of enrollment fees that provides several options to help companies stay enrolled in the program.
Technology enhances conservation decision-making
During 2016, significant progress was made in database development and accessibility. Highlights include the integration of impact and conservation sites into a relational database to ensure all habitat impacts are offset by an appropriate conservation site. In addition, a custom website was developed that provides participating companies a way to submit and approve new projects as well as view past submissions. WAFWA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can also use the web interface to obtain site-specific summary statistics, habitat mitigation credit balances and raw data.
Cooperative efforts enhancing conservation
A renewed cooperative effort between Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pheasants Forever and WAFWA will enhance program promotion, monitoring activities, and conservation planning and delivery. There was also continued effort to work with state wildlife agencies to identify and pursue research and management needs. Those activities included lesser prairie-chicken translocation efforts that moved birds from the shortgrass to sand sagebrush ecoregion.
Full details are in the annual report available Here
Contact: Roger Wolfe, 785-256-3737
Photo Credit: Kelly Adams
Aerial Surveys to Document Lesser Prairie-Chicken Population Trends
Aerial surveys will begin March 16 and run through mid-May in five states containing lesser prairie-chicken habitat. The surveys are conducted annually by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to document population trends and how the bird is responding to management strategies identified in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.
The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken with voluntary cooperation of landowners and industry. The plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.
“We’ve established a consistent methodology for these aerial surveys, working closely with the wildlife agencies of each of the states involved,” explained Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Program Manager. “We’re documenting population trends over time that will allow us to see how various management strategies for the bird are working on the ground.”
The surveys will be conducted by helicopter in locations chosen randomly within lesser prairie-chicken range, which is part of the methodology strategy. In previous years, some of the fly paths prompted calls, which is why WAFWA is getting the word out about the start of aerial survey work.
Results from this year’s surveys will be available on July 1.
WAFWA news releases available at http://www.wafwa.org/news/
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan can be found HERE
March 7, 2017
Contact: Roger Wolfe, 785.256.3737
Photo Credit: Grant Beauprex
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has awarded a grant to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to restore habitat to benefit the lesser prairie-chicken. The grant, which totals $197,309.25, is being funded through NFWF’s ConocoPhillips SPIRIT of Conservation and Innovation Program.
“We appreciate our partnership with NFWF and ConocoPhillips and look forward to applying these funds as we continue to implement the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan,” said Alexa Sandoval, Director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “Restoration work is key to the long-term survival of the bird and this grant will contribute to the combined efforts to keep the bird off the endangered species list.”
The bird was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, but was de-listed in 2016 after a federal judge ruled on a lawsuit and vacated protections for the bird. The judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not thoroughly consider active conservation efforts in making the listing decision, namely the activities associated with WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is currently reviewing the status of the lesser prairie-chicken across its five-state range to determine whether it should be listed again.
The NFWF grant will fund restoration work on up to 1,000 acres of private land that will connect larger fragmented pieces of prairie-chicken habitat. Contiguous tracts of good habitat create better conditions for the bird.
“The range-wide plan calls for us to focus our efforts as strategically as possible,” said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA Grassland Coordinator. “By connecting good bird habitat, more acreage will be available for the birds to thrive.”
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, along with grants from partners like NFWF. The plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.
More info about NFWF’s ConocoPhillips SPIRIT of Conservation and Innovation Program: www.nfwf.org/spirit/Pages/home.aspx
Media contact: Bill Van Pelt
2700 W. Airport Way
Boise, Idaho 83705
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