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
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