The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) recently convened a forum of conservation professionals working on lesser prairie-chicken recovery efforts to share information and strategize how conservation efforts for the bird can be enhanced. The meeting took place at the Arcadia Conservation Education Area in Edmond, OK Jan.17-18, 2018, and was hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, WAFWA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
More than 60 professionals attended, including representatives of state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations that are working on a variety of efforts to conserve the grassland bird. The lesser-prairie chicken was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, a listing that was vacated in 2016 as a result of a lawsuit and subsequent federal court ruling. Several environmental groups petitioned that decision, and a species status review is currently underway by USFWS, which could result in the species being listed again.
The conservation partners forum was designed to identify paths forward to enhance current conservation strategies and develop new strategies to conserve grasslands and the lesser prairie-chicken. The focal point of the meeting was WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.
“We view the range-wide plan as a road map for comprehensive recovery of the lesser prairie-chicken,” said attendee Tim Griffiths, West Working Lands for Wildlife Coordinator with NRCS. “We were glad to participate, because we believe there is ample opportunity to scale up private lands conservation in the Southern Great Plains. Having a diverse group of partners aligned and all working towards productivity of working rangelands will yield much larger results.”
The partners shared information on current efforts and then spent time brainstorming specific ideas and suggestions on how to move forward to amplify collective efforts.
"Everyone at the table during the meeting shares the same goals of improving habitat and ultimately increasing populations of the lesser prairie-chicken across its range," said J.D. Strong, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. "Now comes the real work of executing our action items, and I am confident that we can make a real difference for long-term health of the prairie chicken population and the working landscape where it lives."
Action items included improving reporting, better coordination of conservation efforts, enhanced communication, and developing precise interim measures tied to the long-term goals of the range-wide plan. Ensuring grassland and lesser prairie-chicken conservation funding is included in the Farm Bill that will be before Congress soon was another item highlighted.
“This gathering has really exceeded expectations,” said Amy Lueders, USFWS Regional Director for the Southwest Region. “We all share a passion for this and it’s encouraging to celebrate the conservation successes we’ve had so far and work together to amplify all of the efforts out there. We all need to stay focused on the goals of the range-wide plan and the bigger picture of restoring prairie ecosystems that are at risk, not only for the lesser prairie-chicken, but for all species that depend on healthy habitat.”
The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA; the state wildlife agencies of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas; U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and many non-government conservation organizations. It was developed to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken by providing another voluntary conservation program for landowner 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.
Roger Wolfe, 785-256-3737
Photo Credit: Grant Beauprez
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
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