PHOENIX, AZ. – The lesser prairie chicken is a grassland grouse species native and once common to parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. However, declining lesser prairie chicken populations have brought state and federal agencies together in an attempt to better manage this iconic prairie species and its habitats. The result is a comprehensive range-wide lesser prairie chicken management draft plan.
Through a multi-state collaborative effort, with funding provided by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) grant and support from the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the five state wildlife agencies completed the draft plan and submitted it to the USFWS. The federal agency is currently deliberating its proposal to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened and states hope the conservation plan will influence the final decision and preclude listing, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) Grassland Initiative.
The lesser prairie chicken has been considered a candidate under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1998, and USFWS proposed it for listing as threatened in December 2012. A final rule for the lesser prairie chicken is scheduled to be issued September 30, 2013.
The WAFWA Grassland Initiative collaborated with the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, which is composed of biologists from the five state fish and wildlife departments within the species’ range, and other partners to develop the range-wide conservation plan. This management plan describes population and habitat goals to secure the species into the future and identifies voluntary conservation programs and practices to be applied to accomplish these goals throughout the lesser prairie chicken’s range (http://kars.ku.edu/geodata/maps/sgpchat/).
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service commends the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for their tireless efforts to develop a range-wide conservation plan for the lesser prairie chicken." said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the USFWS’s Southwest Region. "In the next few weeks, the Service will reopen the comment period in order to allow the public the opportunity to provide additional comments on the lesser prairie chicken listing proposal and the range-wide conservation plan as it relates to the USFWS’s listing proposal."
“While we do not need a chicken on every acre, we do need to have the right acres to conserve the species,” says Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA’s Grassland Coordinator. “We feel we have created a plan under which we can partner with landowners and industry to incentivize good land management practices.”
http://www.wafwa.org/html/rangewide_lpc_conservation_plan.shtml and the states will be accepting written comments on this third draft of the plan. Please send comments via email to email@example.com or by mail to Jan Caulfield Consulting, 114 S. Franklin St., Ste. 205, Juneau, AK 99801. The states are also exploring the use of webinars to reach the public. These webinars and the closing period on the comments will be announced on the WAFWA website and other media outlets.
“Historically, we saw habitat conditions like the ones we are observing now back in the 1930s, and we thought the species went extinct,” Van Pelt added. “However, it is our opinion that with existing habitat conservation programs being implemented through various Farm Bill programs and enrollments in existing conservation agreements, we are seeing lesser prairie chickens maintaining themselves on the landscape and even expanding into new areas in some parts of their range. By coordinating these existing efforts and others proposed under this range-wide plan, we are confident we will be able to conserve this species into the future. This plan is written broadly enough to allow anyone interested in conserving the lesser prairie chicken to assist the states with conserving this grassland icon.”
For more information, contact WAFWA Grassland Coordinator Bill Van Pelt at (602) 717-5066.