Spotlight

From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published March 13, 2014 08:53 AM

Saving the Lesser Prairie Chicken, 1 Million Acres at a Time

Due to it's restricted range in the prairies and sandhills of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas, the Lesser Prairie Chicken is considered a "vulnerable" species. Because of human activity as well as persistent drought, habitat destruction has directed the species towards candidacy for a threatened or endangered listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

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In fact, reports estimate that the grouse's population has declined to approximately 17,615 individuals, and the species currently inhabits only 17% of its historic range. However, not all is lost for the Lesser Prairie Chicken as recovery and conservation efforts are on the rise.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan (RWP) developed by the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) outlines tools and provides incentives to encourage landowners and others to voluntarily partner with agencies in habitat conservation efforts.

One such company dedicated to the conservation front is Occidental Petroleum Corporation (Oxy), an oil and gas exploration and production company who announced last week that it will commit $12 million over a three-year period to enroll nearly 1.8 million acres of its interests in conservation programs to support the recovery of the grouse species.

Oxy's contributions will help fund species recovery efforts for private landowners who need financial assistance with their own conservation efforts through the RWP, in addition to the 1.8 million acres of its own land enrolled in conservation programs. 

Enrollment in the RWP by Oxy and other companies will provide them certainty in the uncertain world of Endangered Species Act rules and regulations. Not knowing if the Lesser Prairie Chicken will be listed as a threatened species under the ESA, and what specific regulations they could face in the event of a listing, had made it difficult to plan ahead.

Fortunately, WAFWA, in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), created a Range-wide Oil and Gas Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances for the Lesser Prairie Chicken, also known as oil and gas CCAAs. Like traditional CCAAs, the oil and gas CCAA is a voluntary program in which an oil and gas company agrees to conduct conservation measures for recovery of a species that is a candidate for threatened or endangered status under the ESA. In return, the company receives an Enhancement of Survival Permit and assurance from the USFWS that, so long as it continues to comply with the terms of the CCAA, the company will not be subject to any additional regulations should the species be listed.

Read more at the Private Landowner Network.

Lesser Prairie Chicken image via Wikipedia.

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