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Lesser Prairie-Chicken Website Offers One-Stop Landowner Resource
New Tool Comes As More Landowners Voluntarily Conserve Rare Bird
LUBBOCK, Texas – The new website lesserprairiechicken.org debuts this month to aid landowners regarding a rare native bird whose fate is becoming increasingly linked to the future of land use, agriculture and industry in the Texas Panhandle and Rolling Plains.
The lesser prairie chicken has been a candidate species considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1998. Like all rare animals, the bird’s existence depends upon a rare habitat, in this case native prairie. Experts say efforts to protect and restore grassland habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken will benefit many other wildlife species, plus provide recreational and ecological benefits for people, and help improve water quality.
The new website was created by the Dorothy Marcille Wood Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to inform and empower ranchers, farmers and other landowners with all the information they need in one place. That includes information on the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), and habitat conservation incentives, programs, and cost share assistance from various state, federal and private sources, including a search tool to help determine which programs best fit their operation.
The CCAA is an agreement with TPWD whereby landowners voluntarily commit to conservation actions that will help stabilize or restore the species, with the goal that listing will become unnecessary. If the species is listed as endangered or threatened, the agreement automatically triggers a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service authorizing the landowner “incidental take” of the species for activities such as construction or development.
The CCAA thus provides assurances that conservation efforts of landowners enrolled in the agreement will not result in future regulatory obligations greater than those they agree to at the time of the agreement. However, once a species is listed under the ESA, enrolling in a CCAA is no longer an option.
To date eight Texas landowners have voluntarily signed a CCAA. All together, these eight properties comprise 111,052 acres in Gray, Donley, Hemphill, Hockley, Cochran, and Lipscomb counties.
“We’ve got a number of landowners who are demonstrating you can run cattle, have oil and gas and other traditional operations, and also conserve native prairie habitat,” said Sean Kyle, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife diversity biologist based in Lubbock. “The lesserprairiechicken.org website is a great resource for those landowners. It provides them with information on managing habitat for prairie chickens, maintaining their operations should the bird be listed, and cost share programs to help them improve both lesser prairie chicken habitat on their property as well as their grazing operations.”
Historically the lesser prairie-chicken ranged across a wide swath of Texas east of a line from Loving County to Pecos County and north of a line running roughly from Pecos, to Concho, to Clay County east of Wichita Falls. Large scale farming practices, brush encroachment, the establishment of shelterbelts, energy development, and electric transmission lines are all thought to have played a part in the estimated 90 percent decline from the historic range of this species, but biologist say careful management can successfully balance energy and agricultural development with conservation of the species.
More about the bird’s natural history and biology is on the new website, which also describes why its population has declined. The Habitat Challenges section of the new website says lesser prairie-chicken habitat change “...is not a story of the evils of human development – but rather the story of unintended consequences.” It describes the slow, cumulative progression of changes to the landscape, resulting in both direct and indirect habitat loss.
The website explains how indirect loss refers to impacts where the “footprint” of a home, a pad site, or even a road or a power line does not in and of itself take away a large amount of habitat for wildlife. It describes how such impacts can make the habitat unusable or inaccessible for prairie-chickens and other wildlife, inadvertently creating fragmented and unconnected islands of otherwise usable habitat.
Probably the most practical element of the new website is searchable links to a range of available technical assistance, cost share and other habitat conservation tools designed to give the user the ability to zero in on programs most appropriate to their operation and goals. The website also links to technical assistance that is available — usually at no cost — to help landowners both plan prairie-chicken habitat improvement and integrate those activities into overall land management operations.
The website will also feature an online discussion forum or blog called “The Lek” (coming soon) that will encourage landowners to engage in dialogue with peers, stay current on announcements, and share concerns and conservation successes.
The website was designed and is managed by the Dorothy Marcille Wood Foundation with funding from TPWD.
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